FOODCHAIN
Images | Video | Text | In Context

The project investigates the hidden conditions of UK food production and reveals some of the stories of the people through whose hands our food passes. Taking a broad perspective, it has been possible to document the consequences of the extraordinary pressure which now reverberates throughout the foodchain and touches the lives of all those involved.

Rises in the price of staple foods throughout the world have highlighted endemic issues of water, energy and food security, all of which are set to become more critical, as global population rises, oil peaks and the climate becomes more unstable. Food production has become an indicator of stress, with increasing pressure placed on the environment, farmers, livestock, producers and workers. Across the world rural farmers face poverty or migrate to the city, while in the global north, with an apparent abundance of choice, we worry about health and diet - as we lose connection with the origins and preparation of food.

For policy makers, cheap food has long been the priority and producers are further squeezed by the disproportionate power of corporations, commodity traders and supermarkets. The result has been the globalisation and industrialisation and of all aspects of food and the decline of more sustainable, seasonal and locally based produce.

FOODCHAIN examines UK fresh food production in South Lincolnshire, one of the most productive and intensively farmed arable areas of Europe and now a destination for migrant workers from all over the world. The project has grown out of a 2006 commission for the East Midlands Museums and has been independently developed over the years since. During 2009 we were able to undertake extensive research, photographic and film work in the region, with help from the Arts Council England, Lincolnshire County Council and Cumbria County Council.

Granted exceptional access to the industry by most of the major producers in Lincolnshire, we have been keen to profile the dynamics of the industry as a whole, through the history, experience and stories of farmers, employers, indigenous and migrant workers.
By concentrating on portraiture and the stories of individuals, we have been able to reveal the social and economic conditions which underpin the industry.

Employment conditions are variable but in a situation where all the factories and farms depend on a high proportion of low-paid migrant labour, most of whom are supplied on a casual basis by independent agencies and gangmasters, there remains the potential for exploitation and intimidation. Whilst the Government has been forced to close some of the loopholes by having agencies and gangmasters licensed - and granting some employment rights to agency workers, abuses remain and our participants have made it clear that supermarket purchasing policy makes it very difficult, even for well intentioned suppliers, to properly fulfil their employment obligations.

The project has offered participation to a wide range of people, including those who habitually live a semi-covert existence or under a degree of coercion - and do not expect to have a voice. We have worked with a number of Iraqi Kurdish migrants and refugees in Boston, some of whom have had to work illegally until able to achieve legal status, or remain without a passport after years in the UK.

The project currently includes two films designed to run continuously in a gallery alongside 45 Perspex face mounted exhibition prints. One film simply and powerfully details the labour intensive and hard work of field and pack house work. This is projected or shown on a large wall mounted screen. The other film consists of the testimonies of our participants, who include large and small farmers, executives, a gangmaster and indigenous and migrant workers. These are intercut to provide a thorough overview of all aspects of the industry.

The exhibition held at LIGHT HOUSE, Wolverhampton in 2009 was highly successful and recorded an exceptionally positive audience response. The FOODCHAIN short was in: MOVES International Festival of Movement on Screen 2010. The photographic work from FOODCHAIN has been nominated for the Prix Pictet 3 by Gallery of Photography, Dublin.

With thanks to all the participating individuals and organisations.