Empty fruit veg shelves

It’s easy to see why ‘permacrisis’, defined as an ‘extended period of insecurity and instability’, is Collins Dictionary’s word of the year.

Food and drink price inflation hit a record 18.8% in September for hospitality and foodservice, according to the CGA Prestige Foodservice Price Index. Inequality is getting worse. Millions of people are struggling to access food and dependence on food banks is skyrocketing. The NHS waiting list in England recently hit seven million people. We seem to be lurching from one crisis to another before we’ve had a chance to process, learn or move forward.

But rather than facing crisis after crisis while waiting for things to return to so-called ‘normal’, we must change tack and adapt to instability.

The default mode of business and government seems to be: ‘Let’s wait until we’re through Brexit before we take climate action; until we’re beyond the Covid-19 pandemic before we think about addressing obesity; until we’re past the cost of living crisis before we tackle inequality.’

By compartmentalising issues, many food companies struggle to take meaningful action. At one level this is not surprising, as people only have so much bandwidth and the short-term crises we face are very real.

But it’s not good enough. We need to step back and see these crises as a signal that broader change is urgently needed. We need to get on with devising longer-term, ‘in the round’ solutions to the multifaceted challenges raining down on the sector.

How about ‘resilience’ for word of the decade? We heard at our recent Business Forum that people often interpret resilience as the ability to bounce back after a shock to the system. Resilience can also mean the emergence of something new. We need a ‘bounce forward’ mindset, not ‘bounce back’. We need to shift modes from firefighter to architect, and start building better food systems.

What should food companies do? Be proactive rather than reactive. Ensure agility – don’t invest in infrastructure that locks you into one path. Connect with others for support. Take part in collective missions for fairer food and farming.

This week is COP27, the week of the year when the climate emergency gets the kind of profile it should be getting all the time. The conference marks a week of discussing, organising and mobilising for the future – the kinds of actions we should all take every day

We are the food community. Don’t wait for the crisis to pass – embrace the instability. Be hopeful, bold and resolute. There is amazing work going on – unlocking more positive energy in the process. In the face of a food permacrisis, let’s be permaresilient.