Food systems: Changing the world one meal at a time

This winter, while Eco Retreats has been closed, I’ve been supporting various projects in Africa, all related to the global food and agriculture system. Through my work in international development over many years, I have seen first-hand the interconnectedness between the poverty of millions of small-scale farmers across Africa and Asia, the growing global health crisis, and the rapidly increasing environmental degradation. Looking more deeply at our food system offers solutions to address all three at the same time – and it starts with our everyday food choices.

Below, our karma yogi Emma Eberhardt introduces some of the challenges present across our global food system and how we got here. In future blogs in the series, we will dive deeper into the issues and how we can respond as individuals to revolutionize the system – to improve our health, share economic benefits more equitably and feed an ever-growing population while staying within planetary resource boundaries.

“Our current food system optimises calories over nutrients, to the detriment of our health and our planet’s health. As economic prosperity rises around the world, the quality of our diets is deteriorating at an alarming and unprecedented pace. To date, one in three people around the world is malnourished. 12 million deaths were attributed to unhealthy diets in 2015. In economic terms, malnutrition costs $3.5 trillion annually, with obesity related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes adding another $2 trillion.

How did we get here? After the Second World War, Governments around the world came together to form global institutional organisations to eradicate famine and hunger, forming the multilateral system that we know today. Efforts such as the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals increased political will and financial support to establish a global food system geared towards eliminating hunger. These efforts were effective in reducing famine around the world, but together with subsidies, they have encouraged large scale industrial production of particular foods and food groups, especially grains (and grain-fed meat).

Detrimental effects caused by today’s farming practices include water and air pollution, soil degradation, loss of habitat and decreased biodiversity. Many species, including pollinators, soil organisms, and the natural enemies of crop pests are decreasing in number. The rapid decline in key ecosystem resources such as freshwater supply, reduction in natural protection against storms, increased flooding and other hazards, and the destruction of habitats for species such as fish and pollinators are threats to our life-supporting ecosystems, in turn threatening our food resilience.

Current agricultural systems are vested in economic and political interests, putting profit and quantity over people and quality. Food companies have invested heavily in marketing and increasing the availability of energy-dense, nutrient-poor and ultra-processed foods. Farmers struggle to survive and thrive solely based on their agricultural businesses, in a system that rewards corporations more than those who provide us with food. EcoNexus reports that a handful of corporations now control world food production including animal feed production, livestock breeding, seed production, commodity production, processing, trade and retail, and fertiliser and pesticide manufacturing. Many resilient and nutritious local breeds and food crop varieties have been lost as a result.

On top of this, our 9 to 5 lifestyles in busy cities, with limited access to nature, leave little space for producing and cooking our own food. We have become disconnected from where and how our food is grown. Some of us rarely even fully taste our food: the practice of mindful eating has given way to multi-tasking, and cherishing meals shared with loved ones has given way to eating on the go.

We need a food revolution. It is up to us as conscious global citizens to make our concerns heard and to vote each time we shop for a better food system, changing the world one meal at a time. Let’s start this week just by taking the time to notice what we eat and how we eat it. Are we aware of the origins of our food? Do we know what is in the processed food we are consuming or feeding our families – have we checked for ingredients that may be harmful to our health, or to the planet? Are we eating mindfully, and feeling gratitude for all the people who have invested their labour to bring this food to us? How do we feel after we eat?

Please follow our upcoming blog posts for more info and practical suggestions how we can work together to co-create solutions and food systems that meet our needs today.”

One of the simple pleasures our guests enjoy at Eco Retreats is cooking slowly over an open fire, taking time to enjoy the food and sharing it with friends, family and colleagues in the fresh forest air. It’s a great place to pause and reflect on our life’s values and how we want to live in the world (and just have a great time relaxing in the stunning forest!!)

Stay tuned to find out more about our corporate retreat offering, as we work to catalyze positive global change by bringing business leaders together to innovate and create positive impact in a natural environment.

We open this year on 1st April – head over to www.ecoretreats.co.uk to book your slot today!

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Eco Retreats
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Emma Leigh Burton
Emma Leigh Burton
2019-10-13T17:43:06+0000
We have just had the best weekend here in the ash valley yurt ! It’s definitely a holiday everyone will remember for a long time ! Thank you for making such... a special placeread more
Suzy Box
Suzy Box
2019-10-01T14:52:05+0000
Great place to unwind and reconnect as a couple
Natalie Morris
Natalie Morris
2019-08-28T15:32:34+0000
Just had an amazing few days relaxing in the River Yurt. Beautiful stunning location, peace & tranquility a time to just chill out and watch our daughter play... on the open meadow & river. The outdoor bath was perfect on a summer evening to lay back and watch the sky come alive with stars!! Would definitely recommendread more
Rachel Harper
Rachel Harper
2019-08-26T10:57:20+0000
We’ve just had the best 2 nights in the Ash Valley yurt! The outdoor bath was brilliant! Complete privacy, if you don’t include the sheep 🐑 my 11yo boys... have loved chopping wood, starting fires, making dens and playing in the stream whilst my partner and I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the peace 😌 I would 100% recommend this place, Margaret and her daughter were most welcoming. You have everything you need already there. Thank you for such a lovely experience xread more
Charlotte Edwards
Charlotte Edwards
2019-08-23T15:10:33+0000
Absolutely magical 😍 I so wish I'd booked for more than two nights! We stayed in the meadow yurt, complete privacy, surrounded by forest and mountains, and... nothing to hear but for birds and waterfalls. There is so much on site to explore we didn't have time to see half of it! We spent an afternoon climbing up the hill behind the yurt and swimming in waterfalls before jumping in that beautiful wood fired bath 😍 and visited a few beautiful spots in Snowdonia. Can't wait to come back!read more
Chris Lowe
Chris Lowe
2019-08-22T19:48:00+0000
Peaceful, wonderful setting.
Shea Hollis
Shea Hollis
2019-08-18T16:05:41+0000
Honestly, this place is truly magical. Utter blissful escapism for all ages. Fireheated outdoor bath and your own private waterfall? Just perfect.
Vik Taylor
Vik Taylor
2018-10-24T19:49:57+0000
We enjoyed our 1st stay last week for 4 nights with our baby in a tipi and we loved every second of it. we had a warm welcome when we arrived, tipi already... warmed up too. we were supplied with every thing we needed. we enjoyed the lush hot bath looking at the clear sky at night. the view every morning was beautifal. everything so peaceful and quiet. all we could hear was the sound of the running water, trees rustling in the wind and the shoothing sound of wildlife. It was perfect. thankyou to Angus and Margaret. you literally thought of everything. thankyou. Will be booking for next year. cant wait.read more
Stewart Hoyle
Stewart Hoyle
2018-08-24T20:01:19+0000
a get-away from technology
Karen Morley
Karen Morley
2018-07-24T20:27:58+0000
Had a brilliant time in the meadow yurt with our 2 children. It was so peaceful and relaxing, everything that we needed was supplied. It was lovely being... able to sit outside by the fire toasting marshmallows and having bbqs. The bath was amazing being able to totally relax outside in the peace and quiet. Our boys loved it especially the bath and paddling in the river. We would recommend to go try it to every one.read more
Neil Stanton
Neil Stanton
2018-06-18T14:38:49+0000
Beautiful location and the facilities were excellent. Spent a very relaxing weekend in the Cwm Onnen Tipi enjoying the scenery. Very comfortable and loved the... wood-fired bath. We'll be back next year (hopefully with slightly better weather).read more
Jason Stirzaker
Jason Stirzaker
2018-04-04T11:02:49+0000
After a last minute decision to go away for the night we came across Eco-Retreats and their amazing looking Tipis and Yurts, set in equally amazing... surroundings. They were so accomadating for us as we could only stay one night, and had rang up on the same morning we were staying. We got such a warm, friendly welcome and they really do go out their way to be there to meet & greet you (you'll understand just how much when you go). What a truly beautiful site quite literally away from it all. We stayed in the Forest Tipi which was set within it's own patch of land up a short trail to really give it an extra isolated feel. The outdoor bath really is amazing and well worth the wait to warm up, even in early April temperatures and light rain so would be absolutely perfect on more warmer nights. The Tipi itself was equipped with all that you'd need and the Chimenea did a good job of keeping us warm, even with the surprise blanket of snow we got in the night. I'd highly recommend this place to anyone wanting a truly different experience and appreciates being close to nature and getting back to basics, while still retaining the comfort of a bed at night.read more
Eric Stannard
Eric Stannard
2017-08-21T20:43:59+0000
From booking to arrival they were very helpful. After a quick overview of how to operate the tipi and fires we were left to our own devises to enjoy the... tranquility and setting of the waterfall tipi. The tipi has everything you need for your stay and we found it warm and dry despite the wet weather. The fire in the tipi takes the place of the TV and the dancing flames soon become mesmerising; the background sounds of the waterfall and rain on canvas are relaxing and the dancing flames of the tea lights in the lanterns complete your escape from the modern world. The rain stopped long enough for us to enjoy a warm bath in the open air in the woods and is well worth the effort of keeping the fire going. All in all a fantastic escape away from modern distractions.read more
Louise Gresty
Louise Gresty
2017-07-26T17:43:03+0000
Brilliant feeling of being miles from anywhere, in a lovely peaceful setting with amazing views, having your own fire either indoors in the stove or outside... campfire and it was very comfortable too.read more
Dan Shephard
Dan Shephard
2017-07-23T21:05:33+0000
Christopher Charles
Christopher Charles
2017-05-25T07:10:31+0000
The most beautiful and remotest place I've ever found in wales � we go back year after year and it just gets better... ����������������read more
Gracie Hindley
Gracie Hindley
2017-05-15T08:29:13+0000
My boyfriend and I stayed in the Meadow Yurt last weekend. The trip was everything we could have wanted, and more! Beautiful yurt filled with all the equipment... you need for your stay. The wood fired bath was also a huge highlight for us. Would thoroughly recommend to anyone wanting a quiet, stress-free getaway!read more
Andrew Calogirou
Andrew Calogirou
2017-05-04T05:36:23+0000
Amazing location and the River Yurt is amazing. Been 2 years in a row now and want to go again already.
Megan Hunt
Megan Hunt
2017-05-02T22:11:54+0000
We loved it here and can not wait to return one day.
Rachel Smiler Berwick
Rachel Smiler Berwick
2017-04-27T14:02:26+0000
Cannot recommend this place enough. It was our 2nd year back this year with our 4 year old & it never fails to impress. We just love staying in the waterfall... Tipi :) booking process is excellent & the stay is even better especially being able to have a bath in the forest ;) thankyou again and we will see you next year xxxxread more
Kerrie Henriques
Kerrie Henriques
2017-04-14T18:58:51+0000
Absolutely amazing, such a great experience. Super friendly staff. Thank you �
Will Sfakiotakis
Will Sfakiotakis
2017-04-14T18:53:22+0000
Highly recommended! (River Yurt) A beautiful place to be, hosted by genuine, welcoming, and helpful staff. We will be coming back! A truly grounding and... humbling experience. Loved it ��read more
Robert Cox
Robert Cox
2016-10-13T19:11:56+0000
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Emma Jill Eberhardt

Emma Jill Eberhardt

Emma is a volunteer at Eco Retreats. She is currently working down the road from Eco Retreats at the Centre for Alternative Technology. Emma recently graduated with a BSc in Environmental Sciences specialising in agroecology, sustainable living and engagement with nature. Emma is really passionate about environmental issues and sustainable living and has been involved with numerous community projects in Cornwall. When she is not leading a project, taking a course, writing or volunteering, Emma can be found somewhere outdoors or exploring her creativity through photography, filming and painting. Emma has recently grown an interest in the need to change our mindsets and nurture our connectivity with nature in order to successfully change our lifestyles to live more sustainably, which led her to get involved with Eco Retreats.
Emma Jill Eberhardt

Emma Jill Eberhardt

Emma is a volunteer at Eco Retreats. She is currently working down the road from Eco Retreats at the Centre for Alternative Technology. Emma recently graduated with a BSc in Environmental Sciences specialising in agroecology, sustainable living and engagement with nature. Emma is really passionate about environmental issues and sustainable living and has been involved with numerous community projects in Cornwall. When she is not leading a project, taking a course, writing or volunteering, Emma can be found somewhere outdoors or exploring her creativity through photography, filming and painting. Emma has recently grown an interest in the need to change our mindsets and nurture our connectivity with nature in order to successfully change our lifestyles to live more sustainably, which led her to get involved with Eco Retreats.
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