Harvest

I’m surprised by many of the responses to this article.  I don’t think Mr Tudge is suggesting we should all go back to making candles and growing wild flowers.  [Any nostalgia for the past can be swiftly dispelled by a viewing of the film “Far from the Madding Crowd”.] But our current way of farming cannot last since its based on oil and long supply lines.  As the oil age is drawing to a close what we are seeing is large increases in food prices caused by both higher oil prices and climate induced disaster.  There is another story in the guardian today saying food prices are set to reach an all time high.  The standard response to all this is to want to engineer our way out of it, larger farms more fertilizer, GM, cheapest place to grow food, etc.  This won’t be possible.

We have a very dysfunctional relationship with food that is at least partly influenced by its industrialisation over the last century or so (and the way we are sold food). The biggest outcome has been obesity and related conditions such as diabetes, but also diets and food fads. Of course part of the reason for this is our sedentary lifestyles. [The craziest manifestation of this is people driving to the gym I attend.] This industrialised food (look at the ingredients of the average brand of margarine) is almost impossible to avoid if you don’t live in a yurt.

A century ago most people worked in heavy manual labour or walked miles to work (or both) which at least burnt off a poor diet. In addition food was relatively expensive, its amazing but for the average person at the beginning of the 20th century in the UK over 50% of their budget was spent on food. By the end of the last century it was about 8% its started rising again (I think it makes up about 15% of the average bill now).

Of course many people in those days had poor diets. No one wants to see stunted individuals. In addition whilst industrialised food has caused health problems it is one reason for a huge rise in life expectancy. We also have so much more choice. I love eating some the tropical fruit and other foodstuffs we cannot grow here. What about the future? The alternatives are yes growing as much food as we can in cities, permaculture, agriforestry, small and large farms and of course eating less meat (I’m not a vegetarian) and indeed eating less overall. We need to keep the best of the last century (new ways of growing, new varieties etc.) Try to find ways of importing some stuff we cannot grow ourselves (hi tech sailing ships?). Make sure the poorest members of society don’t go hungry. We will have to eat less, but eat sensibly. None of this will be easy, but denying there is a problem looming is unhelpful.

Now I need to go and plant some winter spinach and lettuce at the end of the garden if that’s not too pastoral…

Neil

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