Colin Tudge finds Part One of the Government’s newly published National Food Strategy well-meaning but misguided.
This government-sponsored report, published in July 2020, is the first of three that are intended both “to support this country through the turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to prepare for the end of the EU exit transition period on 31 December 2020”.
The preparatory work was chaired and the report was written by Henry Dimbleby — a food-writer, businessman and campaigner: co-founder of Leon Restaurants and the Sustainable Restaurant Association. He is also a humanitarian; his report shows true concern for human wellbeing, not least re jobs, poverty, and, in particular, the treatment of children. Ostensibly, then, the report is just what’s needed and no-one could be better equipped to provide it.
But — there is always a “but”: Mr Dimbleby is not a radical, and right now, urgently, and for the future, we do need to be radical. Radical does not mean subversive or hippie or latent terrorist. It simply means that to put the world to rights, or at least begin to do so, we need to get down to the roots of things. We need to re-think from first principles, to question all the assumptions of the status quo, for as Albert Einstein no less observed –
“We cannot expect to solve problems with the same consciousness that created them in the first place”
Some at least of the advisers and other contributors to the report are radical thinkers at least in the sense that they do question at least some of the assumptions of the status quo but their voices are not evident in this present text. Thus, says Mr Dimbleby:
“The fact that, after a wobbly start, there were no serious food shortages is a testament to the flexibility and entrepreneurialism of so many food businesses, and the resilience of the system as a whole.”
In short: the status quo is basically OK. It just needs a little help from its friends.
More generally, we are told, the task for the report’s advisers was to —
“… consider how to maintain the UK’s high food standards, while also becoming a champion of free trade”
For, as we are assured later in the report:
“It is now more essential than ever that we harness the power of free trade.”
All kinds of hares will be startled from the undergrowth by all of the above. To be sure, our food standards are higher than in many other countries – some of the others are positively terrifying – but are our standards as high as all that? Animal welfarists, conservation biologists, and nutritionists are prominent among the many who think not. British governments, particularly recent governments, have often claimed in all kinds of fields that our standards are among the highest of all including the outrageous claim that our present energy strategies “lead the world”. But is even the best good enough? It surely is not enough simply to maintain present standards. Is it?
And what of “free” trade and the global market to which it gives rise? Are they really the answer? The obvious alternative is to grow more at home: not to eschew trade altogether which would be in various ways disastrous but certainly to become more self-reliant. But, we are told:
“It is often assumed that growing more food locally is the best way to improve the security of the food supply. But the opposite can sometimes be true. Indeed, the fragility of an entirely local food supply is one of the reasons why, since the mid-nineteenth century, our island nation has relied on imports for a significant part of our diet. The Corn Laws that were introduced after the Napoleonic wars, effectively banning imports of wheat, were justified at the time as a way of protecting British supply. But they were widely recognised (and loathed) as protectionism: a method of ensuring British landowners could command a high price for their crops, thereby enriching the gentry at everyone else’s expense”.
In truth, it is still very hard to decide whether the Corn Laws were a good thing or a bad thing. They were introduced in Britain in 1815 to restrict the import of cheap grain, particularly from America, and then repealed in 1846. Theoretically, the withdrawal of import restrictions was good for the rising mass of urban and quasi-urban poor in the rapidly expanding factories since it brought down the price of wheat, oats, and barley – though even here things are not so simple for as the Irish historian and journalist Brian Inglis pointed out in Poverty and Industrialisation (1971) cheaper food gave manufacturers an excuse to pay their workers less. But the repeal of 1846 was bad for landowners as they again had to face foreign competition. So the repeal was met both with whoops of joy and with howls of protest.
However, in what seems to me to be a breathtaking misreading of history, the National Food Strategy Part I also cites the Potato Famines in Ireland (and elsewhere) from 1845 to 1849 as evidence for the need for free trade, and the dangers of relying on home grown food:
“The Irish potato famine … demonstrated with painful clarity the dangers of relying exclusively on local agriculture.”
Historians such as Brian Inglis and Cecil Woodham-Smith in The Great Hunger (1962) have pointed out that while the Irish peasants starved in their fields (a million died and a million more emigrated – roughly a quarter of the initial population) there were still plentiful supplies of grain in the barns. But the grain was for export – including the oats, earmarked for England’s horses. The potatoes themselves fell so totally to blight partly because the weather was so bad but also because the local people had nothing else to grow, and lived on them more or less exclusively — up to 14 lbs per day. The potatoes, too, were all of one variety (the Lumper). This was monoculture writ large. The landlords who could have prevented this misery were largely absentee and did not give a damn. The English government decided that the problem had been much exaggerated (“fake news”?) or, insofar as it was true, it was the fault of the Irish themselves – who were, it was freely asserted, irredeemably lazy and ignorant. Charity, or indeed justice, would only make them lazier. The same excuse has been used throughout all history to excuse indifference to human suffering. George Osborn and David Cameron used the same kind of argument to defend their cuts to benefits.
In short, the Irish famine does not show the virtue of free trade, but the precise opposite: what can happen when home production is not taken seriously enough; and, more generally, when governance is cynical and self-seeking. For wall-to-wall monoculture of the cheapest available crop is not what agriculture ought to mean. Neither, emphatically, should any country allow its own agriculture to be degraded and the people’s wellbeing to be compromised just to make way for commodity crops to be sold for money that for the most part remains in the hands of a dominant minority. Many modern countries have been forced by commercial and military pressure to do just that and this is arguably the greatest single cause of human misery and injustice, and indeed of ecological destruction the world over.
So does the answer really lie with free trade? Even Britain is feeling its ill effects. As the report itself points out, in the interests of free trade we already import a great deal of food that contains ingredients or is produced in ways that are not allowed at home. The inevitable post-Brexit trade deals with the US will surely lead to a lot more.
More broadly, free trade is a central plank of the economic doctrine known as neoliberal. A diversion is called for:
A diversion: the core beliefs that drive the modern world and the curse of neoliberalism
The accepted fundamentals – the paradigms; the guidelines that determine the shape of our lives and the fate of the world – nowadays include the following:
To begin with, governments the world over take it to be self-evident that they must provide what Theresa May and Xi Jinping alike called and call “strong leadership”. To be sure, the Tories who now prevail renounce “the nanny state”: Heaven forfend that the government should be held responsible for anything that goes wrong in people’s lives. So instead of mere government we and the world are now ruled by an oligarchy: an informal but nonetheless solid partnership of governments, the corporates, various species of financiers, and their entourage of carefully chosen intellectuals. This is the orthodoxy. The rules and ideas by which the oligarchy operates are taken to be the way of the world. Those who question the orthodoxy are suspect: “nay-sayers”; subversives; potential terrorists.
In the end, in all societies, the economy determines what happens and the way people live their lives and the fate of the natural world. Unfortunately, in the modern world, the economy that prevails is the offshoot of capitalism known as neoliberalism. This was formulated in its modern form in the 1960s primarily by the Chicago economist Milton Friedman and was elevated to become the global norm in the 1980s by the governments of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Above all – and this is what makes it different from traditional capitalist business practice – it attempts to remove from economic thinking the burden of moralising. It is not the job of economists, say the neoliberals, to decide what kind of society we should create. It is their job merely to maximize material wealth – which is best done via the “free” market which, when allowed to grow, will become the global market. Let the traders the world over compete to produce more stuff more cheaply and leave the consumers to choose what they want. The producers and retailers that provide most satisfaction will also make the most profit. That’s democracy. So everybody wins. Companies will grow rich by doing good, as Tom Lehrer put the matter — and the richer we are, as Mrs Thatcher assured us, the more good we can do. Moralising gets in the way of trade and production and so, more often than not, does more harm than good. To misquote Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, “Morality is for wimps”.
All this can be made to sound good – so long as the market is left to do its thing and the entrepreneurs are given their head then what Adam Smith in the 18th century called “the invisible hand” will ensure that all is well. The job of economists, therefore, and indeed of governments, is simply to ensure that the market runs smoothly. This, in a nutshell, is and was the core philosophy of our present government and the several that preceded it, of all parties, and is indeed the norm the world over.
What the zealots who quote Adam Smith fail to recognise or never knew, because they are not necessarily well educated, is that Smith was a moralist before he was an economist. In all his writings he emphasised the quality of “human sympathy”: a natural compassion and what today would be called empathy that prompts most people (those who are not psychopaths) to behave within acceptable moral limits. The invisible hand on its own, without moral guidance, certainly cannot do what the world really needs. Crucially, as Milton Friedman himself acknowledged, the free market does not deliver social justice. It is not designed to do so. Still less can it cater for the natural world.
The pitfalls in neoliberalism are obvious. In particular, the means by which wealth is maximised can themselves be highly destructive, socially and ecologically: drilling and mining, hyper-industrialised agriculture, “executive homes” on greenfield sites, and the rest. More broadly, the obsession with wealth per se is all too likely to sweep aside all other values, like kindness and what is commonly called spirituality. Human values, in short, are sidelined, and often openly derided: “unrealistic”; “hippie”; even, in large swathes of the United States, “commie” – than which, in those parts, there is no greater sin.
Yet – paradoxically – the morality-free free market economy is zealously defended on moral grounds. Notably, the “free” in “free trade” is commonly conflated with freedom itself – and the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 took it to be “self-evident” that Liberty (along with “Life and the pursuit of Happiness”) is one of humankind’s “inalienable Rights”.
But of course trade and the market are never absolutely “free” and never can be. Even when they are freed from tariffs and quotas and taxes and the rest they must still be contained within trade agreements, which are forever being re-negotiated. The market, too, is designed to be maximally competitive and in all competitions there are many more losers than winners and in practice power goes to power and money goes to money so that in practice, the world’s markets in most things and perhaps especially in food and the agriculture that produces it are dominated by an ever dwindling elite of mega-corporates; and the ones that come out on top are the ones who play the money game most single-mindedly and indeed ruthlessly, using the law and their financial clout to do whatever brings most benefit to their directors and shareholders. The freedom of the majority who don’t come out on top is severely curtailed. Most of the world’s most powerful governments are content to go along with this and governments that resist can be overridden by modern trade laws. Democracy is reduced to “choice” – we are free (at least sometimes) to choose between the (usually very similar) offerings of the dominant corporates.
As if to supply the coup de grace, the modern world is possessed by technophilia which in turn is rooted in scientism — the belief that science can solve all our problems. Scientism is espoused alas by many “top” scientists, particularly of the kind that modern-day, go-ahead governments prefer to take notice of, because governments like to seem “bold” and nothing is bolder than to launch a shiny, new, and largely untried technology upon the world, sweeping all else aside. The combination of uncritical technophilia and neoliberalism is by far the deadliest threat to the modern world, far outstripping disease, including type 2 diabetes and Covid-19, or war, or terrorism, and partly or largely responsible for all of them.
But all this – rule by oligarchy; free trade and the free market; and technophilia – is, alas, these days taken for granted, and generally goes unquestioned in official reports of the kind that are allowed see the light of day. In truth, the loss of morality except of a most rudimentary kind, and of nearly all traces of spirituality (what there is is taken care of by “culture” and “the leisure industry”) is crippling, and societies that do not put these human, non-material values at the top of their agendas are bound always to be deeply and indeed fatally flawed. Just as the world is now.
Nannies, vandals, and gangsters
The report is commendably chatty and at one point, somewhat less commendably, quotes the ex-Tory MP and journalist Matthew Parris who wrote in The Times that while he used to condemn “the nanny state” out of hand and in all contexts (crash helmets, seat-belts, smoking) he now thinks that a few rules are not a bad thing. Dammit, the man’s gone soft. More to the point, though, is that the expression – “nanny state” – coined I believe by Mrs Thatcher — betrays serious crudeness of thought. For, clearly, the job of the state is not simply to impose draconian rules except in times of emergency when individual deviations can endanger everybody, but neither should a government simply adopt a policy of laissez faire, and allow or encourage the most powerful and energetic among us to let rip. Everyone, I suggest, who seriously wants to be a member of a functional society, should seek to operate within what I regard as the bedrock principles of morality on the one hand, which requires restraint and compassion; and ecology on the other — not compromising our fellow creatures or the fabric of the Earth any more than is absolutely unavoidable. Insofar as the government should presume to boss us around it should do so for those reasons only: to keep the whole society within the moral and ecological guidelines. Within those guidelines it should allow as much freedom as possible for personal fulfilment and for the flashes of insight and genius that lift us all; and, where appropriate, to translate those flashes into useful action. In other words a government’s main job is to enable and encourage good things to happen, while making life harder for whatever is generally damaging and unsocial. I suggest that most governments in the history of the world, particularly perhaps in the past few decades, not least in Britain, have oftentimes done the precise opposite.
Thus it is appropriate neither to be an out-and-out nanny on the one hand, nor to give carte blanche to the rich and powerful to the other. There can be no one-size-fits-all economic algorithms – neither state ownership and control of everything, nor private ownership of everything. The former leads us either to Stalin (or to the nanny state) and the latter leads us all too obviously to vandalism (the destruction of ancient woods to make way for railways that benefit only the shareholders) and gangsterism (including the active dismantling of efficient and eco-friendly family farms and shops to make way for transnational corporates).
A little bit of sense, and compassion, and respect for the natural world would take us a very long way – much further than most recent governments have done. Indeed it is hard to see what else is really needed.
But we should get to the meat, or rather to the meat and two veg. For, specifically, the report has a great deal to say about food and, as with the report as a whole, much of it is good and certainly well intended but overall it leaves the feeling that the biggest nettles remain ungrasped. Thus:
What can we do about food?
On food as in most matters the report tells us much that is true and to the point. Thus:
“The effects of hunger on young bodies (and minds) are serious and long-lasting … Pregnancy and early childhood are periods of rapid growth and development, and nutrient imbalance during this period can alter body structure and function irreversibly, with long-term health consequences … Studies have shown an association between malnutrition in pregnancy and early years and chronic disease in adulthood (e.g. higher BMI, type 2 diabetes, some cancers). Nutrition during pregnancy is crucial to optimal development – especially getting the right amount of iron, omega 3 and folic acid; folate deficiency can result in neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Malnutrition in pregnancy and early years can also adversely affect brain development.”
Indeed. So what’s to be done?
“The Government must move quickly to shore up the diets of the most deprived children using existing, proven mechanisms. Expand eligibility for the Free School Meal scheme to include every child (up to the age of 16) from a household where the parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit (or equivalent benefits). Extend the Holiday Activity and Food Programme to all areas in England, so that summer holiday support is available to all children in receipt of Free School Meals. Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week, and expand the scheme to every pregnant woman and to all households with children under 4 where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefits”
This sounds humane and sensible as I am sure it is intended to be. But should we be seeking only to “shore up” the diets of “the most deprived children”? What about the only averagely deprived which – if too many crisps and too much coke counts as deprivation – is most of them? And are “existing, proven mechanisms” really up to the task? Do these mechanisms really include Universal Credit? Really?
Shouldn’t we rather be aiming to ensure that all children should have ready access to good food? What would that entail? Why is this not even being considered? On humanitarian grounds the case for feeding all children well seems open and shut but even in crude economic terms it would surely pay off because as the report itself points out, hungry and malnourished children may never realise their potential and become fully functional citizens, and diet-related diseases cost us all a great deal of money. Is £4.25 a week for some children in school really the best that we can do? Isn’t this, in truth, niggardly? Abraham Lincoln famously asserted that we need “government of the people and for the people”. Would a government that was really on our side seek only to tweak the status quo?
More broadly, and rightly, the report emphasises the importance of food in social life – and as clerics and medics and all normal people agree the world over, a contented social life, which mainly means family and friends, is the sine qua non: the key above all keys to health and happiness. As Dimbleby puts the matter (he is, after all, a cook and a restaurateur):
“Cooking for, and eating with, other people is a mark of friendship in every culture. The word company is derived from Latin: com, “with”, and pan, “bread”. Literally, someone who eats with you. Food finds its way into every aspect of our social lives, including our rites of passage and religious festivals”
But, he goes on —
“ …the UK does not place as high a social value on food and cooking as our continental neighbours. Before lockdown forced us to take up home cooking, we spent a smaller proportion of our income on meals at home than any other European country.”
“We tend to rush our meals, spending almost half as much time eating as the French. We eat out more, cook less, and are much keener on ready meals. Our household spend on pre-prepared food is 28% higher than in France, 64% higher than Spain, 101% higher than Germany, and a whopping 178% higher than Italy”.
All in all it seems:
“The UK does not place as high a social value on food and cooking as our continental neighbours”
Though the report does not spell this out, the underlying assumption in this as in most official reports on most matters is that what people do must reflect what they want to do. In a democracy this must be true, mustn’t it? And Britain is a democracy, is it not? By the same token, whatever ills may befall us must to a large extent be our fault?
Well of course there is some truth in this. Our own desires, and fragilities, do help to shape society. To some extent the British have got stuck into burgers and pizzas and Kentucky fried because for most people (all but the “most deprived”) they are affordable and easy and most of us, at least at the end of a long day, prefer easy to hard.
But we cannot take it for granted, even in Britain, inclined to see itself as the world exemplar of democracy, that what people do is entirely or even predominantly shaped by their own preferences and desires. As the report points out, Britain was the first country to industrialise and to urbanise on the grand scale and, stocked with raw materials from its Empire and a great deal of coal, it industrialised more thoroughly than anyone else. This reduced immediate contact with the countryside and produced an urban labouring class with very little time or money to do more than stoke up. The trend has been amplified these past few decades by the neoliberal economy with its emphasis on short-term economic “growth” and by bigger and smarter and ever-more intrusive technologies designed to centralise production and distribution. The whole endeavour is placed in the hands of corporates with an invitation to fill their boots, helped along by a succession of neoliberal and technophilic governments (including Tony Blair’s “New Labour”). It is very much in the corporates’ interests to make us ever more dependent upon them, so they can “add value” and enhance profit, ultimately with the microwave-ready TV dinner – which people make use of largely because the modern obligation to maximise wealth leaves them with too little time for anything else. In short, the governments that tell us we don’t eat well are part of the oligarchy and have created the economy that is the prime cause of all the trouble. This is why we need to get down to the roots: be radical.
To be sure, pre-neoliberal ideology has also played its part. Thus by the time my own children first started primary school in the 1970s the traditional “domestic science” which taught cookery had given way to “home economics”. Then cookery as a whole was swept aside as a new wave of muddled ideologues decreed that it led to gender stereotyping, with girls and women forever bound to the kitchen. But of course boys can learn to cook too and often love it and nothing in the end is more liberating than the ability to grow food and cook it. Ideology is not the same thing as moral principle.
Then again, the coup de grace, modern flats have often been built with no kitchens: just a sink, a pedal-bin, and a micro-wave. In short, our ability to cook, and the appreciation of good food that goes with it, have been systematically killed off in Britain by the very powers that now wring their hands and tell us we should do better. In any serious attempt to turn things around this needs to be spelled out.
Always, though, in defence of the status quo, we are reminded that high tech, global competition and integrated food chains have brought us cheap food; and that this must be seen to be socially desirable if not a sine qua non. People like me and a great many others who argue for better food produced in more traditional ways (see below) are written off as middle-class elitists, unrealistic do-gooders. Already many people can’t afford food – even in affluent Britain a million now must resort to food banks, and if food was dearer “the poor” would be even worse off than they are. Thus those who have eschewed traditional morality as the neoliberals have done nonetheless claim the moral high ground.
Cheap food, though, is one of the great con tricks of the modern world, or indeed of all history.
Cheap food: the world’s greatest con trick.
Food in Britain is ridiculously cheap: a mere 10 per cent of the average income. So how come so many Brits cannot afford it? How come a million British people must now resort to food banks?
The standard answers seem to be, first, that food is still too expensive; and secondly, that we have so many poor people because that the country as a whole is not rich enough.
So, on the first count, huge efforts continue to be made to make food even cheaper. Expensive human labour, fractious and fickle as it is, is replaced by ever bigger and smarter machines and industrial chemistry (now abetted by biotech). Husbandry is simplified to irreducible monoculture. Farms are encouraged to grow and grow to achieve economies of scale – as advised by former US Secretary of Agriculture Earl “Rusty” Butz (1909-2008): “Get big or get out”. For good measure good old Rusty told farmers to plant commodity crops “from fencerow to fencerow”. Through their subsidies and grants these past several decades Governments like Britain’s, and the EU, have indeed favoured the biggest. Supermarkets prowl the world to find the cheapest products, which desperate farmers sometimes sell to them for less than they cost to grow. Scientific research has more and more been left in the hands of the corporates, which are expressly deigned to generate wealth for their directors and share-holders. Worldwide, farmers who fail to compete for short-term wealth have been thrown out by the tens of millions. Animal welfare is of the minimalist kind: how little can we get away with? The final recourse is to abandon farming in favour of solar-powered factory-grown microbes, which indeed is already well underway. It is hard to see what more could be done to reduce the price of food.
On the second count, it is argued that the poor in Britain can’t afford food because the country is not rich enough to ensure that everyone has enough to live on. Hence the focus on economic growth. But this of course is the most dreadful nonsense. For we are also told that ours is the fifth largest economy in the world and world resources are seriously under strain and again it is hard to see how much richer we could reasonably become.
In truth, the real problem is not lack of overall wealth, but of inequality. In most of Scandinavia in recent decades (though things are changing, I believe) the richest one per cent received less than ten times more than the average. In Britain now the discrepancy is more like 100 times. The difference in income between the top few per cent in Britain and the poorest 10 per cent is now nearer 1000-fold: a few million versus a few thousand. With such a wide gap it is impossible to determine a price for food that is fair to everybody. What’s 10 per cent for the average may be 100 per cent for the poorest, and too small to measure for the richest. If we are serious about the future we must tackle income inequality – which modern right-wing oligarchs, and indeed oligarchs through all the ages, are and always have been very reluctant to do.
In practice, too, as a great many economists have pointed out, the modern economy is largely based not on production, of food or manufactured goods, but on the manipulation of money itself: “finance capitalism”. Money these days bears little relation to physical reality. “Demand” may have very little to do with need. This – the manipulation of money rather than production of stuff that is real and useful – is why houses have increased 100 times in price even during my adult lifetime. The house that my daughter and her family now own in South London is now deemed to be worth more than 100 times what I paid for an almost identical house, in the same area, in the late 1960s: £600,000-plus versus £6,250. This, when you boil it down, is pure scam. The extra half million or so has gone not to the builders (or at least to the ones who lay the bricks) but to the bankers who lend the money. So it is, as Simon Fairley pointed out recently in The Land, that whereas 60 years ago the average Brit spent 10 per cent on housing and 30 per cent on food, now it’s the other way around – though many now spend 50 per cent of their income on a place to live. Thatcher’s curtailment of council housing in the 1980s was the turning point. Perhaps it was good to allow people to buy their family homes but it was undoubtedly bad to neglect public housing. Indeed, given the misery that this has caused – including the need for food banks to bail out the most desperate – it could be called wicked. So what should really be done?
Enlightened Agriculture, self-reliance, fair trade, and a proper food culture
In truth, what we really need, is what I for some years have been calling “Enlightened Agriculture”, sometimes shortened to “Real Farming” as in the Oxford Real Farming Conference and the Real Farming Trust; together with a combination of national self-reliance and fair trade; all feeding in to a newly re-vivified Food Culture.
Enlightened Agriculture is informally but adequately defined as:
“Agriculture that is expressly designed to provide everyone, everywhere, with food of the highest quality, nutritionally and gastronomically, without cruelty or injustice and without wrecking the natural world”.
This, despite present appearances, should be eminently achievable.
The expression, “Enlightened Agriculture” is fairly new (I thought of it circa 2008) but it is compounded of two well-established ideas that I emphatically did not invent:
Agroecology means that we should treat every farm as an ecosystem and agriculture as a whole, as far as is possible, as a positive contributor to the biosphere, and not, as now, as a hyper-effective wrecking ball. In practice this means that farms should as far as possible be mixed (polycultural), low-input (organic is the default position), and min till. In practice therefore agroecological farms are complex, just as nature is complex, which means they should be skills-intensive (plenty of farmers and growers); and in general therefore (since there would be little advantage scaling up such systems) should be small to medium-sized.
This of course is the precise opposite of what is now the overall government-corporate strategy: high-input monoculture with minimum to zero labour on the largest possible scale.
Food Sovereignty, first formally described in the 1990s by the global peasant movement La Via Campesina, means in effect that all societies should have control of their own food supply: again the very opposite of modern day commodity agriculture driven by corporates.
But then: modern Neoliberal-Industrial agriculture is not designed to provide good food for everyone and to keep the biosphere in good heart. It is designed to maximise wealth, which is not the same thing at all. The moral reasoning seems to be that if people can get their hands on this wealth (a big if) then they can buy all the food they want – from whoever is still growing it and of course for the lowest possible price.
The accompanying strategy of self-reliance does not mean self-sufficiency. Self-reliance means that all countries, wherever possible, should strive to produce as much of what they grow well to feed their own people in times of siege (as in World War II) or of ecological set-back (such as widespread desertification or flooding caused by global warming). But it would make no sense for Britain, say, to grow coffee or bananas on a worthwhile scale: better to trade with tropical countries that can grow these things well, more or less in the spirit of David Ricardo. Of course, the “fair” in “fair trade” must mean fair to all parties – including other species. Huge plantations of commodity crops grown at the expense of local communities and of the indigenous flora and fauna won’t do.
Food culture means a diet and a cuisine geared to whatever is produced by Enlightened Agriculture – which in most countries, and certainly in Britain, should cause no hardship at all. Though first we would need to re-learn how to cook.
All this is eminently achievable – but it needs thinking that is truly radical: a different way of farming; land reform; a very different economy; a different kind of government – not an oligarchy of government, big finance, and compliant intellectuals; a different approach to science – which is wonderful but not omniscient and emphatically should not be the handmaiden of corporates; and a different mindset which again emphasises non-material values.
You can find the full report here.
Teaser photo credit: Farm at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. By Amerique via Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.