Thinking Ahead – Our Attitude to Food

I was thinking about our attitude to food, we’re the first society with a general expectation of being able to get what we want when we want it. The old Victorian great house gardeners invested huge amounts of time and (cheap) manpower to provide the big house with food outside of its normal season. Now we expect our supermarket to have fresh fruit and vegetables available 365 days a year.

Even frozen produce is relatively new. It wasn’t until the 1970s that home freezers started to be popular and affordable to us masses.

We tend to take the view that what doesn’t grow we don’t eat. Tomatoes are a bit of a staple though, so if worst comes to the worst with the blight this year then we’ll probably cheat and buy some tinned tomatoes for cooking with.

More concerning than a lack of tomatoes is the news that Russia has banned exports of grain as the droughts and fires in tinder-dry forests have hit their production. Understandably, they’re most concerned that they have enough for their own people first.

In our global food system Russia is an important exporter and this will inevitably cause price increases globally. The actual cost of grain is a small part of the cost of a loaf in Britain, most of the cost is production and distribution. So the cost of a loaf may go up 10p or even as much as 20p which won’t cause riots, although it will hit the poorest most in the pocket. It’s bound to have a knock-on effect on the price of other staples like rice as well.

Once again, not enough to cause major problems in Britain. However, those third world countries already on the edge will really suffer and riots in the street are likely for them.

I’ve a strong feeling that in coming years, as population increases, the supply and demand situation will worsen and home growing will cease to be just a hobby and become a necessity.

Britain is, and has been for many years, a net importer of food. Even in the Second World War with ‘Dig for Victory’ and Land Girls drafted into farming we couldn’t supply all our own needs – and food was rationed.

I’m sure we won’t cope with twice the war-time population and a situation where few are willing to export food. The Chinese are thinking ahead and buying up vast tracts of land in Africa to farm for their own needs. We’re going to need to make much better use of our own resources.

Our governments tend to think ahead as far as the next election yet these problems are really going bite in 20 to 40 years.

Farming and gardening are long term occupations, it took me 5 years to get the soil something like on my allotments. Now is the time for government to start thinking realistically about providing for a changed world situation and providing allotments that may even be empty for a few years until the hobby becomes a necessity.

I really don’t think we’ll succeed in feeding 70 million people from our own land but we’re going to have to produce a far higher proportion of our food than we do now.

Posted in Rants and Raves
5 comments on “Thinking Ahead – Our Attitude to Food
  1. Steve in Salford says:

    I agree John, with Peak Oil just around the corner and global warming taking its effects over the coming years food prices will only do one thing and that is go up. As demand exceeds supply whether that be oil or food crops then there are going to be riots, along with shortages in water globally. Not the right water in the right places, something like 0.01% of all water is available on a global scale 99% is locked up in sea water or as ice or trapped under ground deep where we can not reach it even if it is fit for consumption.

    We more and more need to think about how we inter-act with the land and where our food comes from some more acceptability from the consumer that not all products are going to be available all year round. It was not so long ago (1980’s) that you did not eat salad outside of the summer months or new potatoes for that matter either, they were too expensive or not available. We need to reconnect with the land and to get back into seasonality, not only is it cheaper it tastes better as well.

    The sorry stuff they call fruit and vegetables in the supermarket might in the future taste of something, if they thought that way too.

    Growing your own fruit and vegetables does take time, my own allotment will be 1 year old in November and I still have so much work to do, took the advice that I had read mostly from yourself and am growing lots of potatoes this year, my seed potatoes have arrived and ready for planting in time for Christmas cropping. Bit the bullet and got some of those cabbages, cauliflowers etc from Suttons as well, as some onions sets. Took advantage of the seed offer from Dobies as well, supplementing my supply of seeds ready for next year.

    Onwards and upwards note to self must defrost my freezers ready for the produce. Two freezers you might say, well I do not have a car (we do not drive)and one is a half chest size and the other is in with the fridge so is barely more than a larder size freezer. Consumerism is a story for another day but unless we all start consuming less of what are finite resources then there will not be enough to go around but the elephant in the room that no one talks about is uncontrolled population growth, sorry it is not sustainable with finite resources.

  2. Carol says:

    I agree that we’re going to have to grow more of our own food in the UK. It’s just a shame that we can’t get more people interested and involved now.

    I heard someone say that it takes 10 years to get good at growing food — there are no shortcuts. I’ve got a couple of years experience and I agree.

    I feel like — and maybe I’m wrong — that there’s a kind of learned helplessness here. It’s hard for some people to take initiative and commit themselves to learning how to do for themselves. Lots of energy gets sucked up in being angry at the elites, or expecting the government to do for you.

    Hey, I’m angry at the elites myself, but I go by what I heard when I was young: Living well is the best revenge.

    Thanks for your books, John. I’ve got a couple on my bookshelf, and they’re very helpful. I’ve been practising jam-making this year, and just did apple butter for the first time. Yum!

  3. A very infromed and well written article John, and it really opened my eyes. The price of bread has risen sharply over a few years – I’m sure it only used to be about 70p a loaf but is nowadays over £1. Whenever I go up to the allotment, I see it as a fun and free way to get some excecise and cheap veggies.

    I also think there are the beginnings of a grass-roots cultural shift towards becoming more self suffucient, as the long waiting lists for allotments and high demand for organic produce will show.

    However, without more land being made avaliable to people by local councils and better home economics lessons being taught in schools i’m afraid it is too little too late.

  4. Steve in Salford says:

    Hi All

    One simple solution is to make your own bread, at least you know what goes into it. A bread machine can make the dough for you but making it by hand is very relaxing in today’s hectic pace of life. Lets not forget jam etc which can be sold at country fetes or fairs etc.

    How did our ancestors manage without all the gadgets that we have which are supposed to help us in our day to day lives, they worked longer hours than we did and did it mostly by hand.

    Having just read an interesting article in The Ecologist about how we should forget the Big Society approach and adopt a more co-operative model. One in which we help not just ourselves but our neighbours as well. When it comes to volunteering we all do it to a varying degree. In America the model of community spirit is stronger in some areas of the country, when a neighbour needs a barn building they all chip in with time, labour, parts etc and then when it is there turn for a new barn, the guys/gals they all helped all come over to build there’s.

    Is there something we could learn from this model? The one thing we all need is food by adopting a co-operative approach to growing foods, local people can have locally produced food all year round or most of it anyhow, there is so much green space (municipal planting, grass) which could be adopted by local communities to use on a co-opertive model in which they are all shareholders, selling some produce to raise capital for more infrastructure and an ever expanding the model.

    In Philadelphia or one of the big cities in the US, they grow vegetables outside on what used to be the lawns in front of the civic centre, the produce is donated and maintained by council workers to local charities for homeless or elderly persons homes etc. etc.

    Society is not broken nor is it fractured it has been led to believe that it has been by various governments over the past 30 years, if not 150 years. Big business stifled the co-operative model in that time period frame as well but it is seeing a resurgence with the model being used to produce electricity, growing food using that very same model that started in Rochdale in the 1840s, it was not just about putting affordable food on the plates of workers, it was about a much wider issues, inequality was just one of them.

    What we need is a new pioneer spirit in our communities one in which we do for ourselves by helping each other, the communities themselves know what they need in their area, which is why big government schemes like NDC (New Deals for Communities) or Pathfinder (Housing Market Renewal) do not work the two go hand in hand, they decide the people need regeneration,as does the area so they go about their slum clearance (in their Minds) again and come in with their we know best attitude.

    The people doing the governments bidding under the NDC (not one of the officers is from the community, they got rid of them all and replaced them with seconded council officers, who all have dot gov addresses)have a we know best attitude and treat the community with contempt, I had it the other day after 10 years of NDC there was some funding going and the person dealing with it took a high handed attitude that I somehow needed my hand holding and needed guidance on how to fill out the form.

    That’s what they call empowerment you can not give a community what it already has, you just need to give it the tools which it needs to serve itself, after all who knows best about local community those that come into an area and say “we are here to help” or the community itself, me I take the latter every time. There are some very able bodied and minded people in a community many of who do not need the help but just need to be informed that yes you can, now off you go and do it.

    The NDC here has 10 years and £53 million and still thinks that the community needs them to hold their hands, waste of space and waste of money.

    As you may have gathered I am an active citizen in my area and it is my duty to make some people’s lives a living misery, especially those that think we know best. It leaves a warm glow in my heart and a great deal of satisfaction by standing up and saying “no I think you got it wrong and have you thought of doing it this way”.

    Here here to John, thanks for the books, the common sense and the little fits of giggles I get reading your digests as soon as they hit the press (still laughing over that typo United Futilities), Keep up the good work and good luck with that Small holding in North Wales, we look forward to future updates.

  5. Mike Price says:

    Hi, enjoyed the article John and the comments. Just took possession again of two & half allotments after twenty years of supermarket ‘taste the difference.’ Plan to invest in chickens & things so… the good life here we come.

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