Colin Tudge’s new book, Good Food for Everyone Forever, could be a cookery book. It’s not. It is both a plea and a blueprint, a plea for us the people to take the future into our own hands and to re-localise food production, and a blueprint of the steps to take, starting with buying food from local producers and progressing through back-garden and allotment cultivations to part-time and finally full-time farming. Colin, a founder of the Campaign for Real Farming and author of some 16 previous books on agriculture, ecology and related scientific topics, does not believe that the “powers-that-be”, i.e. governments, agribusiness, scientists, technologists, economists, will change course away from the blind alley of technology-driven, technology-dependent food production. He casts doubt on the possibility of citizens being able to persuade the powers-that-be to abandon their belief in competition and the primacy of market forces. An essential facet of democracy – that people should be able to demand a complete change in the cadre of political leaders “when they cease to function on our behalf” (p.13) – is absent, says Colin. Even though there are elections, the candidates generally accept the inevitability of market forces, corporate power, and economic growth, and so the real choice between them is narrow.
Those people who seek to introduce a more collaborative, supportive politics have to face the harsh truth that not everyone is a dove-like natural co-operator. There are hawks, too, able to dominate the doves just because the doves are peaceful. As Colin writes (p.45) “…it is extremely difficult to establish true democracies because doves are inevitably dominated by hawks. We finish up with the kind of ‘democracy’ that we see in modern-day Britain or the US, where the masses of doves are allowed, at long intervals, to choose their leaders from a shortlist of hawks, each of whom they may find equally unsavoury”.
The question “[h]ow can doves create societies dominated by doves when doves have no taste for domination?” has reverberated down the ages, and we probably have to accept that moves towards greater citizen power will be forced back fairly frequently, but given the over-exploitative trashing of the Earth in these ruthless times, we still have to try.
A vital change in agriculture will be a drastic fall in intensive livestock production. People do not need much animal protein, Colin argues. Instead, the nutritional maxim (p.66) should be: “Plenty of plants, not much meat and maximum variety”.
Experience suggests, though, that if people can afford meat, they will buy it. Persuading them to rely on plants raises the same objections as calls for developing countries to slash their carbon emissions: it smacks of wealthier countries’ selfish wish to prevent poorer nations from raising the material living standards of their populations. Until the people themselves accept that limiting their meat consumption is intrinsically sensible, change is unlikely to happen.
If the powers-that-be are not going to shift food policy radically, the responsibility lies with individuals. Colin reckons that there is evidence to show that when just 8% of a population, or about one in 12, share a belief, they can achieve considerable change. He cites several examples of “enlightened agriculture” working with and for the local community, and proposes a Fund for Enlightened Agriculture, with a purpose analogous to that of the National Trust, obtaining land for the national good. In the case of a Fund for Enlightened Agriculture, it would acquire land for small to medium-sized farms, “maximally polycultural, low input (quasi-organic)” and which would be “labour-intensive precisely because they are so complex” (p.143).
Good Food for Everyone Forever is a convincing argument for individuals to do whatever they can to encourage farming based on centuries of experience, on craft skills, on technology to support those skills, and on concern for the future health of the soil, the landscape and the people living in the landscape. It is up to us, because present governments will not do it for us.
Good Food for Everyone Forever: a people’s takeover of the world’s food supply, by Colin Tudge, 2011, price £9.99/€13.50, published by Pari Publishing, Pari, Italy.