Few people know more about food than Professor Tim Lang. I put some questions to him for Clean Slate magazine
PH: One of your most influential books has been Food Wars. Why ‘Food Wars’?
TL: You have to go back to the period just after the Second World War when memories of food shortages and supply disruptions caused acute anxiety. There was wide agreement worldwide that we just had to have much more, and much cheaper, food. It was accepted that the state should take the lead and promote investments in agricultural technology. In the book we called this approach ‘productionism’ to emphasise how, across the food supply chain, there was unity about the need to increase production and remove blockages everywhere. In its own terms, productionism worked. More food was produced; shelves groaned with choice; prices dropped. UK households now spend less than 10% of their income on food, compared with 25% in 1950. A hiccup occurred in the early 1970s with an oil crisis (sound familiar?) but then productionism was saved by the Green Revolution, a combination of agrichemicals and new plant breeding which boosted output. This turned food-poor countries like India into net exporters. So faith in productionism was and is all very understandable, given how the problem was couched: a lack of food. But even as productionism appeared to be succeeding, its downsides gradually started to dawn on us all: the accumulating environmental damage; the health effects of over- and mal- consumption; the almost total dependence on oil; and the unbalanced diets and warping of food culture.
I’m Jo – part of education team at CAT. There’s 7 of us in all looking after different aspects, running the residential eco cabins, organising schools that visit for the day, running activities for pupils, students, and teachers. Where? Mostly here but more and more we spread the “Education for Sustainable Development” message by going out to people as well as waiting for them to come to us.
On my office floor in a cardboard box is nearly half a metre of fresh eel, found dead near to our fish pond. The mystery of our guests’ presence here has caused quite a stir today- both staff and visitors peering down in curiosity at the leathery corpse. Its dull grey appearance catching the light is anything but ordinary as we dwell on how it would twist its way through the cold water, occasionally moving over land in wet weather- preferring to migrate on moonless stormy nights.
Eels had factored very little on my biodiversity radar until today when I decided it would be worth doing some research into their biology and habitat. It didn’t take long until I had pinned this particular individual to a species – ‘Anguilla anguilla’ or the European common eel. Don’t be fooled; this fellow is anything but common, especially gnawed in half and discarded next to a lake in mid-Wales. In fact these eels are now in steady decline and appear as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, the reasons for which remain unclear- although it is speculated that damage to habitat, overfishing and global warming might be contributing factors.
As might be expected, the Plymouth delegates were taken on an emotional roller coaster, and were sent spinning through the dizzy heights of strangely familiar Education for Sustainable Development emotions; angst and optimism, flirting giddily on the precipice of relief before plummeting into the valleys of grief.
The credit crunch has graphically shown us what happens if we see problems in the pipeline and don’t take appropriate action. The carbon crunch will be just the same only much more serious. On numerous fronts, the consequences of the past 150 years of rapid industrialisation are all simultaneously coming home to roost.
The Centre for Alternative Technology’s engineers are responsible for all the renewable energy systems on site including our wind, hydro, solar and biomass equipment. This series of photos shows a week with the engineers in which they carry out maintenence on one our wind turbines and install solar water heating on the roof of the eco cabins.