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This review is from: A Greedy Man in a Hungry World: How (almost) everything you thought you knew about food is wrong (Paperback)
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Rayner's approach to the subject of food sustainability is challenging for many foodies (and I would count myself among this group) and he eschews the easy answers and trendy utopianism that epitomise many books produced on the subject of our food, its provenance, sustainability, seasonality, localism. As he says early on: '... too many of us have mistaken a whole bunch of lifestyle choices for the affluent with a wider debate on how we feed ourselves, when they are nothing of the sort.' As someone who uses farm shops and farmers' markets I might have felt uncomfortable about some of his comments, but he is absolutely right that my choices are a lifestyle decision, aided by the fact that I live in a rural area close to a small market town with a thriving independent retail offering - and quite some distance from the nearest supermarket. Nor does he decry buying from farmers' markets which he does himself - he just acknowledges that this isn't the solution for the majority of people and certainly not those on restricted incomes.
It is hard to fault his line of reasoning, and on the whole he shows a balanced approach e.g. he sees the failings of the large supermarkets yet acknowledges the benefits they have brought too, something which many books ignore. I thought his comments about the old way of shopping from his childhood where his mother trekked from shop to shop in pursuit of the week's requirements was apposite. Few women these days would have the time for that. He can see the value of buying locally produced food, although not for the food miles reasons often espoused, and not as a solution to the need for greater productivity to feed a growing planet.
Rayner makes an important point about supermarkets paying our farmers properly for their produce, highlighting the fact that some farmers have already given up the ghost. I know this from family experience: my uncle continues to operate a farm that has been in the family for nearly a hundred years but has recently sold his dairy herd as he can no longer justify producing milk which is sold for less than the cost of production. More interestingly, because it is less well-known, it appears some overseas producers have given up supplying British supermarkets owing to the hassle, poor prices and the twisted contractual relationship the supermarkets require of their suppliers. This clearly has serious implications for a country that is not self-sufficient in food.
This is certainly an important contribution to the food debate which so often involves unrealistic pleas for small, local producers which, as Rayner shows, cannot meet world or even local demand. I recently read 'Stuffed and Starved', a much more polemical work, which, whilst explaining in great detail the damage that Big Agriculture has done in the developing world and highlighting the impact of huge food retailers, was light on solutions and extolled the small producer campesino movement, Slow Food, etc as the right route even though that clearly cannot solve the problem of world food poverty or the issues around food security. Rayner offers up a few suggestions which might have some hope, including reducing the consumption of meat, especially red meat - he is a confirmed carnivore and he makes clear this is a sacrifice for him, but he sees the virtue in the 'Meat free Monday' campaign.
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Initial post: 4 Aug 2014 15:05:21 BDT
Meat free Monday. I'm old enough to remember 'meat free Fridays' when, in spite of not all being of the Catholic faith, thousands of Brits ate fish for their main meal. Today, the escalating cost of meat and fish might encourage people to try a 'No Protein Day' once a week instead?
In reply to an earlier post on 4 Aug 2014 20:41:35 BDT
I too remember 'fish on Fridays' - although I grew up in a Catholic household and my parents never ate meat on a Friday throughout their lives. I've been a vegetarian for more than thirty years so most of my protein comes from pulses and dairy.
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