Thursday, November 27, 2008

Diet For A Dead Planet, by Christopher Cook

Oh, what a grim title (a bleaker take on the classic Diet for a Small Planet). These books are always so relentlessly pessimistic that you in the end may think all is hopeless. Soil is being degraded, huge business conglomerates are chewing up all competition and creating food monopolies, people are being driven off the land.

I’m in broad agreement with much of what Christopher Cook writes. I guess the main question that the book really poses (or for me anyway) is: if food is so essential to life, should it be exclusively run by these huge food corporations, who also wield enormous political power.
As a subset to this question, the book also looks at the pernicious effect American subsidies to agriculture have had on prices.

My instincts are to find it scarier and scarier that food production is becoming so much more distant from our day to day lives. Meat, milk, fruit and vegetables are produced in places we never see, yet we put this stuff in our mouths everyday.

In my ideal utopian food world every suburb would have a farmers market that operated once or twice a week where you could buy fresh local produce. If you produced a good quantity of tomatoes or apples or whatever, maybe you could even swap them. (Actually, as luck would have it, I came across an article on this in The Age after writing this blurb. They're doing this in Melbourne's inner suburb of Footscray.) No, that would not work, because it would evade the tax system. Nor could we depend on local farms to produce food week in week out. Or maybe we could.

As it stands, we’re stuck with an industrial diet, dependent on millions of barrels of oil to produce it all. Studies show that for every calorie we consume around 10 calories of energy is need to produce it. This is enormously wasteful, yet it is our way.

This is depressing reading.

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