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The £2 Chicken: the adaptive edge of food production and consumption

December 11, 2011

On BBC Radio 4 today the food programme explored how we are at the adaptive edge of how we farm and retail food. With growing economies like China we are beginning to be squeezed by the needs and demands of other countries. In the BBC 4 programme Dan Saladino explores how higher food prices are changing what we buy and how we eat. From increases in food related crime to shortages of ingredients, he asks, what else is in store? The point being – its not business as usual. How we farm, how we retail in the west is now going to be, and is, being put under severe pressure. Part of the trilemma we now face. The programme reminded me of a post I made a while back

Part of the premise of No Straight Lines (video), is that there is an entire system failure of an industrial approach to everything that we do. Part of that failure relates to agriculture. Patrick Holden spoke about it very eloquently at the DO Lectures last year.


Photograph:Mike McGregor

Joel Salatin is America’s most celebrated pioneer of chemical-free farming and the Observer article about him provided much food for thought. Food Inc. comes up almost immediately…

Food, Inc suggests some shocking links between big government and big business in the food industry, along with some appalling statistics. For instance, in the 1970s, the top five beef packers controlled 25% of the market; now the top four control more than 80% – meaning that if ever meat is tainted by bacteria or chemicals it has the potential to reach vast numbers of people; in 1972, 50,000 food safety inspections were conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration, and three decades later that number had gone down to 9,164; 70% of all processed foods have some genetically modified ingredient; in 2007, E coli from food affected 73,000 Americans – something the film correlates directly with the increase in consumption of processed foods and the scale and cleanliness of the country’s huge industrial slaughterhouses. But beyond the statistics, the sheer sight of carcasses being dunked in ammonia, endlessly and mechanically, would make any meat eater want to stop eating meat. The very banality of it – the fact that we could, the filmmakers suggest, change the world with every bite yet somehow refuse to – is horrifying.

Salatin discusses the “people-are-animals movement” – he says that [1] the industrial farming of animals is nothing short of horrific never being concerned, as he calls it with, “the pigness of a pig” – [2] he says we have become so urbanised many many people have lost all sight and context of how food is produced. And, that he says,

really gives you a very jaundiced view of cycles of life – death, regeneration.

Tools for annihilation

He makes a direct correlation between the type of food people eat and the chronic illnesses people are suffering especially in the US – though frankly the UK is not far behind. “With industrial meat”, he says, “you’re drugging yourself at dinner everyday.” Salatin also points to the Rajputana desert in India, a desert handmade by man by the overgrazing of cattle. And in today’s world, in our time, words like Bovine spongiform encephalopathy he suggests is nature’s language screaming to us: ENOUGH!

It is well worth a read and asks the big question of how one might reprogram systems and processes that are kinder to us all and are therefore more sustainable. Of course the big agri-companies that have a vested interest in extracting cash from your pocket, and, ultimately it seems, the very air from your lungs are not really interested in that do-goody nonsense. But that’s ok as the tobacco industry also thought it had got away scott free too.

Salatin says we can feed the world but not by industrial methods. Its again about people, and in this instance, hyperlocal networks.

So questions we should ask

  1. How do we farm our land?
  2. Are we connected to, and, understand food production properly?
  3. Does the current system serve society or only serve a few?
  4. How could we make it a better, fairer system?
  5. What if…

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