This is a blog about food, which will argue that you – yes you reading this text now, should take more responsibility for the food that you eat, that you make part of your very being. It will argue that in return you will be gradually freed from a food system that is broken, bland and boring. By broken I mean that it is causing massive social, health and environmental damage that can no longer be accepted. It is bland because the food we are offered through the food system, is increasingly simple and dull, our collective palettes are being dulled by its homogeneity. Boring, because to make money, or slightly more money out of food much of it needs to be standardised and made into components, many of which should have no place on our tables. At times these three themes merge, as you sit down to your microwave meal for one, zapped in and eaten from a plastic container, a bastardised version of a once delicious menu simplified with salt and sugar, it is boring, bland and broken.
In response, I was us to take up our forks (or if you come from another tradition find your own choice of implement) and rise up against this dangerous tedium. If this were a Hollywood film, I would be the lead rebel, in a slightly grubby vest showing off my gym-honed body and clutching an assault rifle inspiring you all to stick it to the man, through various acts of improbable and sanitised violence. But this isn’t Hollywood, and I don’t own a vest, and I don’t want anyone picking up any sort of weapon over this, what I was you to find is a tool to help you make some positive change. In this case, the fork, might the garden fork so that you, and perhaps some of your neighbours and friends, can grow some veg. It is the fork in the kitchen that you use to whisk an omelette or mash something to put on your morning toast. Or is the fork that you lay out on the table that you share, regularly with kith and kin, breaking bread to build family and friendships.
Importantly I don’t want anyone to be scared by this process, other than perhaps those who are clinging onto their ill-gotten gains. A lot of critiques about have sought to harness your moral indignation, just how cruel can you be to a chicken or how many indentured workers can you exploit on a farm? Others will have sought to capture your repulsion by telling you all of the pollutants that you’ll find in your burger, that it will lower your life expectancy, widen your waistband and lower your sperm count (if applicable). Or we can all be scared by the looming crisis of climate change, and how it will make our lives untenable. I have a lot of those books, and found many of them to be very helpful, but and this is a BIG, but they haven’t led to the decisive action that many of the authors might have hoped. Instead, we have seen the food system adjust and re-entrench itself, learning a few lessons and resuming business as usual. I want to encourage a happy, healthy and rewarding engagement with food, fear and loathing only takes us so far.
If you are a purveyor of dodgy food ingredients or spend your days working out ways in which to ship more high sugar beverages to children by disguising them as a health food I haven’t got a message for you. I am, we are – all of us – coming for you. We are going to wave our forks and create a new food system by taking an (appropriate) degree of responsibility. You’ll have heard versions of this from many sources – suggestions that you become more ‘pirate’ a theme we will pick up a bit later. From some of your more worthy associates, that you become conscious/woke about the damage that meat/soya/unsaturated fats/sugar/(breathing) is doing to your body/planet. I am all for changing your perspective, but I’m much more interested in changing the actions you take and suggesting that we do that together. I hope your motivations are going to be like mine but I’m not insisting on it, and I recognise that we’ll need a wide field of reasons to make this change. This will be a citizens’ rising uniting Bon Vivants, clutching a fine red wine with vegan puritans nibbling on a filo-wrapped pseudo cheese, and many points in-between. All will be rising against this broken, boring and bland hegemony.
As the pages flow along I’ll dig deeper into this, but you may be wondering, in fact, you should be wondering, what is this insistence on the word ‘responsibility’? This based on my constant observation that the food system does not want you to take responsibility, you don’t have to sweat because they have it covered. Are you worried about being overweight? Don’t worry we have got this lite version of your favourite chocolate bar. Are you concerned about the dolphins being caught up in tuna fishing nets, don’t worry we have a symbol on the tin to ease your mind? Are you worried about the cruelty of animal-based farming, don’t worry; take one of these cultivated vegetable protein burgers home with you. All of your food worries can be eased by parting with cash and letting someone else, somewhere else will sort this out because you are a consumer.
All the retail training will tell you that customers are kings, their whims and desires to create the market in which businesses only exist to serves. If we stop a moment, then it will become pretty clear just how much toxic effluent such claims are, and we are going to stop for just a bit longer than a moment. My favourite example of this is the joyous trade in bottled water. In many developing nations, water is a scarce and valuable commodity, bought in plastic bags from street vendors by poor families every day to keep bodies and souls together. An observer might think a similar problem afflicts cities like London or Rome, where people carry with them small bottles of water bought at considerable expense. They would be startled to realise that clean, fresh water of equal or higher quality can be found in almost every tap in the nation and is practically free for most purposes. The soft drink companies that dominate this market will tell you people want these bottles of liquid convenience and enjoy the subtle differences in branding. Ignoring the lack of public drinking fountains, once a staple of urban areas, that push people towards having to buy refreshments and the advertising they deploy to entice people towards the purchase. That it is the masters of advertising, the doyens of logistics from the soft drink companies who are behind these big brand should alert us to what is happening, but we are being sold something that for want of public infrastructure and big of organising ourselves we would not need. In one framing of this story, we are consumers, in another, we are citizens who are taking a bit of responsibility for ourselves and others.