Serendipidy again – was browsing amongst reduced-price books in the nearby bookshop and found one with the title We Want Real Food – the local food lover’s bible by Graham Harvey (first published in 2006) which took my fancy. Michael Pollan is the guy I’ve read on the development of the food industry in the post-war period (in America) – and how damaging agro-business is to our health. He is actually a Professor of journalism in California who writes, as you might expect, very elegantly – but has become increasingly concerned about the issue. In Defence of Food – an eater’s manifesto (2008) is perhaps his easiest read. His classic - The Omnivore’s Dilemma (also 2006)- goes into harrowing detail about the composition of what we are eating (basically oil!), is more hard-going and, of course, talks exclusively about the United States.
So I was interested in what Harvey (a Brittish agricultural specialist) had to say about the issue – and the book certainly seemed a lot more practical – with notes on the minerals we need, on individual foods and details of real food shops and farmers’ markets in the UK ( not much use for me!). I was quickly gripped by the story he had to tell – particularly about the passion of a few heroes who stood against the gadarene rush to industrialise and fertilise our food in the post-war period – I was introduced to a family doctor in rural Aberfeldy, Scotland (Walter Yellowlees) who noticed the deterioration of health in the town and tracked it to fertilisers. His presentation of the results in London in the late 1970s to the British Medical Council in a paper entitled Ill fares the Land left his fellow medics indifferent. And I was stunned to read of the results of adding rock dust (with its trace elements) to soil fertility. Harvey’s argument is simple -
The best farm is a mixed farm in which grass and forage crops grown for ruminants are reared in rotation with crops grown for human consumption. This is a very balanced and sustainable system that mimics natural systems. It’s very productive and produces healthy foods.Of course this is the method in Sirnea – and Romanian and Bulgarian villages which multi-national fertilizer companies want to abolish and who have had the support of the EU’s Agricultural policy for the last few decades. There are a few other books now about this scandal eg Raj Patel's
Food, health (and the safetly of what savings we can manage) are surely the most fundamental issues for the majority of Europeans. If only more of us would focus on what has been going on in these fields in the last few decades; identify the culprits; and come together to map out the sort of practical alternatives which Harvey does in this book!!!
I challenge my readers to produce a more moving combination of paintings and music than these two vidoes from the Skalen art gallery – just north of Copenhagen.