12 July 2008
There is a lot of noise these days about the importance of food security - even the government have jumped on this bandwaggon, following after Jamie Oliver and the legion TV chefs. Suddenly, everybody is growing their own. Most of the chat in the media around the importance of locally grown food focuses on the climate impact of food shipments and transshipments - of the absurd, global conveyor belt of food that ensures we can have strawberries at Christmas and rambutan with our cheesecake.
I recently had the pleasure of hearing Paul Mobbs give his Less is a Four Letter Word presentation, which makes clear that eating from our local soil could eliminate getting on for one-third of all our carbon dioxide emissions. Growing your own food can make a more significant impact on climate change than any decisions you make about personal transport, assuming you have already given up flying.
And if you're wondering what to grow, it might be best to avoid the exotic salads and weirdly coloured beets and go for the humble potato. 2008 is the year of the potato and in an era of concern for food security I can really see why. The humble tuber is the vegetable equivalent of the downtrodden housewife - year after year it can keep us alive, healthy and happy and yet is never accorded love or respect. It is also uncomplaining about soil, although we have not been wise about breeding to deter blight.
While researching FAO statistics yesterday (the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) I realised just how serious our food deficit really is. The difference between food imports and exports in this country is around the same, in terms of magnitude, as that in China. Both France and the USA - countries that we have harangued at trade negotiations for protecting their farmers - still have healthy trade surpluses in food. The map shows that some of our fellow EU members are just as vulnerable, although few have the density of population that we do.
As the global food market grows more competitive what do we have to trade in return for the staples of our existence? Those famous 'services' that now make up 73% of our economy. I wonder how many customers we will have for our financial services over the next year or two. Will we soon be asking how many investment analysts it takes to grow a carrot, rather than to change a light bulb? Tweet