The new book by James Rebanks could not have come at a better time. Consumerism is killing us and destroying the land that feeds us. The never ending supply of cheap food available at any time of the day is taken for granted. We have become blind to the realities of food production and care little for those that feed us.
Growing up in a farming community meant we knew a lot about where food comes from. The secondary school in the village had a large garden which was used for horticulture lessons and to supply the school kitchen. That is now a new and novel idea but it was part of our life.
My father was a farmer before war took him away from the land. He was full of rural knowledge and in the 1950s and 1960s he grew food for the family and for sale at the gate. He kept a pig, raised hens from incubated eggs and had some vicious geese. From an early age we had an intimate knowledge of where food came from.
We also knew about the realities of farming, it was hard work and often cold and dirty. When I went to work in the big city a colleague asked me where I was from. When I told him his retort was “you’re a clod, why have you come here taking our jobs, you should be working on a farm.” Now 50 years later I agree, he was right.
In his new book James Rebanks says that consumerism dictates the way we farm. It is clear that the majority see only a rural idyll in all its fictional glory. Land is now about recreation, day trips to breath fresh air and picnic in the fields with a portable barbecue and ready meals.
A review “English Pastoral: An inheritance” in The Guardian sums up what has happened:
“By becoming slaves to consumerism and “strangers to the fields that feed us”, we’re part of the problem. He bangs out statistics to prove the point. Half of our milk is now produced from cows that live permanently indoors. Half of our hedgerows have disappeared since the second world war. And we’re so addicted to cheap food, however dubiously produced, that we spend only a third as much on it as people did in the 1950s. ”
When the never-ending supply of cheap, environmentally destructive food stops things will change. Let’s hope it is not too late.