Review published on November 5, 2017.
When people think of farming, they tend to have a rose-tinted image of farmers and those that till the soil, seeing the fields of corn waving in the breeze and the farmer leaning over the gate looking at a field of cows. Most of us would need to go back several generations to find family members who worked as farm labourers, so our disconnection from the land that feeds us is more or less complete. And yet we have shaped the very landscape around us for the past five thousand years and one of the primary reasons behind this was to provide food for people to eat. These days though we have a split population; the majority have no clue where their foods originate from as they obtain all of it in packets from the supermarket and there is a minority who are fully aware of the source of their Sunday roast and may even know what its name was…
Charlie Pye-Smith spent a year travelling around the country in a motorhome to take the pulse of British farming. He meets with producers large and small, those who have farmed that patch for generations, new people who are driven by an ideal to produce better food and talks with the owners of some of the largest farms in the UK. The way that some of these people produce our cupboard staples, milk, bread, meats and drinks are all examined under his careful gaze. There is a critique of the system, which is allegedly driven by the consumer, but is actually controlled by the supermarket giants and how farmers are having to diversify just to keep their heads above water financially.
We are supposedly nine meals from a breakdown in society, so we all have a critical interest in the way that our food is produced. Pye-Smith’s book does pass a sympathetic but critical eye over the process and he actually meets the people who herd the sheep, make cider, grow hundreds of tonnes of potatoes and milk the cows. There are discussions about the Common Agricultural Policy, which has provided subsidies and in some cases financial lifelines to farmers. He does touch briefly on the sustainability of the industry, but there was very little on the environmental havoc the industrial style of farming has wreaked in the pursuit of the lowest price and greatest profit. This is still a book that deserves a wider audience because of the subject matter, partly as people are far more interested in what they put in their mouths nowadays. It should also be used to open the debate about the food industry, especially with the growing uncertainty in a post-Brexit Britain and all that entails.
Paul Cheney 3/3
Land of Plenty: A Journey Through the Fields and Foods of Modern Britain by Charlie Pye-Smith
Elliott & Thompson 9781783963058 hbk Jul 2017
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