Food For Beginners by Susan George and Nigel Paige

Some books, when written and published in the early 80’s, fade into the distant past without a trace whilst others have a habit of sticking around as something to wave at youngsters that dare to question things. Then there are the books like the Beginners series that, whilst containing some outdated references of predictions of what will happen in 2000, stand something of the test of time and prove useful to aged and new faces alike.

Given the interest I have in food production and consumerism I expected few surprises to surface in this book or solutions that I had heard a million times before or had been implemented one way or another but catastrophically failed. Of course some of the things mentioned rather hark back to a time forgotten in agriculture but a lot of it still rings true. In reality some of it rings more true than ever.

The book discusses how much a country like the U.S.A imports, how a large amount of those products are raw materials, and what it exports and to where. It highlights how they import sugar but then turn it into a drink like Coca Cola and export it to every far reaching outpost known to mankind. It brings attention to the amount of food within a country like the U.S.A and how much is consumed there compared to other countries across the globe and how that greediness both in belly and manufactured product product profits results in land and workloads in “third world” countries getting pushed beyond limits.

It breaks down, in a mixture of words and cartoons, how land ownership is broken down in a number of countries, how those different sized farms are able to store produce differently and how weather impacts on more than just the crop of that year. There are depleted food stores for the family on the land to eat, they have to make the decision whether to eat that food or whether to sell it at the higher price to make up for the shortfall of a bad year and seek out the cheapest food or loans available from bigger farmers to keep them going. The issues of cash crops and the damage it has on land, families and workforces on a daily basis is explored but only to the level of putting a toothbrush across the dry ground; as you might expect from the book series you get a beginners perspective into everything but reading it over 30 years later in a world of instant global media it all feels really bloody obvious.

The problems though, whilst worsening each year and especially with the increased onset of global warming impacting on crop production and land sustainability as well as scientists pumping out new expensive seeds all the time, certainly still exist and there is very little attempt to do anything about it. The book rightly alludes to, though avoids spelling it out to the reader, that poverty, cash crops and over-consuming of food is just one small issue in the capitalist system and that a new model of economics needs to be seized upon for change.

Interestingly, the book doesn’t offer people any clear cut solutions about what they should do about food apart from to at least acknowledge where the basics of a product have come from and the amount of it that is going to the producer of those raw materials. I wonder what they would have felt about Fairtrade these days, whether the concept of the green revolution they mention on numerous occasions is how they imagined it would pan out and whether, despite not depleting the worlds energy storage by 2000, they would have felt that the world was at a turning point today.

An updated version of this book certainly wouldn’t go a miss and some of the topics mentioned throughout this book could certainly be used to encourage young people to think ethically about the food that they buy and to remember where it actually comes from and the impact that prices have on producers. Having said that, given so many people can barely afford the cheapest packet of dried spaghetti anymore perhaps a few other things need solving along the way to make consumer consciousness a real possibility.

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