Future Food

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Feeding People is EasyThis post was triggered by Amy Stewart's 'bored with the whole locavore thing' commentary on NPR's All Things Considered and the ensuing discussion over at GardenRant.

When the whole local foods thing comes up, I am reminded of one of my favorite books 30 years ago, Future Foods (1980, apparently republished as Future Cooks sometime since then). This a cookbook/polemic from British science writer Colin Tudge posited we should should think of our foods as divided into three categories:

Foods of the first kind:

These are the grains and vegetable proteins that form the basis of every traditional cuisine in the world. If you live in Asia, it's mostly rice and soybeans. In Latin America, corn tortillas and beans. In the Middle East, lentils and wheat.

Tudge argues that -- for mostly geopolitical reasons -- every country (indeed every region) should be self-sufficient in these crops that are locally adapted, storable and provide the calories and protein people need to stay alive. He also argues that meals based primarily on these foods can be healthy and tasty.

Despite Tudge, foods of the first kind play little role in the locavore movement.

ward and cassFoods of the second kind:

These are the fruits, vegetables, nuts and animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) that provide concentrated sources of vitamins, complete protein and flavor. Adding these to foods of the first kind take you from survival rations to healthy diet. Still, they should be considered supplements, not the center of the diet.

Tudge argues that most of these should be local as much as possible. But he grants that that's not practical in today's world for those of us in cold climates. While those receiving winter shares of root crops, cabbage, dried fruit, etc. from their CSA may beg to differ, Tudge sees nothing wrong with shipping citrus north in February.

Interesting that locavores focus mostly on these foods, not foods of the first kind. I think that it's because foods of the first kind are commodities. They're shipped all over and don't cost very much. (They also don't make very much for farmers.) Foods of the second kind are higher margin items, and they are also ones that suffer in quality when mass produced and shipped long distances. So local farmers can provide consumers with superior products that command a higher price.

Foods of the third kind:

My recollection (apologies: I'm writing all this from memory) is that this group was primarily spices, teas and medicinals: High 'information', low-weight products that are worth moving around the globe. Remember spices were among the first products in trade between Europe and the Orient. Anything that could make spoiled meat palatable had a high value back in the day.

When this book came out, I thought this was just about the most sensible approach to food -- from individual dietary concerns to global econimic, justice and environmental issues -- I'd ever read. I thought it would tranform the world in my lifetime.

No such luck.

While surfing around to see if Tudge was still writing, I discovered he published a new book in 2007 titled: Feeding People is Easy. Amazon describes it:

The book argues that it is possible to feed the world, forever, without damaging the environment or cruelty to animals. The book shows how governments and the food industry have created the major problems so much of the world faces today. It proposes a new global food chain based on principles of sound biology and justice.

I'm guessing that Tudge is probably operating within the same general framework as he was 30 years ago with some minor adjustments for increasing globalization.

Have any of you foodies read this? How have Tudge's ideas held up in serious locavore circles?

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January 1, 2008

Digital Flower @ 6:59 pm #

I haven’t read the book though this year but I plan on at least doubling my reading list so it might make it on.

I wanted to say that I really enjoyed your blog this year, especially the look back at the garden. Keep posting all the interesting stuff. Best wishes for the New Year.

January 2, 2008

susan harris @ 4:21 pm #

Wow, that makes such sense! And highlights the ever-present problems of generalization and oversimplification. As though all foods are the same! S

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