On buying food in 2050

I’m about halfway through reading Not on the Label: What Really Goes into the Food on Your Plate, and it’s eye-opening stuff.

I do all the shopping, and I look out for the special offers (as you do). “3 for 2” deals and the likes can be useful, so I buy them. A couple of weeks ago as I was wandering around Asda (aka Walmart), I was wondering just what sort of spreadsheet setup they must have to calculate all the offers they run. It struck me that juggling such offers to get the best return must be really complicated stuff.
And then I read this book.

It’s not complicated at all. Nope, it’s very very simple. Asda go to their supplier and say “We are going to run a “3 for 2″ promotion. You must give us more product for free. Oh yes, and you’ll have to pay for the product stickers and promotion. Sorry ? You don’t like our terms ? Okay, we’ll crush your business simply by never stocking your products ever again. So, that’s 50% extra promotion by next Tuesday then ? Gooood ….”

There were figures for coffee too. Nescafe pay the farmers just $0.07 cents/kilo. They sell at $26.40/kilo. 7000% markup. Like wow ! (Not that anyone with a conscience should purchase any Nescafe products anyway).

The book looks at transport and food, and the bleakest thing (so far) is that by 2050, oil will be in incredibly short supply (no matter how many phoney wars the US decides to start in it’s so-called fight against terrorism) so food transportation will be nigh on impossible, but also that due to the chemicals they use and the way all food production has shifted around the globe to where labour is cheapest (it is cheaper to grow some veg in the UK, fly it to Kenya, get it sorted and packaged then flown back to be sold in UK shops than to do the whole thing in the UK. The Government would have us believe that it is the evil nasty Trade Unions (not allowed those at Asda) who have priced their members out of the market – not so – it’s the likes of Walmart seeking to create the fattest profits and care not about working conditions – even the people in Kenya are paid below their minimum wage – and environmental impact) that the UK simply cannot produce enough food to sustain itself.
I can hear the Roads Lobby now .. “We don’t need fields, we need more roads to drive our polluting vehicles on – fly the food in”, but when there is no food to fly in, what do we do ? Plant vegetables in the verges of the M1 ?

What I’m struggling to recall is the mass ‘Carrot Protest’ It must have happened …. it will have been along the lines of “We want our carrots straight! We want our carrots blemish-free! We want our carrots washed and ready in nice plastic bags!” Maybe you saw it ? After all, if the ‘consumer is king’, then we ask, the shops provide. Yes ? Or was it some faceless one who decided that this was a way to take more money out of our pockets, put more money into theirs, yet leave the farmer practically desitute because a huge percentage of his yield was deemed ‘ugly’ ? Have we demanded that our fruit and veg looks perfect, or have we been conditioned to accept it ? And does it matter how little is actually sold compared to how much is grown simply because of aesthetics ?

It’s scary because what do we do ? I may not be around in 2050, but my children will be. Their children will be. Is this the sort of world I want them to live in ? is it the world you envisage ? Sure there are dangers all around, but lack of food ?
No doubt we will be assured that such things can never happen (in the book, when discussing oil, the author quotes several reports going back over a number of years. They all agree that by 2050 oil will be exhausted. 2000 was the peak, it’s all downhill now), that the mysterious ‘scientists’ will develop something, but are we all so stupid as to believe this ? Would you get on an airplane that had solar panels in it’s wings for power ? Are we all living in such a short-sighted way that our future generations matter not ? Isn’t that actually very disturbing ?

Remember the dispute about petrol prices with the farmers blockading oil depots ? Apparently, because stores these days carry almost zero stock, that dispute came within hours of crippling the country. A very few hours. I remember the Govt telling people to stop panic buying – but they weren’t. They were shopping normally, but the system is so well run that literally as they run out, more appears in a truck. They don’t hold too much not because they cannot, but doing that locks up their cash in stock, and it’s easier to demand that their suppliers send them what they want, when they want it. But if they can’t get it ….. and of course blaming the shopper shifts the focus away from the real culprits.

About the scariest thing is wondering what to do. If I am the person buying our shopping, making the choices, what can I do to help ?
I have no idea.

Read this book.

8 thoughts on “On buying food in 2050

  1. Well you can start by buying Fair Trade products :) Farmers get more money for their produce… Starbucks sell Fair Trade coffee, and I think supermarkets stock a fairly broad range of Fair Trade stuff, depending on what you’re after. If you go to the Fair Trade website (I’ll try to make that into a link, but it may not work, bear with me ;) ) you can see what stuff they do! :)

  2. The buyer has ultimate power and the bigger the buyer the more power. M&S recently put a local company here out of business. M&S were their one and only customer (M&S demanded this but made it worthwhile with a big contract). Earlier this year they called all suppliers together and told them they wanted a minimum payment each year to remain as a M&S supplier. There were 15 suppliers and only the top 8 payers would remain with M&S. The local company couldn’t compete and nearly 1000 people will be out of work very shortly!

  3. That was in the ecologist, root! I read that too. Mark, you should read it (the September issue), there’s a thing in there about reformed chicken and ‘value’ chicken breasts that would make even the most die hard carnivore consider vegetarianism.

    Pre packed salads are also packed in carbon dioxide to stop them going off quicker. The amount of chlorine is more concentrated than that used in swimming pools.

  4. That too is all in this book … I so want to tell my girls what not to eat, but, well…all I can do is talk about it.

    The salad stuff is scary, as are the preservatives, hardened fats, salt – I’m sticking with tofu :)

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