Saturday, 9 January 2010

this is a nice poster

from here

Friday, 8 January 2010

Food and Utopia

Utopia is a dream. It is the place we cannot touch, but can imagine. It is often described as meaning a ‘nowhere’ place. This definition paints utopians as fantastical and unrealistic. In reality the word is a combination of the greek words ‘outopia’ (no place) and ‘eutopia’ (good place) and has many applications. Developing a better food system relies on thinking about the future. The government’s food strategy ‘Food 2030’ (published this week) works on envisioning a sustainable food system for the future. Sadly the lack of clarity and imagination in this report means that achieving a ‘food utopia’ still requires work.

Studying utopias of the past helps reveal values about food and shape ways of imagining a new food landscape. I’m going to look briefly at the role of food in utopia to flag up some questions and ideas.

The most common utopias people are presented with are likely to be those found in religious texts. Two ideas related to food in these texts are ‘feast’ and ‘the end of the dream’. These are themes that can be seen running through many subsequent utopias.

Food in utopia is often presented as a never ending feast. French socialist Fourier, for example envisioned ‘oceans of lemonade’ for his utopia. Indeed the idea of limitless supplies of food would probably be found in most people’s utopias. However, as Sears’ said in 1965, “there is no promise of a gourmet’s utopia for the majority of mankind”. Utopias of volume appear entrenched in productionist policies that do not recognise the limits of people and the planet. This feature of utopia therefore is not helpful for building a fairer food system. What is interesting about Morris’ News from Nowhere is that inhabitants limit themselves. One character says “we don’t want salmon every day of the year”. This begins to show that food can limit and facilitate utopia.

Food can also be a device for the end of utopia. The moment that the fruit from the tree of knowledge is consumed is the closing of Eden, the fall. Perhaps food in utopia becomes a stumbling block, something so real and practical that we find it hard to dream of. It is at feast that Morris’ protagonist leaves utopia, though he has eaten before in the story, I think it is interesting that eating provides his exit. The challenge of thinking about food in utopia is huge, but important.

I wish I had more time to research this properly and may do in the future. However, from the small investigations I’ve made, it seems that food needs utopia, and utopia needs food.