Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Ration yourself

“The best way you can help is by rationing yourselves”

In the UK, rationing began in earnest in 1940. It relied on Britons handing over a limited number of coupons from a ration book to regulate a dwindling wartime food supply. Occasionally, nostalgia for this time surfaces due to the perceived health benefits and notion of mucking in it encapsulates. This time isn’t as far away as it appears.

I think what’s fascinating about this video is that it contains two major thrusts of current food policy discourse. I’m not saying we’re being asked to use ration coupons, but that an emphasis on consumers and waste are fundamental to what people tell us about food.

Despite a vastly different context, our approach to food security hasn’t changed that much. Faced with potential food shortages due to rising oil prices, biodiversity loss and climate change, eating better is the dish of the day. Buying healthier and more ethical food is the rationing of today. The belief that ethical consumers can change food systems to be more sustainable is prevalent in government policy documents and in supermarket rhetoric.

Reducing waste is another responsibility shoppers are charged with. The phrase from this video “find a box and put them in, it’ll only take a min”, wouldn’t be out of place in the recycling campaigns of today. The love food, hate waste campaign is an example of how we need to not only buy better but waste less.

Strategies such as these are useful. They help people feel part of the solution and will have some impact. However, focusing heavily on consumers and waste misses crucial factors. Being able to act ‘ethically’ relies on having money and time. The decisions that food retailers and caterers make are often behind the scene and out of our control.Consumer power is qualified.

Although many other options must be taken, this video still has a message for us today. Taking “no more than our fair share” is crucial for all in the food chain. Whether that means me buying less or supermarkets engaging in better supply chain management, we do need to ration ourselves. This rationing must be approached with care, focusing on those that can afford to ration themselves.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Sauturn Devours His Son by Goya

It has been a while since we’ve posted on here. Sorry about that. I’ve been thinking of interesting subject matter for this blog and I think I’ve got something. I’m going to try and write an article concerning itself with cannibalism. It’s a bit of a deviation from the traditional subject matter of the food blog but I am usually more interested by the cultural weirdness that can surround eating and on those terms, cannibalism is ideal.

I think I’ll split this odd act into categories. First is cultural cannibalism, I.E. cultures, which practice (or would practice, if the law permitted) cannibalism. The word, cannibalism comes from the Spanish CanĂ­balis. This is a West Indian tribe, the Carib, or Kalinago. After these People, the Caribbean Ocean is named, and from them, the Pidgin Language came. This tribal past time of eating human flesh is gradually dying out in places like the Congo and Liberia, due to the exposure of these tribes to the outside worlds and the passing of laws and waging of wars to try and prevent it. Human sacrifice in this way is generally performed on rare occasions and considered to be either an act of appeasement to higher powers, or an act of victory. Cannibalistic tribes tended to believe that by consuming their enemies, they would gain their strength and knowledge.

Then there is cannibalism for survival. Here I am referring to lost explorers such as the John Franklin Expedition, where parties are stranded and starving. In such cases, when evidence of cannibalism is found in the remains of the parties when they are finally found, great dishonour is forever associated with them. There is something in the act of cannibalism closely associated, psychologically, with the act of incest. Humans dissociate themselves from animals on grounds such as discrimination in the choice of a mate just as in the discrimination of what they eat. A pig would gladly eat a piglet or mate with its own siblings. The consequences of both such acts are apparent in genetic stagnation and birth defects for incest and a more immediate degradation of brain functions in the case of prolonged cannibalism.

Finally there are the cases of cannibalism that take place in supposedly enlightened and safe communities. These are usually attributed to mental illness and are – perhaps obviously – the subject of plenty of popular culture, such as the Hannibal Lecter films and novels. Lecter’s character is based on a number of historical cannibalistic serial killers including Albert Fish, a figure of the early 20th Century who seems to have indulged in every human degradation going.

I suppose if I have a point, it is that in all of these aforementioned situations, a very high value is always set for human life. Human flesh is sacred in some cultures, the ultimate taboo in the minds of some. And to the poor old stranded mariner, human life is so precious, that they are willing to consume another to preserve at least their own. The consequences of acts of cannibalism are physiologically proven, not to mention that it is murder from the get go. To my mind it demonstrates the divide between those who eat for necessity and those who eat for pleasure and intellectual curiosity. The stranded mariner eats human flesh, comforted only by the thought that he might live another day, while the religious fanatic and the psychopath eat the same flesh in the smug knowledge that they will live forever in the kingdoms of heaven or of the media.