Professor Tim Lang, founder of the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London, winner of numerous academic accolades and a fluent performer on the media circuit, has probably spent more time thinking and writing about Britain’s food systems than anyone else. It certainly shows. Feeding Britain deserves to become essential reading for policymakers and academics, but its length and the style of writing are unlikely to give it much appeal to a wider audience. That is a shame, because we urgently need to rethink our food and farming systems.
Lang argues that we have a serious problem regarding home-grown food security and identifies seven reasons why we need to take the issue seriously. These range from our huge deficit in food, animal feed and drink to the fact that we no longer have imperial or colonial infrastructure to protect long supply lines. It is undoubtedly true that we are unduly reliant on external sources, especially the European Union, for our food supply. We now produce just 60 per cent of the food we eat. In the UK, agriculture and food have always been treated separately from one another as far as policy is concerned, rather than as part of a single farm-to-fork continuum, and policymaking has largely focused on farming and food production, rather than on the food supply chain and human health. According to Lang, policy lock-ins – there is plenty of academic jargon like this – come from ‘residual imperial thinking which assumes the UK deserves to be fed and retains the power to impose that view, when in fact the armed forces are relatively weak’.
Perhaps I have been moving in the wrong circles, but I have never heard anybody claim that our erstwhile colonies owe us a supply of food, even if they still satisfy some of our needs, not just for products, such as tropical fruits and nuts, that