Eating the Earth

Topsham, Devon September 13, 2007 The Topic for this year's Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery was "Food and Morality", a fascinating theme that gave scope for any number of provoking and provocative papers and presentations. I wasn't able to attend, but I did look over the papers when I posted them on the OS web site. And just this morning, my good friend John Whiting sent me the link to his presentation, a paper entitled "Eating the Earth". John is a superb writer and a trenchant thinker (as well as a trencherman, a very serious eater), so his writings always make most interesting and digestible food for thought.

Whiting traces the destruction of our edible environment back to the days of the Stone Age hunter-gatherers. From when our ancient ancestors perfected hunting methods that included driving entire herds of mammoths over cliffs, he catalogues a history of literal overkill, waste and greed down the ages to our own era of agro-industrial complexes. Deforestation, the erosion and depletion of soil, damage to our fragile ecosystems and ecology goes back even to Sumerian times, while today's over-production of food in pursuit of money while much of the world starves is placed in the context of 'homo sapiens' less than sapient husbanding of the earth’s resource'. Cheery reading it ain't. But Whiting is at heart too much of an humanitarian as well as a food lover to dwell solely on doom and gloom for too long, so he does suggest lines of defence that we must all consider. He quotes Michael Pollan's nine principles of healthy eating, and this is not a bad place to start:

  • Eat real food, not ‘nutriments’.
  • Avoid food products bearing health claims.
  • Especially avoid those whose ingredients are unfamiliar and unpronounceable.
  • Get out of the supermarket.
  • Pay more, eat less.
  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
  • Eat like the French. Or the Chinese. Or any traditional cuisine.
  • Cook. If possible, plant a garden.
  • Be biodiverse — eat like an omnivore.

Whitings Writings

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