“Everyone who is ever likely to be born on to this planet could be fed to the highest standards of nutrition and gastronomy – and this could be done without cruelty, or destroying our fellow creatures.” This is the belief of Colin Tudge, biologist, author, activist; a man who’s been speaking and writing about food and agricultural systems, as well as the philosophy of modern biological endeavours, for well over 40 years. His prolific works encompass all manner of interrelated subjects such as natural history, evolution, genetics and the ethics of science, including biotechnology, agriculture, and aspects of conservation. In 1974, whilst attending the first World Food Conference in Rome, Tudge became conscious that the world’s food problems were not caused by a lack of resources or the ignorance of farmers, but by misguided policy and inappropriate technologies. Today he has a great sense of déjà vu. In 2009 in a pragmatic attempt to initiate change, he and his wife Ruth, founded the Campaign for Real Farming which led to the College for Enlightened Agriculture.
Speaking on his latest book at the SOAS Food Studies Centre, Tudge offered the bursting theatre a reappraisal of the way we should think about agriculture. The optimistically titled book Good Food for Everyone, Forever: a People’s Takeover of the World’s Food Supply, builds upon several of his previous works, including Feeding People is Easy and Neanderthals, Bandits, and Farmers: How Agriculture Really Began – a profound and witty fifty pages on the origins of agriculture, which is well worth an hour of your time.
Tudge’s ambition is to instigate the founding of a food system where everyone can have nutritious food without destroying the worlds natural resources and ecosystems in the process. It shouldn’t be that difficult he says, if we disregard the “powers that be.” Tudge argues that we need a new virtue of ethics, something akin to a duty to the other, an ethic that leads to ‘oneness’ and a new means of relating to nature. Tudge’s principles are not merely philosophical musings but rather grounded in good science and practicality. As he said in The Famine Business, a work from the late 70’s: “The only reason why a scientific approach should be given status is if it produced answers of benefit. It is not. We need a new way of thinking.”
His model would be self-reliance combined with fair trade, where agriculture should not be treated as a business. Realistically this model seems a long way off, and it’s hard to conceive a reform or revolution leading to quick success and radical change. What can we do then, asks Tudge, to start this change in mind set and subsequently agricultural system? The answer he says is a renaissance where the individual takes control and starts to do things differently – a people’s takeover.
You can hear more from Tudge in person at the Oxford Real Farming Conference on 3rd and 4th January.
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