The only thing I like better than food is MORE food! Today that’s exactly what I’m talking to Orla Shortall about. Join her again on the 14th of August for her show ‘Cows Eat Grass Don’t They?’
What’s your favourite food?
This is ridiculously hipstery but the first thing that came to mind was tahini paste. It’s a nut butter made out of sesame seeds. It’s used in Middle Eastern cooking. I love the nutty, roasty flavour, I have it with honey on my porridge. Also, cheese on toast as comfort food.
Why is food (and drink) production changing?
The main driving force behind change in agriculture has always been the aim to produce more food. Social scientists call this ‘productivism’. Producing more food to feed more people is seen as an undeniably good thing. This has been brought about by scientific and technological innovation; globalised trade; concentration of market power in the hands of fewer large retailers.
Although at the same time there’s forces that stop agriculture changing. Some people say government subsidies may stop farmers from responding to market forces. It’s also said some farmers are risk averse and value tradition and so are reluctant to change practices that have worked in the past. Farming is a lifestyle as well as a business and some farmers will keep going because they love farming even if it doesn’t seem economically rational.
How is it changing?
There are global supply chains that mean we eat food produced all around the word and our diet isn’t limited by seasonality. Science and technology has had a profound impact on agriculture. Agriculture in the UK is higher tech, more productive and often on a large scale than it used to be. Fewer people involved and more machines. And the agriculture industry is more consolidated with fewer and large companies selling inputs and trading produce.
There’s also counter movements against industrial agriculture and large scale supply chains through shorter supply chains like farmers markets that aim to reconnect consumers and producers, and alternative production methods like organic and biodynamic that aim to be more environmentally friendly.
Is this a good thing?
I’m interested in agriculture because you can see it as a high tech, efficient industry, or you can see it as the site of our most important connection with the natural world around us that has heritage, traditional and spiritual value. It’s both and I’m interested in the tension between those two ways of viewing it. Industrial, productive agriculture that’s evolved seen since the middle of the 20th century has definitely brought about environmental impacts: more greenhouse gas emissions, more pollution, soil erosion, loss of wildlife. But others argue the benefits are we have more food in developed countries than ever before and a far wider variety.
Where would you like to see dairy farming in 10 years?
I’d like to see farmers being paid more. I think that would give them more freedom and security in making changes on their farm. And farm systems decisions and expansion being discussed in terms of farmers’ lifestyle and values as well as economic calculations. I’d like to see younger farmers and new entrants being mentored and valued, the role of women in agriculture being recognised more: more women in positions of power within the industry and owning and managing more land. I’d like to see the role of migrant workers values and recognised as well. I’d like to see consumers asking more questions about how their milk is produced. The UK industry is very engaged on animal welfare – with different schemes in operation and research being carried out. More conversation between consumers and industry will help clarify the role of indoor dairy farming within the UK sector in the future.
The first question isn’t super focussed on your research I realise, they’re just structured this way to make them more fun and maybe make the topic more accessible who aren’t as knowledgeable on your topic.