More Food


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.

Back To The Future II

Today I continue to talk about the past with Philip Cook! Come hear more from him at his show ‘Abolish Childhood’ on the 3rd of August and again on the 25th. 

Which era would you travel back to for music? 

I love 20th Century classical music, especially work by Britten, Walton, Shostakovich. It would have been amazing to be at the premier of Walton’s 1st Symphony at the Queen’s Hall in December 1934, one of my favourite pieces.

Which era would you travel back to for fashion? 

I’m always amazed at the flamboyance and intricacy of men and women’s clothes in the 17th Century, so it would be fun to see lengths to which they went to keep up appearances.

Which past era would you travel back to for children’s place in society? 

When I was researching into child labour recently, I found it fascinating to read about the early industrial revolution in the UK. There are rich records of earnings, family history, and children’s place in society.


I think the industrial revolution had a profound effect on childhood. It is well-known for introducing some terrible labour conditions for children, which rightly led to public outcry. But if you dig a little deeper you can see that children often sought work that was, for the time, reasonably well paid and safe to do. This period led to a great change in how society treated children, and it would be fascinating to observe some of these changes, for better and worse. In particular, we see the emergence of the kind of childhood we recognise today: full-time schooling, children financially dependent on their parents and families, children increasingly demarcated from adults through laws establishing minimum ages for various social activities.

Do you really believe it was the perfect era or children? Is there anything you’d change in their treatment during this era? 

It certainly was not the perfect era for children. In many ways it was far worse time for children than today. Children lacked many of the protections of things like child rights, or social care for orphans or neglected children. It is important to protect children in their vulnerability. However, the period of early industrialisation reveals very clearly that the way we treat children is influenced by our social, economic, and political practices. Childhood changes, and we should be more conscious of the decisions we make about how childhood is practiced. This earlier period at least reveals there are many different ways of being a child in society. This is an important starting point for thinking about how we can make children’s lives better in the future.

What are your hopes for the future of attitudes towards children? 

I think we are entering an exciting time for children’s place in society. There are increasingly loud voices, including those of children themselves, for reforms such as lowering the voting age. Brexit and IndyRef have highlighted important generational aspects to our politics. While I support these campaigns I think we need to go much further. We need to stop thinking of childhood as radically different from adulthood: we should simply regard each other as equals: equal votes, equal rights to work, equal rights to a basic income. This may sound radical and wrong-headed to many, but I hope to give some new ideas and overturn some traditional ways of thinking in my upcoming shows on ‘Abolish Childhood!’

25 Days of CoDI: Day 19

On the nineteenth day of CoDI a crazy Canadian said to me “More Plastics = A Better World”

Mike Shaver: More Plastics = A Better World

More plastic?! Is he from Mars? Actually no he’s not…


Introduce yourself Mikemichael shaver

I’m Mike.

Okay very funny, now seriously, tell us a bit about yourself…

Well I’m certainly not from Mars… I’m a Canadian, first and foremost. I studied inorganic chemistry in Canada at Mount Allison University and the University of British Columbia. At the end of my PhD, I decided I wanted to develop chemistry with real global impact, so when I was awarded an NSERC Post-doctoral Fellowship, I made a big career change into polymer chemistry at (and my first trans-Atlantic journey to) Imperial College London.

Mike Map

From there, I moved back to Canada and started an independent career working in “green” polymer chemistry. In short this involved improving the sustainability of polymers (plastics, coatings, adhesives, materials). It was at this stage of my career that I also started to care passionately about public understanding of science. I began participating in a number of public engagement events, including multiple appearances on CBC Radio and Television (the Canadian equivalent of the BBC).

Mike CR LogoMike UOE Logo





In an effort to increase the impact of my research (and public engagement, of course), I took up the opportunity to move to the University of Edinburgh almost 4 years ago. This has been a big boost, as our group has been able to work with a diverse array of industrial partners to develop new products and explore improving different processes through designing new catalysts and new polymers. In addition, I’ve  expanded the scope of my public engagement events. I did a TEDx talk, numerous stand-up comedy shows through Bright Club, and lots of other talks and events. Much of this has been focused on demystifying what the word plastics means to the general public – taking what is a negative opinion and getting people to think a bit deeper about these essential materials.

Mike @ TEDOkay, so now that we have your life history, tell us where does CoDI fit into all of this? 

I think CODI is the perfect way to reach such an interested audience and build a conversation around plastics – the contentious statement of needing more plastics, not less, seems flawed at its core, but that’s why I chose it! Hopefully people come along with both a strong opinion AND an open mind!

Mike’s show takes place on Tuesday 23rd August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:

Michael Plastic