November 11th, 2000 by Richard Lord
Sooner than we think, The Money Programme said last Wednesday, human society will run out of oil. Don’t worry about not having petrol for your car. That is the least of your problems. How are farmers and fishermen going to produce and harvest huge quantities of low cost food without oil?
Sooner than we think, The Money Programme said last Wednesday, human society will run out of oil. Don’t worry about not having petrol for your car. That is the least of your problems. How are farmers and fishermen going to produce and harvest huge quantities of low cost food without oil? How is the food going to be distributed to us without oil? The recent UK fuel protest showed us just how vulnerable modern society is without an ample supply of cheap petroleum products. Oil companies argue that new oil field discoveries will make up for the diminishing production from current oil fields but there is no argument that eventually oil production from oil fields will cease. It is just the timing that is in doubt.
Much of the pressure on our food producers has come about because oil is relatively cheap. The global economy gives production to the most efficient producer. Lower salaries overseas, a better climate, and in some countries economies of scale in the agricultural and fisheries sector has allowed us to benefit from cheap imported food. Cheap oil provides cheap distribution. Today, competition produced by the global economy has allowed the average British household to spend more on leisure goods and services than on food. So most of us take food for granted. We go to the supermarket certain that the shelves will be stocked.
But the exportation of our food producing capabilities is a global concern.
In Brisbane, Australia a huge mural on a vacant lot in the city centre proclaimed, “Primary Industries – I can’t live without them! They feed me. They house me. They clothe me. They provide jobs for me.”
Consumer demand has driven supermarkets to source cheaper and cheaper foods and this has hurt local producers. The price of local Guernsey crab hasn’t risen in decades because of the ample supply of competing imported foods. In supermarkets, foods have no seasons. When production from one part of the world dries up, consumer demand makes supermarkets tap into production from another part of the world.
And yet foods do have seasons, and this is more evident when one visits local independent grocers, farmers’ markets and fishmongers. By observation they provide market information about the availability of locally produced foods. Many times the fishmonger or grocer can tell you the name of the local food producer. However, many of us rely on the year round supply of convenient and cheaply distributed imported food instead of the seasonally produced local food.
Immediately after The Money Programme, Rick Stein, in his new series “Seafood Lovers’ Guide” extolled the virtues of fresh locally produced fish. He is in no doubt that we ignore so much delicious fish in our local waters. He praised the delectable taste and texture of gurnard, dab and herring. In Guernsey most of us ignore the culinary virtues of pout, wrasse, dogfish and conger eel; they are usually relegated to the status of bait and yet they can provide an inexpensive wholesome and pleasing meal.
In an article on the Japanese diet, Patricia Hadley wrote, “unfortunately, fear of the unfamiliar too often influences western tastes even in times when a world food shortage is a real possibility. The ocean could offer so much more food if people would only open their minds to it and explore its possibilities a little more earnestly.”
It would be good for the diversity of our economy to make more use of locally produced food. One day it may become an economic necessity.
Originally published in The Guernsey Press on 11 November 2000.