Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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1 Feb 2007

Vandana Shiva on Food Relocalisation

shiva**Vandana Shiva** is the most extraordinary speaker on environmental issues I have ever heard. Period. It was entirely appropriate that she should deliver the keynote lecture on Taking The Oil Out of Our Food which she did very powerfully and is essential listening. You can now hear the podcast at the Soil Association website. During a previous panel discussion, I asked her the question “there are now communities around the UK looking at how to relocalise their food systems in response to peak oil, but they are working against the cultural trends and the direction most see as logical. Do you have any advice for such groups?”. Here is a direct transcript of her reply;

>Ultimately any of these changes, whether it’s a question of re-ruralisation or bringing agriculture into towns where the towns have been assumed to be merely consumer and never producers of food, every one of these changes is, at the ultimate level, a cultural and ethical shift. We need every bit of a cultural rejuvenation and a cultural revolution as well as an ethical revolution. The moment we have this, the rest works very easily and very quickly, because what is holding us back but false ideas of what it is to be civilised, what it is to be developed, what it is to be advanced. All kinds of adjectives that are forcing us to carry the non-sustainability burden to prove we are more human in the process of doing it.

>I think what we need for a One Planet Agriculture is to celebrate another humanity beyond oil. That’s a cultural shift. Why is Slow Food so powerful as a movement? Because they turn the celebration of quality food into a cultural revolution. We need to do the same with localisation of food systems, we need to do the same with reruralisation, we need to do every one of these things exactly how the fossil fuel people did it.

>”What’s the next step? – Give up your bullock cart…”, in India that’s how they did it. “The Bullock Cart Age” they call it. “The Automobile Age”, it’s called. The Automobile Age is 100,000 people being knocked down on our roads! Farmland being eaten up by highways. There is not enough land in India to live like America anyway. So, for us, the whole issue is to celebrate resource prudence and simplicity as human intelligence.

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Robert Morgan
1 Feb 9:24am

This difficulty in trying to reverse cultural trends is a very important point to address. Many of the neccessary steps in responding to peak oil – saving energy through insulation, recycling, etc., have either become fashionable or can be seen to save people money, so are easy to “sell”. On the other hand, reducing car use, growing food locally, cutting back on flying and purchase of consumer goods, are seen as retrogressive, simply stepping back to the 1950’s or earlier.

During WW2 40% of food consumed in the USA was grown by individuals in gardens and small plots – now it is 3%. The proportion in UK during WW2 was even higher but is now seen as a job for farmers, not individuals. In his speech at the Soil Association conference Richard Heinberg said that Britain would need 10 million farmers, twenty times the current number, I believe by around 2030. I can’t see how we are going to train anything like that number – or persuade them to be trained – short of a government forced labour programme or mass starvation. I think what’s needed is not agriculturalisation, but de-specialisation. Not 10 million full-time farmers, but 30 million who spend a few hours a week growing a fair proportion of their own food via urban permaculture and other intensive techniques, in their gardens or other local land.

Graham strouts
1 Feb 11:37am

Good point, Robert. I guess a bit of both will happen, and there will be of necessity a lengthy transition period. There is a good section in Pfieffers’ “Eating Fossil Fuels” on how Cuba did it, but they already had agricultural colleges throughout the country that were quickly able to train large numbers and disseminate information and share seeds etc.. It is this complete lack of any diffused suitable infrastructure of this kind that is the main challenge for western nations.

1 Feb 12:27pm

Britain is a nation of “armchair gardeners” at present – we watch gardening programmes on TV, along with cookery and property development programmes. A smaller percentage are “hobby” gardeners, doing it more for fun than because they need the harvest. I think that as the price of food in the supermarkets climbs ever higher, it will be a slow enough process for most people to become “real” gardeners – saving money will be the biggest incentive.

1 Feb 8:01pm

I think people will not start growing their own food in any significant proportion unless there is a big change to the economy. Many people have the space to grow something, even in cities, but they don’t have the time. It would actually be really interesting if someone could do a study on how much time per day/week is on average required for growing food at home. Obviously there are lots of variable involved, but it would help put it into perspective.

I think that probably if the economy crashed and lots of people had more time on their hands then they would look to be more self sufficient both in terms on growing their own food and trading on a local level. At the moment this whole movement is in serious competition with the current system produced by society has in place for modeling the lives people can live.

Robert Morgan
2 Feb 8:50am

I agree with Graham and largely with Christine too. Most agricultural colleges in UK are struggling for students and have had to diversify in to many other areas, with true agricultural training now only being a small part of their course portfolios. The “armchair” comment is mainly true – most suburban people, in spite of what is on TV, see food growing as something for elderly, cloth cap wearing, working-class men on scruffy allotments. Some TV progs and mags like Kitchen Garden are trying to change this, but it will take much effort and many years. Inevitably, the number of people who will take this seriosly at the moment will be small. I worry about how high basic food prices will have to rise before this perception changes and what effects such prices will have on poorer countries. Already there are “tortilla protests” in Mexico, a country whose economy is set to collapse as its oil runs out in the next 5-10 years.

Aaron Edmonds
5 Feb 1:58pm

The true sustainability of agriculture is determined by one simple thing. Crop choice/s! Choose native crops and the load carried by fossil fuels to grow foreign crops in unfamiliar environments is managed by utilising the traits in plants that millions of years of mother natures breeding brought to the table. I have Australia covered in terms of a sustainable staple producing system (biodiverse, perennial, legume based), how are the rest of you going? Australian sandalwood! Keep an eye out for this success story. Save 150L of oil equivalent a hectare on nitrogen savings alone. Good luck all! We’re going to need it!

Pradeep Dissanayake
12 May 10:11am

i would like to study about is sustainable development is true?when I first heard about the Vandana Shiva i surpriced.becoz i belive she as a person who could challenge the globlely accepted ideas with out any fear.