‘It’s broken isn’t it?” Nope, it’s not. (But that’s not to say all is well.)

The image above, of pears grown in Argentina and packed in Thailand, did the rounds on twitter yesterday. Chris Packham tweeted this:

Saying the ‘food system is broken’ is a familiar trope. But it’s not. Indeed, this image is testament to that it isn’t broken.

The food system achieves the truly remarkable feat of providing food for billions of people. The global population has got from 2.5 billion in the mid-1950s, to nearly 8 billion today. Famines were once frequent — in my life-time too. Not now. The global supply of food has tripled since the 1970s, and in the same period, the number of people without enough to eat has dropped from 36% to 11%.

Sure, it not all great with the system, and this image is testament to that, too. Embedded in pears grown in Argentina and packed in Thailand and sold wherever takes a heck of a lot of energy. Plus, and this is a personal take, I don’t like the texture or taste of pears processed like this. But, a big BUT:

(1) It is fruit, and in an edible state (not so for pears on the pear tree in your garden now).

(2) Unlike the pears in your garden when they do ripen, these aren’t perishable. And they’re easily transported.

(3) I’ll wager, too, that most pears off the tree in your garden go to waste. They all ripen at the same time, so in a good year, you’ll have, say, 500 or so pears within a couple of weeks, max. Most of them will rot.

(4) And your harvest might fail, too. Pears are like plums in that they tend to bear lots of fruit in alternate years. What happens, too, if a frost gets the blossom? Or there’s a flood at exactly the wrong time? (Orchards can be ruined overnight by flooding, and it can take a decade or more from planting to fruiting.)

(5) Many people underestimate the skill and experience it takes to produce fruits such as pears for a population; here’s a quick read on the topic.

As for Chris Packham’s proposed solution, grow-your-own (GYO) pear trees in your garden:

(6) Subsistence survival leads to famine. Self-sufficiency drives by nation states will lead to malnutrition and famine. We’re all in this together — and there a lot of us. And most of us live in urban areas, 83% of us in the UK.

(7) Scale is impossible for humans to compute. An apple a day for the 68 million people who live in the UK is, well, 68m apples/a day. That’s 24,820,000,000 a year. Just one-a-day. Millions, billions? This, from the wonderful @Rainmaker1973:

(8) Plus we need processing and packaging, transport and logistics, and regulations like sell-by dates to ensure the food we eat is safe, and is what it says on the label; see this brief report.

— and yes, the @Rainmaker1973 image is there too, along with a useful info-graphic of everything the food system does to get produce from where it’s grown to thee and me.

If I wanted to show an image of part of the food system that needs breaking up, it’d be an image of a chocolate bar.

Read its ingredients. Yup, from all over the world. And think of the damage drug-foods like that do to human and planetary health, as this BMJ Rapid Response explains. A choc bar should not be categorised as ‘food’ any more than tobacco is. (Remarkably, the Forbes List of the largest food and beverage companies includes tobacco companies.)

  7 thoughts on “‘It’s broken isn’t it?” Nope, it’s not. (But that’s not to say all is well.)

  1. What percentage of people have fruit trees in their gardens, estates, parks…? I would wager a very small percent. We can produce fruit for a good half the year, from cherries and strawberries to late apples (yes early middle and late season fruit), which can be shared with friends and neighbours, as well as stored (& preserved) prolonging the period even more. Then enjoy the (fresh) fruit we can’t grow, again when in season, from other countries: oranges etc. And please stop feeding the myth that fruit is hard to grow; for farmers having to meet supermarket standards maybe; but not for home consumption. I agree with Chris Packham; if we can’t grow more of our own food, we are stuffed.

    • It’s hard to grow and harvest fruit at scale of high quality year on year.
      You might also be interested in the two links in my reply to another comment on this post.

      • What about tackling the problem on both fronts? grow at home and community orchards on wasteland? scaled up we could have 10s of orchards per town, 100s per city, providing fruit to supplement commercially and home grown, which can be flash frozen to provide for the whole year.
        We could cultivate blackberries which are not hard to grown, plums, greengage etc. all the traditional varieties that do really well. Aim to do this at scale in a community led manner not commercially.

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