“Ravenous” by Henry Dimbleby (with Jemima Lewis) – a review
This book on food and farming is suggesting ways in which we can solve the problems of Climate Change and the burgeoning cost of the NHS. The thesis is that what we eat makes us ill, and that changing our farming methods could help to alleviate global warming. Industrial farming practices and ultra-processed foods both need to be transformed.
Along with many others, Henry Dimbleby believes that eating ultra-processed foods leads to various illnesses, including diabetes, heart diseases and cancer. Henry, who is the son of Jocelyn Dimbleby, a famous cookery writer, was asked by the government in 2019 to write a National Food Strategy. He is well qualified, having founded a restaurant chain and co-authored the School Food Plan in 2013. In the case of feeding school children, Marcus Rashford helped to galvanise some action, whereas the National Food Strategy doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon.
The book’s structure
Diet and morbidity
The book is divided into three parts and the first part deals with our bodies and what we eat. He believes that it is the food system which has caused the UK obesity problem and it is very difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to take responsibility for eating disorders. He says that, in some districts, it is actually impossible to buy healthy food. I can relate to that, having once found myself at a computer exhibition in Fort Worth, USA, and being totally unable to buy a salad – either inside or outside the exhibition hall. Unfortunately, most supermarkets sell the same stuff as their competitors and, when something is impossible to buy in one supermarket, it is normally not available anywhere.
Food and farming for the future
Part II deals with the land and what sort of farming we should encourage. He talks about the global collapse in natural abundance. This involves biodiversity and the dreadful loss of various species or animals, insects and plants. The problem is that we cannot get them back once lost and we don’t know when we might need them again for food or medicine.
There is a chapter entitled “Peak Meat”. There are several reasons why we are urged to cut back on meat. The first is the effect of animal farming on the environment and particularly on global warming. Another reason is cruelty to sentient animals in today’s intensive farming. The last reason is that we could be more self-sufficient if we grew plants to feed humans, rather than to feed to animals. Finally, waste in the food chain from farming to the home is bad for the environment.
Changing food habits
The future lies in changing entrenched consumer habits. Indeed, many of these habits were changed by COVID – so it is possible. He has a whole chapter on lab-grown meat which might be the future for those who continue to eat meat. We don’t need to give up eating meat altogether, but we must produce it in a kinder and more sustainable way. Even executives in the food processing business think that legislation may help to reduce the output of ultra-processed foods, since no manufacturer is going to stop producing unless others are banned too. He believes that our food system must change and that both a top-down approach (legislation) and a bottom up one (consumers) is necessary.