Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Manifesto

I wrote this piece for the crowdfunded book The Future We Deserve just over a year ago. Proof 1 edition is now available and includes this essay. The ideas and changes I talk about continue to develop so it's about time I put it up here.   

It seems we manufacture ‘consent’ more than just about anything else in the west. Our media and commercial food industries are staking their claims on the last pieces of moral and aesthetic high ground in an effort to exploit our patterns of conspicuous consumption. Our tastes in food are being driven by our unprecedented access to global resources. This is all at a time when age old aphorisms like “teach a man to fish...” and “there's plenty of fish in the sea” are in the process of being rendered untrue. A time when catastrophic climate change and economic disintegration threaten to test the stability of western civilisations. Food is our fuel and when we are at our greatest need it is the one thing we value above all else.

Rick Stein recently said something that confirmed my feelings about how all of humanity relates to food and how sharing is valued in times of conflict. He was speaking from his studio kitchen after his recent South East Asian Odyssey when he remarked on the resilience of the Sri Lankan people during the recent civil war conflict saying "Food is about good times even if there are terrible things going on all around you". The former fish monger is known for his rapport with the people he visits and the engaging quality of his documentaries and cookbooks. The truth he has recognised is that humans need to share the act of eating and must work collectively to add value to food and to bring meals to the table in tough times.

Powdered egg is the one food that at the toughest of times will become a highly sought-after commodity. At the heart of western delicacies like sponge cakes, souffle, meringue, and many other sweet and savoury dishes is egg whites beaten to soft or stiff peaks. Egg whites are irreplaceable in western delicacies as nothing else can substitute for its particular qualities. My question is “Do powdered egg whites match up to the qualities of fresh egg whites?”.
The west's media are currently obsessed with both the haute cuisine and boutique agriculture sectors. Our current knowledge base is at once expanding with knowledge of exotic and labour intensive ingredients, whilst also contracting due to masking of the true nature of our supply chains.

In many countries with unstable governments, warlords are a fact of life and a constant force affecting economic and social stability. Unstable governments are forced to mediate the engagement of militant groups with the general population. In countries where crops have failed and food production and other economic infrastructure are also compromised those who have weapons have the power to control food. Max Blouin and St├ęphane Pallage contend that poverty levels are now being managed to qualify for food aid and deliver control over larger food surpluses to warlords. They confirm the fundamental rule that in a time of scarcity, those with weapons and power have control over food.

African cities have been hot beds of cultural production since the wave of independence of the late 1950's and early 1960's. Despite every kind of economic manipulation and the legacy of centuries of colonialism African cities have produced cultural product that demonstrates astounding resilience. Pioneering Afro-beat musician Fela Kuti whose Lagos night club 'The Shrine' provided respite from dangerous streets spoke out strongly about the effects of economic exploitation by foreigners and his own countrymen. The creative legacy of African musicians speaks to their resilience and ability to use culture to transcend adversity. It is this quality of resilience that the large scale manufacturing of consent has stifled. Empathy and consideration of the conditions and successes of resilient people gives us the power to learn about resilience.

What do our contingency plans for the future say about our motivations? Survivalism lite is the name given to the movement (in the USA) toward relearning basic survival skills and developing stores of food and supplies for catastrophic futures. It is primarily about the preservation of the highest possible level of comfort for the individual and the family.
The Dark Mountain Project also identifies risks to the 'civilisation' project but asks a much larger question “Has the civilisation project delivered us a society that is able to deal with catastrophic climate change and economic disintegration?”. It has begun to answer this question in two ways. The first is an intuitive “No!”, and the second is by stimulating new answers that look beyond the western civilisation to 'cultural contingencies' that recognise the true cost of western affluence.

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