Nothing connects us to nature more firmly, or
reminds us of our animal biology more clearly, than food. Strip
away the alienating influences of agri-business, food processing,
and retailing, and it becomes clear that a concern for the food we
eat and for the health of natural world should go together.
There is plenty in this edition to illustrate the happy union of
food and nature. The story of our old Welsh apple varieties is a
reminder of virtues which earlier generations found in these
varieties, and the wonderful gift from the past to the present
which old orchards represent.
The Teifi Marshes reserve has welcomed the water buffalo to its
ranks of helpers. As paddy field tractors and the providers of
healthy meat and mozzarella cheese, these animals have brought huge
benefits to our species. Down on the marshes, they are providing
another service, clearing common reed and improving the
Nature is often pushed into small reserves, but where extensive
areas of ‘unimproved’ habitat remain, such as the uplands around
the Elan valley, the hedges are filled with nuts and berries, and
woods and fields are full of fungi. Wild mushrooms, some an
infinitely finer flavour than the white spheres which supermarkets
sell, attract visitors and support the local economy.
It is ‘open season’ on the supermarkets. Books such as Joanna
Blythman’s Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets, and
Felicity Lawrence’s Not on the Label – What Really Goes into the
Food on Your Plate, have been selling like hot cakes. I have
resisted the temptation to review these, as they deal with the
corruption of the food chain as it affects consumers, rather than
the environment. That has still left me with one book to review
which does make all the connections between what we eat, how our
food is produced and what this does to the living environment.
So Shall We Reap is a powerful analysis of where the food
industry has gone wrong. Although it makes gloomy reading, green
shoots are detectable. Poorly suited to ‘commodity’ farming, where
food has to be produced at the lowest possible cost for the global
market, Wales has huge assets when it comes to environmental
farming, such as hardy, well-adapted Welsh Black cattle.
The restoration of rush meadows and heaths, the conversion of
plantations to natural woods and the delight of seeing ospreys in
the Welsh countryside are all causes for hope. Wales is so
naturally blessed that, despite the environmental challenges we
face, it is hard not to be an optimist.