Food glorious food

Modern life presents numerous paradoxes. Perhaps the first is the widespread trade in food produce and the convenience of supermarket shopping, that has somehow alienated society from the concept that all food is land or sea based. And this means – land area & sea area – must be used, managed and preserved for this purpose, generally in some direct relationship with the population that must be feed.

Can all nations feed their own populations within the bounds of their own land and sea resources?

“Some countries just do not have the land to feed their year-2000 populations even at high yields. They include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Algeria, Somalia, Lesotho, Haiti, and much of the Middle East. Some of these countries have resources they can trade for food; others do not. After the year 2000, if populations go on growing, other countries come onto the critical list, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria.”

How is sustainable agriculture and aquaculture to be understood?

31 thoughts on “Food glorious food

  1. Tom Turner

    Blame the Levantines. Their ancestors, about 12,000 years ago, were the first to grow food in sufficient quantities for some members of society to engage in activities other than food production (including hunting, fishing and gathering). Since then it has been a one way road, with more and more people becoming detached from food production. The only way back (or is it forward?) I can think of is for each of us to take responsibility for growing our own food – and for urban designers to make cities which facilitate food production. Otherwise, most of us are going to go the way of the dinosaurs.

  2. Christine

    1. The each of us option

    Those of us with superior agricultural and horticultural skills will be fortunate indeed [ ]: while there will be many others who will become very svelte. Unless they purchase a gardening robot [ ] or pursue,

    2. The community option

    With a disposable income some may be able to convince others to do the growing, raising and catching for them. Or they may be able to promise others a few piano lessons, to repair the roof or exchange tickets for the theater to procure the necessary food. See [ ] and Victory Gardens [ ]Otherwise,

    3. The social option

    Organizations with a symbiotic relationship to food can become producers in ways similar to the monastic gardens of old. Ideal food producers would be restaurants
    [ ] and [ ], hospitals [ ] schools [ ] and private hotels [ ].

  3. Tom Turner

    Thank you for an interesting set of images (I like the Danish school). In terms of food production, I find few of the examples convincing and they set me thinking about the ‘some of my best friends are niggers’ phase in the evolution of Civil Rights Movement. Instead of looking for new solutions to old problems, I think urban designers should be thinking about ‘tried and tested’ solutions (eg training fruit trees against walls and making protective sunny enclosures with good soils for groing vegetables in urban areas). The most significant technical change is our new ability to make roofs which can bear heavy loads and keep out water. But I wonder if this too is not being seen by engineers as an opportunity for over-design. Our new School is to have a 700mm thick concrete roof slab. It seems a lot to me.

  4. Carter

    I’d just like to add that, based on my limited experience in home vegetable gardening in USA and Namibia, the cost of (potable) water is a huge barrier to growing lots of food for one’s self or family. I’ve come across discussions and books on the need to provide space for food production in non-rural areas, but I haven’t seen the issue of the cost of water for food production in non-rural areas addressed. That seems to be the most important issue/barrier in my opinion. I’m sure the availability of sufficient water for food production is also a critical issue – there are good books covering that issue.

  5. Tom Turner

    Hello Carter, please could you explain further: how much money do you have to pay for potable water for use in gardening. I think the average household bill for water supply in the UK is about £200.

  6. Carter

    I live in a relatively upscale neighborhood in Windhoek. Our typical monthly water bill for a family of four is something like N$ 1000 (£92). But when I was watering my relatively modest sized vegetable garden everyday, it was up to N$ 2000 (£185). I can’t tell you how much exactly was due to the vegetable garden.

    A work colleague said to me today that vegetable gardening is a great hobby but an expensive one. This was also my experience in the Chicago and Atlantic City areas. My water bills were very high whenever I had a vegetable garden. I probably should explore an efficient irrigation system.

    I’d be curious to see how the cost of irrigation water for an urban gardener compares to the cost for a rural farmer.

  7. Christine

    Beyond the vegetables and fruits with their watering requirements are other micro food producers, for example the backyard chicken which is a good source of organic eggs.
    [ ]

    Block size and council regulations are important opportunities and limitations. So too is lifestyle. Pots and ground can be left fallow, but chickens and other game birds, like pets need to be looked after. [ ]

    So the question of which scale is most appropriate is worth asking again (individual, community or social).

  8. Leo

    Seems like the politicians need to get involved encouraged by those who want to grow the food.

    I have a new allotment – the site is in north london where waiting lists for allotment spaces are many years long. This site however has now been converted back to an allotment from derelict land, an allotment was left to ruin some how. The council was ready to sell the land for development until a concerned member of the planning department for Haringey Council, also a local community member, started to campaign for the allotment to be saved and reinstated for growing.

    Since then, 3 years ago, the council has funded the relandscaping of the site and it is now a community allotment once again. The work of a few dedicated community members and a helping hand from Groundwork. ( went a long way.

    Now we are digging and getting the first few plants in.
    It is only a small site maybe 1000m2 and is only for small scale production of course, but as that mr.tesco says – every little helps (what a clever man).

    Yes we are lucky, water and land rent is under £20 for 25m2 though the rates seem to be increasing and it was a lot cheaper until recently uk wide.

    The council came good from cummunity pressure – could the governments of other countries mentioned ie US & Namibia do anything to help? – are they interested? is anyone going to make them take an interest?


  9. Lawrence

    “Der Spiegel” reports this week on the consumption of insects. Insects require intact ecosystems in which they can flourish, in stark contrast to protein-givers such as cattle which tend to require monocultures. Two thirds of the 1.5 million known animal species are insects and some 2.5 billion people – mostly in tropical regions – already eat them. In parts of central Africa one third of the human protein requirement comes from insect sources, the giant termite has a higher protein content then chicken. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations is alert to this:
    [ ]
    [ ]
    [ ]
    [ ]
    In 1885 the English entomologist Vincent Holt added an early voice to the subject with his book “Why Not Eat Insects?” [ ]. “What speaks against the consumption of a creature that is so beautiful outside, and inside so sweet – a creature nourished by nectar, the legendary food of the gods?”
    “Der Spiegel” records the conclusions of a wide range of specialists that support of insect farming should certainly be seen as one of the many planks in the raft of solutions required to address the world’s nutrition problem. As one interviewed chef points out, the only real difference between a grasshopper and a prawn is that one lives in water, the other on land.

  10. Tom Turner

    Lawrence: Thank you for the suggestion. I will consider the idea but do not expect to take it further. Social conditioning, perhaps, but I have never looked at a spider, an ant or a maggot and thought ‘yum yum’.
    Carter: thanks for the info. £100 does not seem a great sum of money but I suppose it depends how much food was produced – and was it from local plants or from European plants? I am fond of blackberries and can grow them with no irrigation and hardly any work.
    Leo: British council’s have a statutory duty (I think) to provide allotments – but I think they need continued pressure to make they carry out their duties
    Christine: my answer is that the Soviet experiment, from 1930 onwards, provided ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that vegetable production needs to be individual. But there are other food plants which can be managed on a collective basis. My local example of this is the sweet chestnuts in Greenwich Park. They have become a significant source of a food which yields both protein and carbohydrate.
    Patrick Whitefield (in How to make a forest garden, p.97) writes that ‘Unlike most other nuts, chestnuts are mainly composed of carbohydrate. They typically have a protein content of around 10%, which is similar to that of grains. There is no reason why they should not one day take the place of much of the grain we presently eat.’

  11. Carter


    I probably didn’t get it right on what the cost for water for vegetable gardening has been for me in Namibia during the past several years. I do know my wife has freaked out about our water bills during times that I watering a lot. And I remember clearly getting socked with huge water bills when I grew fruits & vegetables in the US. The cost of potable water is a big issue, especially if you want to grow a significant percentage of your family’s fruit & vegetable needs.

    I haven’t explored indigenous Namibian fruits & vegetables. I’m kind of stuck on growing things that I’m familiar with from the US. Tried growing blackberries this year but they all died. I remember in Chicago that they (blackberries) didn’t really require that much water. I’m still learning how to work with the Namibian sun, climate & soil.

    I really like this topic. Here’s a urban agriculture website that I check from time to time:

    I’m not sure, but maybe the following book addresses the issue Christine raised about scale: Agricultural Urbanism: Handbook for Building Sustainable Food Systems in 21st Century Cities. I think supportive municipal regulations and land availability should be created for household, community and commercial garden scales.

  12. Tom Turner

    Carter, thank you for the links. I know it is a lot of work but the amazing thing, for me, about urban agriculture is that the produce TASTES so much better than anything you can get from UK supermarkets. Here is a link to a previous discussion of urban agriculture on this blog Jac Smit, who founded was once my boss. He was a most enlightened urban planner but, unfortunately, not a writer. I wrote an article with him but it was rejected by a planning journal because it lacked references. The ideas came from him and I acted as a scribe.

  13. Christine

    Lawrence, I am with Tom on the subject of eating insects (having tried both escargot and witchetty grubs ) and not finding either yummy.

    However, beyond the question of taste and/or cultural acceptability, is the question of ecosystem balance. Conceivably the same sustainability issues could arise with insects as do with fishing.

    Carter, the Greenhouse Village concept popularized in the Netherlands is a very interesting way of integrating architecture and agriculture at the level of individual dwellings and community housing schemes. [ ] More generally, the carrot city blog which discusses designing for urban agriculture is worth viewing. [ ]

    Tom, another interesting site on the topic is the wiki of the University of Columbia’s ENVR400/correspondence with experts [ ]. ENRV400 is a fourth level research project in the environmental sciences.

  14. Tom Turner

    As a child, the thought of eating maggots in wild rasberries horrified me. I still do not relish the idea but when I tell myself that the maggots are made entirely out of rasberries, the horror is so-much diminished that I am able to turn an almost-blind eye to their presence. The same logic does not work for the presence of maggots in rotting meat, perhaps because they are sign of the meat having germs which came with the houseflies which laid the eggs. Logic and emotion both affect gastronomy.
    I think the idea of a land bank for city farming is excellent. In London there is a great deal of land, in public ownership, which could be used for city farming.

  15. Christine

    So to food preservation…[ ] Individual and community produce as part of urban agriculture can increase the supply of fresh locally available seasonal foods.

    Since the conversation has shifted to berries it is worth considering the small organic pick your own (PYO) commercial producer perspective. [ ]. Another interesting site for locally sourced food is ‘Eat Local London’. [ ]

  16. Tom Turner

    It seems better to eat food when it is fresh, which involves eating what is in season, rather than having a standard year-round diet.
    I really liked the idea of PYO when it first appeared and there are good number of PYO places round London. My concerns about them are (1) prices are the same, or above, supermarket prices – possibly because people eat as they pick (2) I think they use large quantities of pesticide and weedkiller – so if you eat as you pick, to get value for money, then you end up eating too many unwelcome chemicals.

  17. Lawrence

    I once took part in an olive harvest in Tuscany and was surprised at the amount of olives containing small, lively, wriggling maggots. It was the owner’s first harvest and we were all a bit worried. I accompanied our olives to the local collective press. All of the olives, bits of twigs and bunches of leaves – and, of course the maggots – were tipped into a hopper at the front end of the machine. At the back end of the machine, from a simple, small tap, a continuous stream of delectable, extremely aromatic warm oil poured out. We plucked up the courage to ask about the maggots (half expecting the operator to throw us foreigners and our afflicted olives out of the factory) and were told that some years there were more, some years less, but whatever, they all ended up in the oil. The oil from the region and from this particular press belongs to Italy’s and the world’s finest grades. Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that we are all already accustomed to insect protein, like it or not. This was a semi-organic plantation and I suspect that the even more expensive, full organic oils have an even greater mix of raw materials.

  18. Tom Turner

    “Thank-you” for the information. If I was starting my teens I think it would put me off olive oil for two or three decades! Too old to care now, but I have started keeping a bottle of grape seed oil beside the bottle of olive oil. It makes a lighter salad.

  19. Lawrence

    Neither of my children who were then starting their teens were put off by the maggots, but both of them were by the intense smell of oil. I could have stayed all day, the most they could do was 15 minutes.

  20. Lawrence

    When I had gardens in London and later in Hamburg I always had Hemerocallis flava growing. It seemed very brutal to curtail the flowers’ only day of life by eating them, but I found that they were juiciest in the morning. Even better the flowers and leaves of the common nasturtium, with their peppery zing. I recall from Graham Stuart Thomas’ seminal work on herbaceous plants that records of H. flava as an Asian foodplant go back to BC times.

  21. Christine

    Day lilies? That is very interesting:

    “Daylilies originally came from Asia, and probably China. Chinese cooking uses them all the time, even in such starring dishes as moo shu pork and hot and sour soup. You will often see dried flowers called “golden needles.” Euell Gibbons liked to batter-fry the buds, and lots of other old-timers “creamed” their daylily tubers, which sounds unappetizing. But beyond hippie forager types and the Chinese, I’ve found no other use of the daylily as food.”

    It seems that there could be an amazing cultural exchange on the use of flowers in cooking as well as a local revival!

    Flowers can also be used as a food garnish. [ ]

  22. Tom Turner

    Horticultural techniques (ie hand cultivation with a digging stick) began about 12,000 years ago and until 400 years ago were mainly used to produce food. After a short interval, I expect food production to resume its place as the main reason for horticultural activity in private gardens.

  23. Lawrence

    The German allotment – known as “Kleingaerten” or “Schrebergaerten” – had official recommendations for area usage: I seem to recall that only 10% should be put over to non-crop plants. Over the decades the typical Kleingarten has however become very much a garden to relax in, rather than a productive area. The exception is in those organizations where the dominant culture is Turkish, and here the areas of vegetable production approach 100% of the plot.

  24. Tom Turner

    In England 75% productive is normal (ie excluding, shed, paths, flowers) but an interesting issue is livestock. In the history of gardening, it is normal to keep chickens in conjunction with vegetables. The allotment regulations say this can’t be done (but it often is).

  25. Christine

    Tom, the chicken/vegetable relationship is not clear from this video. [ ]

    I am supposing it might vary according to the living environment you design for the chickens? [ ]

    Perhaps the Rentachook program in Australia is a good model for encouraging more people into urban chicken raising? (Although a more permanent rental program could also be useful!)[ ]

  26. Tom Turner

    I might be happier about eating chickens if the lived in forests. Factory farming is wicked and unhealthy for the chickens and for those who eat the chickens. ‘Organic eggs’ which are what I buy, have a good name but I rather dread learning what the word ‘organic’ means in this context.

  27. christine

    Apparently in 161 BC (the same year the Roman-Jewish treaty was signed), a law was passed in Rome that forbade the consumption of fattened (on milk soaked bread) chickens.

    According to the author of ‘Fresh Food from Small Spaces’, R J Ruppenthal “the price of organic and farmer’s market produce is much closer to the real cost of that food.”

    So, to produce forest dwelling organic eggs the price might inevitably increase? [ ]

    But yes, a forest dwelling chicken in Thailand has very different climatic living conditions to a range chicken in the UK. Zoos are perhaps the closest model we have of professional animal care which simulates as closely as possible natural habitats in differing climate zones from the animals place of origin. [ ].

    Food production is greater than a localised issue. After Hurricane Katrina, he says, it took the US government 5 days to do a major food drop. In considering how a city would survive in a post-disaster environment, the capacity to feed a city that has had its major food supplies disrupted needs to be considered.


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