We’re told, as a billion people remain hungry and human numbers continue to rise and the biosphere collapses around our ears (mass extinction, global warming) that we must curb population growth by whatever it takes, and that those who are left must curb their appetites. To be responsible citizens (we are told) we must learn to eat austerely. Ideally, we should all strive to be vegan. Our lust for meat (it’s assumed that we have a lust for meat) must be satisfied with ersatz muscle spun from the proteins of beans or fungi and possibly microbes – or, which is the latest high-tech dream, our technologists must create a simulacrum of animal flesh in the laboratory from cultures of suitably doctored animal cells. Austerity with high-tech: that’s the message from the oligarchy of big governments (like Britain’s), corporates, and their supporting intellectuals (scientists and economists) who now dominate our lives.
The gentle art and craft of gastronomy – the preparation and appreciation of great food – is seen essentially to be frivolous. A luxury. Elitist. Gastronomy is taken seriously in sombre circles only insofar as it has become big business. Some chefs become celebs but the millions – billions – of workaday cooks who toil in their tiny kitchens to feed their families are seriously underrated. A whole industry has grown up to replace their efforts with whatever can be put in cans, or frozen, or de-hydrated, and sent without too much deterioration from the factory to the supermarket to be resuscitated and heated up as and when.
But as almost always is the case in all things, it seems that in matters relating to food and farming the truth is almost the precise opposite of the advice and pressure that comes down to us from on high. Rising population is a problem but there is no need to panic. The percentage rate of increase is falling and numbers should level by 2050 or so at about 10 billion – which is a lot but should certainly be manageable. And – which is the point of this article – we absolutely do not need to be austere, or not at least in the conventional sense. People in rich societies should certainly eat less meat but that should not be a hardship and we certainly don’t need to vegan. What we really do need is the very thing that is seen to be a luxury – gastronomy; that, and the craft that modern food technology seems largely to be designed to replace – cookery.