Serious Reads: On the Future of Food, by the Prince of Wales

Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

20120229-onthefuturecover.jpgOn May 4th, 2011, Prince Charles of Wales gave a speech at the Future of Food Conference at Georgetown University. The speech has since been published into a book—a tiny book, but one chock full of important points about the pitfalls of the industrial food system and ways to address them. The Prince's Speech: On the Future of Food is a handy guide to good talking points about the food system, and manages to be fairly comprehensive given its diminutive size.

Prince Charles has been farming on a small scale for over 25 years, and has been invested in food issues for even longer. In the first part of his speech, he addresses his primary motivation—he fears that our grandchildren will ask us why we didn't do something to address our agricultural problems when we had the chance. His emphasis on healing the planet and environment for future generations gives his remarks a sense of longevity. It is worth taking time to implement changes, he seems to say, because the real benefits are for our future generations.

He outlines several main problems in our current agricultural system: worldwide food insecurity, lowering crop outputs, growing demand for food and biofuels. One billion hungry people and another billion suffering from malnutrition point to serious inequities in food distribution. He also emphasizes soil erosion and water scarcity, crucially important issues that are often lost in the politics of food debates. Soil in the United States is being eroded at a rate ten times faster than the Earth can replenish it—which is a serious limitation to agricultural expansion.

When the Prince moves on to solutions, he points out that we should set a firm definition of "sustainable" agriculture, and avoid the possibility of greenwashing. He encourages an agricultural system that "mirrors the miraculous ingenuity of Nature," and refutes the myth that organic farming cannot be as productive as conventional farming. As evidence, he points to the United Nation's International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development, which was conducted in 2008. This report states that agro-ecological, small-scale farming methods are most appropriate and productive for developing countries, but its message has largely gone unnoticed in mainstream conversation.

Many books expound upon the negative environmental, social, and economic impacts of the industrial food system. Similarly, many books propose solutions, alternatives, and new paths for global agriculture. But this small book goes beyond laying out the facts (though it does that as well). Prince Charles conveys real empathy—for those struggling to feed their families, and for those attempting to solve the world's hunger problem with genetically-modified crops and intensified agriculture. If we could all speak so knowledgeably and kindly of these issues, perhaps the global food debate would be a bit more measured and informed.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.