current affairs

Not On The Label

I regard myself (rightly or wrongly) as fairly clued up on issues to do with the environment, food quality, globalisation and all that. I've read Naomi Klein's No Logo, George Monbiot's superbe Captive State, Noam Chomsky, Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and many more. I'm an active member of the Green Party as well as on and off I've been involved with Friends of the Earth, the Soil Association (the pre-eminent organic association) as well as Greenpeace. I've watched the documentaries on TV as well as, of course, Super Size Me.

None of these prepared me for The Guardian's Felicity Lawrence and her book Not On The Label. What's unique about this book is how it comprehensively addresses food safety and quality, migrant labour, environmental degradation, globalisation, quality of life, health, culture, urbanisation and much more. Precisely and cleverly these huge issues are woven together so that one minute the reader is considering 'fresh' ready-made lasagne and the next they are wondering at how frozen food has higher nutrient levels than many 'fresh' items. Next thing one is in the packhouses learning how employment law is dodged to let supermarkets buy prepared fruit and veg at absurdly low prices with no contractual commitments. The list goes on.

Truly we are in serious, serious trouble as a society. I don't really know where to begin – but the book is a good place for you all to start – save me typing the whole thing verbatim in my fervour. I've already filed a LinuxUser column heavily influenced by my reading of the book.

Really it comes down to bread… I love baking bread but I haven't been that satisfied with my results. I was waiting for my wife and slipped into Borders, dangerous territory for a book lover. I, by pure chance as I leafed through a shelf of books, came upon a chapter purely about bread in Lawrence's book. Holy crap. Bread is made in a really sick way these days. And I think the problem with my bread is the use of 'Quick Yeast' which doesn't develop the dough properly over time. The book was bought and now I'm more furious than all the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth magazines ever managed.

What's just so incredible is that I've been feeling a very strong dissatisfaction with British society, food, bread and so on… I've been chatting about this with people for quite a bit but the feeling has got so unbearably strong recently. This book was just the straw that broke the camel's back, I have to change things now.