Event report: “Feeding a growing World,” #Manchester Science Festival debate

Event report: Feeding a growing World, Manchester Salon in partnership with Battle of Ideas and Manchester Science Week

With Louise Bolotin (freelance journalist and blogger), Rob Lyons (deputy editor of Spiked, online current affairs magazine), Angelica Michelis (Senior Lecturer at the Department of English), and Carol Wagstaff (‘crops in the food chain’ specialist, senior lecturer at the Centre for Food Security, University of Reading)

What were you doing on Monday 29th October between 6:30 and 8:00 pm? Having your tea were you? Let me tell you what you really missed then:

For starters: we should look at food provenance.  I’m worried about food waste at home and in supermarkets and restaurants, we must eat less meat, I cook my own meals, I’m passionate about food… followed by: let’s be more open-minded about food, and consider our impact on wild fish depletion for instance, let’s think about new food sources such as insects1 and ways to use them to turn their protein into animal feed.

As a strange main course we were recommended food as psychology, the pharmakon, (you’ll love it ! I’ve given you the recipe at the end2), food as a gut-wrenching inside/outside conflict, quotes from Powers of Horror: an Essay on Abjection (1982) by J. Kristeva where the concept of food is .. errr, sorry what does that have to do with tonight?

And for pudding? Ah, now you’re talking. 1 billion under-nourished, 1 billion over-nourished, 2 billion ill from deficiency and malnutrition. And … genetic modification (GM) as a useful tool to remedy all these problems.

Now let’s be fair, even at boring long dinners you learn stuff for instance: that infrastructure (grain storage for instance) is a major cause for food waste in developing countries, and as much as 15% of food is lost that way where it is most needed whereas 7.2 million tons are bought and wasted in the UK. I also learnt that GM is broadly divided into 3 types: gene silencing (stopping rotting genes for instance), over-expression (where a gene is already present within the organism but multiple copies are added for x reasons) and the famous modification (where alien genes that have nothing to do here are introduced). Current GM research revolves around crops made up to resist stressful conditions (saline ground, droughts) or improve our diet (more fatty acids or vitamin D).

The “debate,” so to speak, was a mix of comments from the audience and the panel about the problems of fair redistribution, the environmental impact of transporting food, the fact that food is a traded commodity with monetary value for developed countries and little benefit for the locals. Well some people are very happy with great choice all year long, we have to consider that a global supply chain is acceptable as long as the food in grown when it’s in season abroad, and the worst footprint is you going to the supermarket in your car. Also, what about the ever increasing population problem, the real impact of trade on water, the good work done by the Kindling Trust , local food production, GM terminator genes, seeds monopoly and acceptance? Buying new seeds was necessary to promote “quality control year on year”, but apparently new seeds are being produced that can be re-sewn. Also, since there is a cultural block against new species of food, we need better education to accept strange enhanced food for our benefit. I’ll leave you with the icing on the cake though: someone asked that why polarize ourselves around food, it’s a small part of our identity after all… Obviously not very aware of Maslow’ hierarchy of needs then…

So I had a strange feeling of agenda déjà vu… yesterday’s was putting in a good word for GM, but at least the lecturer involved was very knowledgeable in the matter. Let’s be honest no such thing as a free meal, and I didn’t feel like leaving a tip…

Laurence Menhinick


1- New to you! As a cyclist, I eat bugs occasionally too…

2Pharmakon from Wikipedia: “Pharmakos is also used as a vital term in Derridian Deconstruction. In his essay “Plato’s Pharmacy”, Derrida deconstructs several texts by Plato, such as Phaedrus, and reveals the inter-connection between the word chain pharmakeia-pharmakon-pharmakeus and the notably absent word pharmakos. In doing so, he attacks the boundary between inside and outside, declaring that the outside (pharmakos, never uttered by Plato) is always-already present right behind the inside (pharmakeia-pharmakon-pharmakeus). As a concept, Pharmakos can be said to be related to other Derridian terms such as “trace”.)”


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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