by Marion Nestle
Feb 14 2012

The Prince’s Speech—On the Future of Food—is now a book

I’ve just received my copy of the book based on the speech given by Prince Charles at a conference I attended in Washington DC a few months ago.

The tiny, 46-page book (published by Rodale and available online and at your local Indie) reprints the speech along with color photographs and a foreword by Wendell Berry and Afterword by Eric Schlosser.

Grist asked me some questions about it.

What sticks out to you most in this speech/book? What surprised you? What do you most hope the reader comes away with?

I attended the meeting at which Prince Charles spoke and was impressed at the time by his broad overview and understanding of the problems inherent in industrial food and the implications of those problems.  He described himself as a farmer, which was not exactly how I had imagined him.  It’s impressive that someone of his stature cares about these issues and is willing to go on record promoting a healthier food system.

Most Americans are probably not aware that Prince Charles is an organic farmer and long-term advocate of sustainable food. What do you think the ultimate value of hearing such an urgent message about the need to change our food system from him? In other words: Do you think it will have more weight/reach coming from him than say Michael Pollan or Alice Waters?

Americans in general love royalty.  Whether food movement participants care about royalty is a different matter.  I can’t imagine anyone in America having more weight than Michael Pollan and Alice Waters but it’s great to have Michelle Obama and now the Prince on our side.

On a related note, the food movement has been working to free itself of the “elitist” charges for years? How do you think inviting one of the true elite (i.e. he grew up in a working castle!) to speak about these issues impacts the discussion.

I don’t know anyone in the food movement who isn’t actively concerned and working hard to make healthy food available to everyone, rich and poor alike.  I see the food movement as an important player in efforts to reduce income inequities.  People will care whether the Prince has anything to say about this or not depending on their feelings about celebrities in general and royalty in particular.

In the book, Prince Charles says “farmers are better off using intensive methods and where consumers who would prefer to buy sustainably produced food are unable to do so because of the price. There are many producers and consumers who want to do the right thing but, as things stand, “doing the right thing” is penalized.” What, in your opinion, would it take to reverse this predicament?

This is a matter of public policy.  Our agricultural support system rewards big, intensive, and commodities like corn and soybeans.  It barely acknowledges small, sustainable, and “specialty” (translation: fruits and vegetables).  Policy is a matter of political will and can be changed.

Prince Charles also suggests that it’s time to “re-assess what has become a fundamental aspect of our entire economic model…Because we cannot possibly maintain the approach in the long-term if we continue to consume our planet as rapaciously as we are doing. Capitalism depends upon capital, but our capital ultimately depends upon the health of Nature’s capital. Whether we like it or not, the two are in fact inseparable.” What role do you think can food play in “re-assessing this economic model?

Food is such a good way to introduce people to every one of these concepts: capitalism, depletion of natural resources, and climate change, for that matter.  At NYU, we explain what food studies is about by saying that food is a lens through which to view, analyze, and work to improve the most important problems facing societies today.  I can hardly think of a social problem that is not linked to food in some way.  That’s what makes it fun to teach.  It’s also what makes the food movement so important.

Comments

  • Brandon
  • February 14, 2012
  • 6:27 pm

It’s nice to have someone talking about this. It’s kind of ridiculous that things like soy beans are the most rewarded commodities. It really is all about the money

  • NYFarmer
  • February 15, 2012
  • 12:35 am

Prince Charles and many in the royal family of England deal with farmers in a humanizing way, as if we really are humans worthy of communicating with. This is something very much missing from the US “food” talk. So often urban writers write about food as if it comes from thin air, mentioning nothing of the farmers, the land, the regions behind it. From my farmer’s eyes, I look to see if articles on various foods reached out to interview farmers or farm leaders when speaking of the commodity produced. Rarely. Rather, we’re cast in black and white…either a big very evil CAFO or a little virtuous organic “local” farmer. The farmers of the middle, the thousands of farms offering myriad production models, sizes, regional styles are virtually invisible.
Prince Charles has reached out to help the average farmer for a long time and in the middle of horrific crisis situations. In 2009, when milk prices crashed to Depression era prices, Prince Charles opened his home for meetings of Welsh dairy farmers, offering them his contacts and even providing some with cash. In contrast, NYC “food interested” people maintained a “hands off” aloof distance from NY dairy farmers even as suicides were occurring in rural NY. Even when asked, not even one NYC food group testified at the dairy hearings and farmers went it alone. Likewise for the dairy antitrust hearings. No one showed except for farmers who spoke out alone. NYU’s Food and Climate Change conference, held in December of 2009, failed to include the state’s dairy farmers even in the worst of times as the farmers groveled. The NYTimes finally mentioned the depths of farmer despair when Dean Pierson walked into his barn and killed all 50 of his cows and then himself. We here, could only look “across the pond” with amazement as Prince Charles opened his home and heart to the average dairymen and women of his area.
Compassion and respect for the average farmer and those who work that land has been part of the royal famiy’s tradition for decades. I met Princess Anne decades ago at a cow show. She mingled with the average farmers with ease. Even the beautiful royal wedding included the farmers who work with the Prince on his farm, the farmers were seated behind Queen Elizabeth. Would be hard to imagine this type of compassion and respect for average farmers here in the US.
The Prince speaks lovingly of the land, rural cultures and the working countryside. In the US, the urban writers who don’t deign to engage farmers in dialog speak of “food” devoid of relationship to the farmers’ hands and lives. I hope the time will come when NY’ers and other Americans see the beauty of the working countryside and begin to engage the actual farmers. I think we’re coming upon that moment.

If you want to know where the Farm Bill is heading and the future of food, just read about the reception that the future leader of China is getting on his visit to Iowa.

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2106851,00.html

The middle class of China is well over 400m, and they all want fried chicken, beef burgers, fries, soda, sugar with everything and big juicy steaks.

The problem is, they want it from the farming belts of America. The real deal, the full American experience.

What an exporting opportunity this will be for beef farmers and corn producers, if only they could expand production.

That is, more or less, the future of food policy.

  • justthefacts
  • February 15, 2012
  • 11:28 am

HRH, The Prince of Wales, may mean well and his personal commitment to organic farming is commendable, but hard as I try, I have trouble getting past his love affair with homeopathy, which I think taints his credibility. This a big issue in England where scientists are lobbying hard to get magic out of the NHS.

I’m also not sure it is clear that we can feed seven billion people with intensive methods–which is not to discredit efforts to find sustainable systems that do work. Cuba has done a fantastic job with organic farming and while they can feed themselves, there are limits–there is enough milk for one pint a day for children, but no excess beyond that. You can argue the need for milk, but I’m using this as an example of limitations.

  • Phil
  • February 15, 2012
  • 3:39 pm

That guy will never be King: His mom know how dumb he is. That’s why she is still the Queen. Thanks God for England, William has his mother’s genes.. He will be the next King….
I can’t believe that Marion follows such a fool….

  • justthefacts
  • February 15, 2012
  • 6:25 pm

@Phil

The Queen is still the Queen because she is alive. She will be Queen until she dies unless there is a major revision of how things work. Prince William has genes from both his parents and while I do not know the IQ’s of either, Prince Charles did graduate from Cambridge whilst Princess Diana held only what we would call a High School education.

Neither of them are known for any notable academic achievement, although The Prince of Wales certainly seems to be as capable as any other college graduate.

Finally, Prince William will only be King upon his father’s death.

  • Margeretrc
  • February 15, 2012
  • 6:47 pm

@justthefacts, “I have trouble getting past his love affair with homeopathy, which I think taints his credibility.” I’m very much in agreement with you on that! If I’m not mistaken, it’s not just homeopathy, but other forms of unproven alternative medicine, no?
And yes, it does damage his credibility. However at the moment, I am at least grateful to him for drawing attention to the plight of Indian farmers who are committing suicide at an alarming rate because Monsanto talked them into buying their patented seeds at exorbitant prices and the crops failed, leaving the farmer in debt to money lenders (from whom they borrowed money to buy the seeds) with no way to replant a new crop to earn the money to pay their debts. Monsanto is not good for the future of food!

[...] new study strengthens link between obesity, diabetes, and BPA. [Treehugger] Prince Charles’ speech, On the Future of Food, is now in paperback. [Food [...]

  • justthefacts
  • February 18, 2012
  • 3:49 pm

@Margaret

Actually the story about the Indian farmers has been somewhat trumped up–I’m looking for the link and will post it but this thread is getting old so don’t know if it matters at this point!

Yes, HRH is into all sorts of pseudoscience-y things and while I’m sure he is sincere, he simply lacks clear thinking on the subject and is dedicated to his pre-conceived notions.

  • Margeretrc
  • February 18, 2012
  • 7:18 pm

@justthefacts, here is the article I read: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1082559/The-GM-genocide-Thousands-Indian-farmers-committing-suicide-using-genetically-modified-crops.html Not being a Brit, I admit I have no idea how reputable the Daily Mail is.
and this, from http://www.democracynow.org/2006/12/13/vandana_shiva_on_farmer_suicides_the: “VANDANA SHIVA: Indian farmers have never committed suicide on a large scale. It’s something totally new. It’s linked to the last decade of globalization, trade liberalization under a corporate-driven economy. The seed sector was liberalized to allow corporations like Cargill and Monsanto to sell unregulated, untested seed. They began with hybrids, which can’t be saved, and moved on to genetically engineered Bt cotton. The cotton belt is where the suicides are taking place on a very, very large scale. It is the suicide belt of India.

And the high cost of seed is linked to high cost of chemicals, because these seeds need chemicals. In addition, these costly seeds need to be bought every year, because their very design is to make seeds nonrenewable, seed that isn’t renewable by its very nature, but whether it’s through patenting systems, intellectual property rights or technologically through hybridization, nonrenewable seed is being sold to farmers so they must buy every year.

There’s a case going on in the Supreme Court of India right now on the monopoly practices of Monsanto. An antitrust court ruled against Monsanto, because the price is so high, farmers necessarily get into a debt trap, which is why I was talking about credit, for the wrong thing, could actually be a problem and not a solution.”

Of course, Monsanto says it isn’t so and provides links (perhaps the ones you were thinking of) that back them up. Maybe it’s not the only factor, but if it’s a factor at all, and I suspect it is, it’s appalling. And there are other practices by Monsanto that I find abhorrent–suing farmers who, through no fault of their own, wound up with patented (unpaid for) Monsanto plants on their property due to wind blowing seeds in from neighboring farms, the whole idea of farmers having to buy seeds from Monsanto year after year instead of being able to plant seeds from their crops–because the seeds are patented/the GM seeds don’t produce fertile offspring…

@smilefoods1 It’s great Prince Charles is an advocate for Organic farming. Food Intolerance Products is also a huge issue, political figures could use their influence to impact change as the cost to produce FIP’s is staggering, and this cost is passed on to consumers, making it a luxury item.

Ina Agwada
President – Smile Foods

Leave a comment