I was travelling recently and looking for something ‘easy’ but worth reading, to keep me entertained on the flight. I stumbled across a tweet from Jay Rayner (@jayrayner1: he’s immensely funny and worth a follow!) saying that A Greedy Man in a Hungry World was in the Kindle store for £2.99. Well, such a bargain is not to be resisted, particularly when I’d been casually eyeing the book in Foyles for months, and policies on food waste has formed a big part of my work recently.
This book is a very pleasing blend of autobiography and investigative journalism, prepared with a blend of Rayner’s bullish humour. It is a quick read, but by no means a light one. Rayner does not have any particular axe to grind except that he loves food, wants to enjoy it, and would like to not destroy the planet in the process. Who can’t agree with that?
There is some really fascinating stuff in here: reflections on the ‘weekly shop’ before supermarkets had been invented; details about how produce is stored and the innovations in this country in order to seek to make farming profitable again; the realities of the slaughterhouse; and the complex analysis needed in order to determine what is really the most “sustainable” food options. Surprisingly, it does not (strictly or necessarily) equate to “organic”, or “local”, or “seasonable”.
If you’re at all interested in eating healthily, it’s easy to become bogged down in individual choices, sourcing your turkey breast and eggs and veg, and miss the big picture of securing a supply chain that will keep producing those things for the whole world for decades to come. I think that in this respect Rayner lets the supermarkets off a little too lightly, and what the book lacks is a deeper attack on how the ends can be achieved, having persuaded of the need for agricultural intensification over faddish individualism. What should governments and intergovernmental organisations be doing to better educate consumers — and future consumers — about nutrition and the issues that Rayner tackles in his book? How much will ‘the market’ be able to lead the way because it makes economic sense (as with the expanding UK apple orchard that is successfully intensifying), and how much will it be dragged?
This book offered precisely what I was looking for in a plane read, but I think actually I would have enjoyed a bit more politics in it! Perhaps this was just because I was already mostly with Rayner on some of his key points about farmers’ markets and the like, but it did make the more biographical ending feel a bit of a let-down.