Home Economics What On Earth Is Unherd Up To?

What On Earth Is Unherd Up To?



It’s always been a little difficult to understand what Unherd was up to. I’ve not understood it at least, not since they didn’t leap at the chance of paying me for pieces. And yet it does actually need to be asked what they’re up to.

I recall one bird insisting that women didn’t like anal sex because they didn’t have prostates. OK, the claim could sure be true but the reasoning looks pretty damn dodgy. Think on it, if that were the joy of it then we’d all be paying up for extra prostate exams, no? Soho here we come!

Moving to a less interesting subject, food, we get this:

But Redwood’s instinct is sound, regardless of the source. We do import too much produce, over supply lines that are vulnerable to both the drift of international politics and acts of God; doing so is bad for the environment, and for British farmers, who are forced to compete with farmers abroad whose produce is often subsidised by the state, and who often farm intensively with far worse environmental standards than we allow at home, essentially extending our national pollution footprint overseas.

The British food system is broken, and we need to fix it, particularly with the looming threat of climate change waiting to disrupt the globalised food system. It’s absurd that we grow wheat in East Anglia and then feed it to livestock, while importing wheat from abroad to make processed supermarket bread

Well, 85% or so of UK mills are using British grown wheat. But rather more than that there’s the assumption that bread wheat and feed wheat are the same thing. They’re not – different varietals. It’s the same with Italy and pasta – most of their wheat isn’t used to make pasta and most of the pasta is made from imported wheat. Because different growing conditions, different varietals do better in certain climates and soils and also different varietals do better when put to different uses.

Food ain’t the same as food, wheat ain’t the same as wheat.

it’s obscene that Welsh hill-farmers scrabble a subsistence income from EU subsidies to export their lamb to continental Europe, while we import frozen New Zealand lamb from the other side of the world for our own use.

That’s to claim that Welsh lamb and New Zealand lamb are the same thing. They ain’t, as anyone who has ever paid for either knows. And it’s also to miss that if we didn’t have tariffs against the NZ lamb then Welsh hill farmers would have to get a girlfriend – as they’d no longer be scrabbling on those hills.

This though is even worse:

We don’t import Dutch tomatoes because they taste good (they don’t) or because the Dutch climate is better than Kent or Sussex (it isn’t), but because their government has invested heavily in domestic food production infrastructure, having learned, through the experience of famine in World War II, the inadvisability of being dependent on the global market for domestic food supply.

So, why do we get our tomatoes from Holland? Because the government in Holland has made all that investment. What, we’re supposed to spend our own money to duplicate their effort? Or what?

The pioneering food theorist Colin Tudge is right to say that: “all nations should strive for self-reliance in food — at least producing enough of the basics to get by on — and exporting food only when the home population is well fed, and importing only what is truly desirable and cannot reasonably be grown at home.”

Why? Why should nations do so? Welsh food only for Welsh people? Why is that different from UK food only for UK people? And what is the dividing line between this house grows its own food, this village does, this country does? And why?

The man’s just swallowed all the current prejudice about food miles and is vomiting it up in new language.

All of which does lead us to wonder what Unherd is actually for. Presumably it’s, as with this site, just the place to put stuff that no sane editor wishes to publish.



  1. I’ve just guffawed at the phrase ‘conflict tomatoes’ on another news site. Moroccans have built greenhouses in Western Sahara. It’s not clear if the conflict is with the natives of the place or with nature. Either way despite the quota they are undercutting Spanish tomato production, and a Spanish MEP has been moaning that is due to Spain’s higher cost of social protection.
    But I agree with Tom – if climate change is going to make our weather more extreme, then we want more diverse sources of grub.

  2. Climate change won’t cause any problems, not least because there isn’t any climate change in the first place! Last time I looked, the predictions – and they are just that – is for drier summers and wetter winters, which would probably assist food production.

    A big disadvantage of having all homegrown is that if anything goes wrong, you are stuffed. Think Irish Potato Famine (caused by all the labourers buggering off to do Gold Rushes, dig canals and railways, and the ones left thinking that a diet of spuds is enough. JC on a bike! The rest of Europe was having famines at the time, you know, all the ones that are/were self-sufficient in food. So what else grows in Ireland? Don’t you need cabbage as well as spuds to make colcannon? Animals? Apples? All that maize the English sent them was wasted. Makes me laugh: I had loads of sweetcorn when I was in Dublin last. And polenta (in an Italian restaurant … Irish and Italians know each other intimately via the Pope, New York gangs and all the rest.

    And don’t get me on to the subject of the Bengal famine, as if there was s surplus of curry and rice (which grows on the Churchill estate), a surplus of ships to carry all that food, and a free passage from the Krauts and Eyties to get past the U-boat pens in Brest, and through the Med to the Suez Canal, then up the Bay of Bengal where the Japs were going to be equally obliging. Not.

    Or ‘The Good Life’ twats when the slugs or caterpillars set about their garden.

    Bt the whole point is that self-sufficiency isn’t all that wonderful.

    • One could also point to the rival British and German blockades in WW1. Although the Brits got most of their food from overseas, because they put the effort in, they had no trouble. However the German General Staff simply said, ‘The plebs are all too fat. We’ll cut the rations a bit more, and send the farmers off to the front.’ So things got worse and worse until the system collapsed.

      Adolf in WW2 had better sense. Although the rations may not have been of the best, the Germans never starved.

  3. It might be reasonable to argue that a nation should be able to feed itself if necessary – as in WWII, you’d hate to be dependent on shipping to survive. Sort of like having a few days worth of food in the house in case of an emergency. Beyond that, no, get your food where the free market leads you.

    • I think it’s unlikely the UK, or particularly England – the most densely populated country in Europe – could be self-sufficient in food. We produce enough calories to keep people from starving, but not of the right kind at the right time.

      I’ve never understood these concerns: the “worst pandemic evah™” didn’t significantly interfere with our food supply; the EU doesn’t have the U-boats to cut off our sea supplies; and if we ever get into a shooting war with Russia (which maybe could try to blockade us), I suspect food shortages would be the least of our worries.


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expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

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