Magazine article The Spectator

Saffron Studies

Magazine article The Spectator

Saffron Studies

Article excerpt

Recently I enticed my niece to a gastronome's dinner during the London Food Festival. She is about to enter university, and I thought it was about time she learnt to taste. The evening proved a disaster; after a lengthy discussion of saffron she turned to me and asked, with quiet rage, 'How can they carry on about an expensive spice when people are starving?' How young she is, and how deeply am I sunk in the last sensual pleasure remaining to the elderly bourgeois.

In one way of course my niece is quite right. In 40 years, when she is my age, the world will probably be afflicted by food riots which may make the riots in Africa and South America this spring seem tame.

By 2050, it's estimated that the globe's arable productive land will be cut in half while the population will rise from 6.3 to 9 billion.

Water will become today's petrol, a scarce and expensive resource. Biofuels, meant to feed our automobiles, may well have defeated our efforts to feed ourselves. Nothing governments decide to do in 2050 will much matter, legislation coming far too late, since climate change by then will have proved irreversible.

This week in Rome the World Bank convenes with various government agencies to deal with the immediate crisis to hand, which is all about money. The free market, so often celebrated in the front pages of this magazine, is the culprit. Wheat prices, for instance, have gone up by half this year; a catastrophic price increase for that billion of poor people who spend more than 60 per cent of their income on food. Last week German farmers dumped a sea of milk on their lands in protest against the fact that the wholesale prices they get for milk are falling, even though the big supermarket chains are raking in money. So is the City; if index funds based on mortgages are out, new index funds based on agriculture are very much in.

The World Bank, as befits a bank, is providing $1.2 billion so that African poor countries can buy food at market prices, but this can only be a stop-gap. The only real solution is a system of global control of all elements in the exploitative chain of food production. The hardened realist shrugs at this remedy, of course, international organisations being what they are, but going on as we are is no solution.

I admit my niece put me off my lobster poached in saffron bouillon, with its intriguing hints of dill and juniper. …

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