As I sit here and listen to an enterprising builder outside whistle an excellent rendition of Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King,’ my thoughts turn to halls, and kings, and naturally thence, to the Middle Ages.
With my intellectual cap on, as opposed to my professional one, I am a medieval historian and have collected degrees in the subject in the same way that others might collect da Vinci sketches (i.e. expensively). In the hallowed drinking establishments of the world’s foremost institution of learning, I have pondered with fellow medievalists what it might have been like to live during the Middle Ages.
And, despite speculations about the scholarly aestheticism of monastic existence, or the bellicose excitement inherent in noble birth, we decided that it would have been utter shit.
Monty Don, the former BBC Gardener’s World presenter, said the UK could run out of food “within weeks” because the country is so dependent on imports and it was essential for the country to grow more of our own food.
He urged businesses around the country to follow the lead of the National Trust: “If every household, business, office or factory dug up a patch of land there would literally be millions of allotments made available. This is just the start of something really big.”
I will tell you when we really will run out of food, and that is when we stop depending on imports. In the Middle Ages, when importing food was impractical due to the obvious problem of it rotting in transit, local growing conditions meant the difference between a full belly and death by starvation. With the succession of overly-dry and overly-wet summer growing seasons Britain has experienced in the past four years, had we relied entirely on local produce, we all would have starved.
The other problem with eating only local produce is, of course, that delightful as these shores may be, we’d all be eating nothing but turnips and parsnips from November to March. A four-month diet of root vegetables might solve the nation’s obesity problem, but the incidence of malnutrition (particularly things like scurvy) would soar to fifteenth-century levels.
Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust, said it was not just the recession driving demand for land to grow food but the desire to “reconnect” with the soil.
“More and more people want to grow their own fruit and vegetables,” she said. “This isn’t just about saving money – it’s really satisfying to sow seeds and harvest the fruit and veg of your labour.”
Oh, indeed – it’s very satisfying to till the soil and eat the fruits of one’s labour, as long as one doesn’t have to do it from sun-up to sun-down eight months out of the year, and as long as the fruits of one’s labour are sufficient to keep body and soul together. As the Landed Underclass points out, subsistence farming is hard on the body and, unless one has the luxury of farm-labourers and a horse-drawn plough, unlikely to generate enough produce for actual, y’know, subsistence.
But perhaps in addition to sharing allotments, we will all have the privilege of access to the village horse. It might even be better to have a system wherein the municipality’s food is grown entirely on common land, the care for a strip of which is allocated to every resident. Then we can all reconnect with the soil, and our roots, and our ancient heritage. While we’re at it, we can reconnect with bathing in the freezing rivers and defecating in buckets!
Christ, haven’t these people learned anything? If living off our own fucking local food was so great, our ancestors wouldn’t have escaped in relief from doing it as soon as conditions made it possible. Pardon me while I descend into teleological historicity, but isn’t one of the purposes of chronicling human development to avoid past mistakes, rather than to do the same stupid shit all over again?