Dimbleby went on to describe how the system is doing a lot of harm as well as good, which is why his commission was set up. He covered much of the ground Lang traverses in this book, but there was a significant difference in tone. Lang may not adopt the miserabilist, we-are-all-doomed-unless approach of many environmental activists but Feeding Britain failed to lift my spirits. If politicians and the general public are going to buy into the sort of radical reforms that Lang is promoting – some of which might be hastened by the current pandemic – we need somebody of a sunnier disposition to elucidate and sell them. Let’s hope Dimbleby and his colleagues can pull this off.
Lang and others have been “prophets in their own country” for three generations. They will now have their place in the sun. Few can doubt that the Agriculture Bill presently going through Parliament will have to be completely rewritten from first principles post-Covid-19, with food security and a national nutritional policy at its heart. Lang has made an important contribution to that work. He calls for a Great Food Transformation and writes that “we should start now or be forced to do it in a crisis later”. Little did he know that the crisis was just around the corner.
Coronavirus is teaching us one thing: nation states are insecure in the face of present-day pandemic shocks. They are as weak psychologically as they are confused scientifically. They find it difficult to prepare contingencies, and the resulting indecision can knock out entire economic systems. We will not starve, but thousands will lose their jobs and the nation will grow poorer. Security matters, and that includes food security. Lang has performed a public service.
There’s also exhausting repetition. Lang tells us six times in eight pages, for example, what Part Two of his book is going to communicate. The reader just wants him to get on with it. It’s a shame. David Attenborough’s TV pronouncements on plastic pollution are transforming attitudes - and Lang‘s arguments deserve a similar effect. But any hope that his new book might produce its own Blue Planet moment for the food industry looks likely to be dashed by its turgid style.