Friday, May 04, 2007

The lie of the land

With the light evenings and the weeding I am not watching much t.v. at the moment but last night I made a point of watching Molly Dineen's programme The Lie of the Land that I had heard previewed on Radio 4's Woman's Hour.

It was a film that evolved from Dineen accompanying a flesh run for a pack of hounds - where dead, dying and valueless animals were picked up to become cheap meat for the hounds. It then went on to explore the lives of several other failing farmers whose existence is being threatened by the way that today's consumers chose to buy their meat.

Dineen's style is non-interventionist, matter-of-fact and direct. She is not afraid of filming past the point that the majority of viewers will feel queasy. Her straightforwardness, without sentimentalisation or sensationalism made it, for me, compelling and uncomfortable viewing. My worry is that many will have switched off when the first calf was shot, and many more when it was skinned using the landrover.

The thing that I found most telling was one farmer talking about how it is only in the last 35 years that people's eating habits have moved away from buying seperate ingredients and cooking in the home to todays reliance on ready meals. In 1973 average households spent 1/3 of their income on food. What do you suppose it is now? I turn 38 in two weeks time - it is my lifetime.

I think that this should ideally be a series - moving away from the connection with hunting which clouds issues and looking at all food production, not just meat-. It could look more at the way that people's consumer choices impact on farmers' and animals' lives. As consumers our power is in the way we spend our money - Is it on British goods or imported? Do we care about whether our pigs live indoors or out? Are we bothered about whether rural economies work properly or do we just want manicured farms to look good in our holiday snaps? Are we ready to panic about whether Britain is self sufficient in food? I think as a nation we need to be much more aware.

Do we even know how farming works? One of my best friends is a farmer, she farms sheep, cows and hens, I have had illuminating conversations with her husband about the black grouse he want to conserve on his land, I know whether lambing is going well or badly, but I have no idea about the economics of it all.

Dineen's style could confront people with the reality of how our spending makes a difference - she might have to strap some of the audience into their seats though.

And if you saw the programme remember it was filmed in 2005. Two whole years ago.


muddyboots said...

l thougth the prog was excellent. this is life without the rose coloured specs. OK it was from a hunting angle which could cause a problem, but life it bloddy tough for farmers at present. There is no money whatsoever to be made in farming, except for niche markets the government appear to believe & are following the policy of exporting food production = off loading any problems. Just think of how we have exported our manufactruing pollution to China & India?

El said...

Your country is still a lot more farm-aware than the U.S. And it would be impossible to see a film like that on American t.v. There are books, though; the best one about the ethics of it all that I have recently read is The Way We Eat: Why our Food Choices Matter by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. Too bad people will immediately thing that these blokes are vegetarians so they have a bias. Their bias is that there's a massive amount of deception going on in the food industry, and it's been going on so long that whole generations haven't a clue about their food, or, even as you point out, what to do with raw materials to even make food.

SIGH. I'm hoping something will change.

Suffolkmum said...

Really interesting response to the programme, thanks for that.

Kate said...

Farming is in crisis in Canada - especially noticeable in the prairie provinces. Such a film would be watched here, I suspect. People are becoming more aware and are making efforts to buy locally and support our farmers. These are issues that affect us no matter where we live in the world...

Rebecca (feltmaking and sustainable living in rural Ireland) said...

Wow I wish I could have seen that programme, alas, we are in Ireland. Its a subject close to my heart.

I think our generation have forgotten how food is supposed to taste. When I first tasted free range organic pork recently, I flipped my lid at the unbelievably delicious flavour. I read up on intensive pig farming. Now we don't buy as much meat as we did, but what we do buy is organic. That way we can afford it, the animals have a good life, and its also a real treat, which is the way it ought to be. We also now have our own free ranging pigs!