The End of Food

I just finished reading a very eye opening book titled, “The End Of Food – The coming crisis in the world food industry” by Paul Roberts.  He also wrote “The End Of Oil”.  The EOF was published in 2008 before the global financial crisis but all of the information in it still holds true to this day.  It is well researched with references and many footnotes, however besides being about a subject dear to my heart, it is a very easy read as well.  I did not struggle through the chapters, as each one builds upon the next in good sequence. I highly recommend this book if you can get it from your local library.

Near the end of the book, Paul asks a very pertinent question, which I will try and answer from my own experience.  It is in the form of a little exercise that all of you can partake in.

“The next time you come home from the supermarket or grocery store with bags of food, do a mental inventory of all the items that, if the modern food system were temporarily turned off or disrupted, you could replace locally, or even produce in your own backyard?”  

I will add to this question.  Could you cope with what you have at hand for a week, a month, two or even six months?  Maybe even longer?

I for one have tried this experiment first hand in my quest to eat a 160km or 100 mile diet for the first 4-5 months of this year, and even though I was successful during the summer months, I failed dismally during late autumn and early winter.  At the beginning we did pretty well, however as the months drew on I was getting down to about 30% local fare especially fresh food.  Maybe I didn’t try hard enough, but I believe it was simply too cold to grow anything of substance quickly and our local area is not agricultural except for the small market gardening town of Bacchus Marsh to the west of us.  Around the 140 day mark we found that we were using more and more fuel and time looking for local food sources, which was kind of defeating the initial goal of lowering our food miles.  But don’t bed disparaged, because we still grow and eat at an average of at least 50% of our own produce, probably more if you count the eggs from the chooks.

Lets get realistic.  The modern food system, as I mentioned in my last post, is all based upon cheap energy in the form of oil.  Without it we could not transport food long distances, grow it in marginal soils, fertilise it, spray it with pesticides and herbicides, and deliver all of this to far away places where this food is probably well out of season anyway.  Without oil, it all collapses into a screaming heap.  Add to this heap, the varying conditions of climate change and the pressure of population overshoot, there is high potential for a food crash just around the corner.  So what can we do about it?  The book does not offer many solutions as it basically tells you how it is, and not what to do.  However……

Now I don’t have all the answers for this issue, but I have learnt a few things over the last four years.  Firstly, read, read, and read.  Scour you local library for all the Permaculture and organic gardening books you can lay your hands on.  If you don’t have some land of your own, ask a friend or relative close by who has some and are willing to share in the profits of your hard graft.  Have a listen to my podcast titled “Designing my food garden” to get a few ideas.  When you think you have read enough, then just give it a go.  What have you really got to loose.  If you feed the soil with good compost, worm wee and castings, and mulch really well, any brown thumb will turn into a green thumb in no time.  I did, and so can you!  Before about March 2007, I didn’t know squat about growing my own food, but just did a lot of research and gave it a go.  I didn’t know if I would be successful, but I kept trying different things and planted heirloom varieties of strange vegetables that took my fancy.  Guess what?  It worked, and I am still growing food.  Each year, I get a little better and am able to share my experience and knowledge to others who want to learn.  It is such a good feeling to dig, grow and eat your own food, and an even better feeling if you can supplement it with local fare that you have either swapped with friends and neighbours or bought from local farmers.  I feel good just writing about it!  Get growing, preserving and swapping.

Also, if you have the space, start a small stockpile, just the essentials and local stuff like flour, pasta, tinned food and the like.  You can read about what I store at home in this post simply titled “Stuff I Have Stockpiled“.  It is easier than you think, and we have been saved by it quite a few times now.  We just buy a little extra each week, practice good stock management so we don’t waist anything, and keep a track of things before they run low.  We only buy extra stuff that we know we eat in our diet.  This saves on wastage as well.

I will leave you with this very thought provoking passage from the book.  I know, I know, copyright and all that and for it I apologise to the author. It is just too good to not repeat here.

“For thousands of years, food has mirrored society.  It provided the substance and ideas that brought forth civilisation, as well as the mechanisms by which civilisation now seems to be taking itself apart.  At the start of the twenty-first century, we are closer to that precipice than we have ever been, yet perhaps more capable, ultimately, of stepping away.  Hunger has always been an invitation to make a better world, and it remains so.” – Paul Roberts – The End of Food.

¡Viva Revolución!


  1. JulieG says

    Sounds like a fascinating book! Just fyi, reprinting an extract of a book is considered ‘fair use’, as long as you’re not surreptitiously putting whole chapters out into the wild :)

  2. says

    @ Anon.

    Yes, I do those things but only with my own produce. We were in the midst of a drought early in the year, so not much produce to pickle, bottle, preserve. And good for you on giving it a go.

    @ Michelle,

    Fix it up. Sorry to leave you hanging like that


  3. Michelle says

    Just wondering how your sentence:

    “The book does not offer many solutions as it basically “

    is supposed to end?????

    Great post.

  4. Anonymous says

    I am new to your blog. Do you can, dehydrate, pickle, use a root cellar, methods to extend growing season…etc. to save your food for use when it goes out of season? I have tried your experiment and had no problem eating locally buy using these methods.

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