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Dystopian Futures: Food for a Brave New World

Were he alive today Orwell may want to re-write the script to his seminal work entitling it Innovation, as opposed to, Animal Farm. For, if current food innovators have their way traditional farm animals will be a thing of the past.  Orwell would not even be able to construct a series of animal personalities capable of forming the back-bone to a popular revolt against the oppressive Farmer Jones given that farm animals are currently undergoing an existential crisis.

Animal Farm: The year 2008

At the beginning of the twenty-first century the world descended into chaos and instability as the agricultural community divided into two camps. The first camp, supported by Farmer Snowball, felt passionately that farming should be based on traditional best practice and the use of modern technology relied upon in times of necessity only. Farmer Snowball was a fourth generation farmer who owned a medium-sized farm and a herd of dairy cattle. He made a meagre living out of selling raw milk and traditional cheeses at local farmer’s markets.

The opposing camp was led by Professor Dr. Napoleon M.D who, as well as being a trained medical doctor, held a doctorate in bio-engineering from a world-renowned University. At the time of the battle Napoleon held a Chair of Food Engineering at a research institute on the outskirts of a high-ranking University town. Napoleon had never worked or lived on a farm but he had become very rich thirty years earlier thanks to a patent he had obtained as a young doctoral student which offered innovative new grain that was capable of growing and producing gluten free flour even in drought conditions.  He re-invested the profits from his first patent into other innovative novel foods so that by 2008 he was a multi-billionaire with a foot-hold in an expanding portfolio of bio-engineered food.

In the end the battle between Farmer Snowball and Prof. Dr. Napoleon M.D. was won without a single shot-gun being fired.Napoleon deployed a four-pronged strategy that led to Snowball’s ultimate defeat. First, he ensured that like-minded scientists sat as experts on the board of all regional, national and international food regulatory bodies. Second, Napoleon fired row upon row of scientific peer reviewed literature at his like-minded scientific experts now staffing the food regulatory bodies proving that innovative food products were not only safe to consume they were safer than traditional food. Third, Napoleon began to undermine Snowball’s traditionalists tendencies by paying for Special Food Reports to be written in the widely read and well-regarded mainstream media on food scarcity. Last – and most devastating of all – Napoleon used his immense, accumulated wealth to flood the market with his recently approved safe, cost effective, innovative food products thus destroying the market for Snowball’s traditional produce.

Snowball’s meagre income vanished. Unable to raise any funds or pay his creditors Snowball had no choice but to sell his herd of dairy cows. The land on which his herd had grazed for generations was sold to a property developer. The farm building (including barns) were sold to Napoleon Inc.

Once the battle was over Snowball disappeared and has not been heard of since.

Innovation Farm: The Year 2018

Napoleon, now styled as a Benevolent Food Innovator controls 80% of all agricultural land in the developed world. Innovation Farm is a Holding Company with a seat in the Bahamas. Through its thousands of subsidiaries Innovation Farm controls 70-80% of the food sold in the industrialised, developed world and is looking to make inroads into the developing world where the ignorant masses still insist on following traditional practice.

The soil on Innovation Farm is dead but sustained by an innovative new chemical called Soil Up. Napoleon holds the patent to it. The chemical has been approved for use because it solves the problem created by over-use of patented nitrates and pesticides used widely during the course of the twentieth century. Napoleon’s subsidiary Chemalot is already working on a third-generation chemical that will try to reinvigorate the soil that is being slowly destroyed by Soil Up. The research, based on three strains of bio-engineered microbes looks promising.

Innovation Farm grows GMO gluten-free wheat from which all carbohydrates derive. The entire crop is harvested in one morning of the year by tractors using artificial intelligence. All fat derives from a GMO soya bean which makes either butter, lard, drippings, goose fat, olive oil, avocado oil, sesame oil … depending on which cocktail of artificial flavourings, emulsifiers and colourings are used. An army of well paid food chemists have devised flavours that replicate the exact smell, flavour and texture of every single traditional food. This allows Napoleon to prepare his ready-made meals with  a mixture of novel and innovative powdered, synthetic nutrients artificial flavourings and emulsifiers, supplied by one of Napoleon’s holding companies in The Netherlands. His food is packaged in brown paper and labelled 100% organic, natural and wholesome. Free from all artificial colourings and flavourings.

Napoleon is branching out into the pharmaceutical sector. A myriad of his subsidiaries are working on new, bio-engineered, medication to solve the inexplicable increase in diabetes, cancers, hyper-tension and inflammation. The figures look promising. The development of new pharmaceuticals relating to chronic food related diseases is expected to see a six figure growth in the coming decades.

Dissenters are silenced with law-suits and if that does not work are encouraged to go on a free week-end break at a recreational park where they sleep in log-cabins but are required to spend the day in an underground room known as “On Being Reasonable”.  In this room doubters are subjected to lectures on the dangers of mankind’s traditional food culture – food scarcity, filth, botulism, lack of hygeine, starvation, salmonella, scurvy, e-coli, rickets. They are shown videos of nature’s unpredictability and her insane unreasonableness. There is no point resisting. As the sun begins to set on the video screen and the temperature inside the controlled bunker is programmed to drop, scientific reasoning has transformed dissenter’s minds. That evening, as they tuck into their novelty petri-burger they will chew every morsel with gratitude, vigour and conviction.

Napoleon will have engineered an entirely novel form of sheep as sceptics bleat: Novel good. Traditional bad. 

Finally, to ensure there is no risk that Snowball could ever re-appear with a fresh army of traditionalists, Napoleon has strengthened the lock to Nature’s attic. Sitting alongside traditional, natural food in the attic we find Grandma Josephine trying to piece the stitches of the cloth of food knowledge back together again. Years of confinement, ridicule, mockery and lack of use are beginning  to take their toll on her mind. Exact method is becoming foggy. Once familiar recipes are being forgotten. Her hands are frail – soon she will pass away and when she does the ancient cloth setting out best practice will be dust. Napoleon guards the entrance to nature’s attic carefully, placing the key to her room under his pillow at night for if Napoleon knows one thing it is this: nature’s secrets and Grandma Josephine’s patterns must never again be examined by modern populations.

Traditional, natural food and method could yet be his Waterloo.  

It is a knowledge that gives him the night sweats. It is a knowledge that keeps him awake at night. If the truth were ever revealed his whole edifice, reputation and fortune would come crashing down on him and the Cult of a Benevolent Food Innovator will come to an end.

The question this generation must ask themselves in 2016 is this: are we going to leave nature locked up together with Grandma Joesephine forever or are we going to find the turn-key to their dusty attic and free them from the tyranny of Napoleon and the contemporary food adulterer?


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