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A few votes for
bubble and squeak.

By C.J. Hadley

Twenty-five percent of English youth are vegetarian. I don’t believe there were any herbivores in my family when I was given a one-way ticket out of England back in 1958. Roast beef, lamb or pork was something we craved as we ate greasy cod and chips (with malt vinegar, in newspaper), bubble and squeak (left-over veggies, fried) and toad in the hole (battered sausages of unknown origin). Of course, mad cow disease hasn’t helped, with 196,000 confirmed cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), mostly in dairy cows. About four million cattle have been slaughtered, not because they had the disease, but because they were either reared alongside a confirmed case or were offspring of a sick animal.

Even though new cases of BSE are rare today, more than 125,000 Brit farms have gone under because of the disease. There have been no cases of BSE in the U.S. even though we have had our share of food poisoning, partly due to unchecked foreign meat being mixed with U.S. hamburger, very little USDA inspection, and no government requirement for ‘country of origin’ labeling on meat.

My young English niece believes that England should import food (she’s 21 and doesn’t remember World War II when self-sufficiency was essential). “Pig farmers should go out of business. We can get pork from Poland.” As an economics major, Kate has a point. Agriculture is not particularly profitable to the 4 percent who work in it and lots of greens want their country “to go back to nature. In 18 months, because of the endless rains,” one local said, “Britain could once again be a wild country, covered in bracken and bramble.”

Does this sound familiar?

Dairy farmer David Clover lives in Ashton Keynes, Wiltshire. It is a place of rolling green hills and high hedgerows. “All I wanted to do, ever since I was a nipper born in the farmhouse, was to farm. Farming allowed me a lifestyle that gave me very little money but I had shooting and fishing, long walks in the country, green grass and silence. But slowly over the last few years I realized that they–those outside of us, outside of agriculture–have taken the enjoyment out of it. I began to despise what I was doing.”

Small farmers with 200 acres will struggle to live on the land or go under, says Clover. Most have no assets because they are tenant farmers. “I don’t think British farmers are commercial enough. I never spoke to my neighbor and he was less than a mile away. We are insular in our lives. I think farming will survive if a radical outlook is taken and farmers actually start talking to each other.”

Does this sound familiar?

Countryside Alliance reported in summer 2000: “Small farmers are suffering the lowest incomes in memory.... Research has shown beyond doubt that supermarkets are damaging to communities. Supermarkets have depressed the farm-gate price of milk to below the cost of production by, essentially, giving away commodity products to consumers so as to entice them inside to buy processed goods.” Countryside Alliance also reports, “British society has developed new aspirations that constitute a new market for rural enterprise: high quality, specialized food produce and managed recreational access to land for a growing range of sports and pastimes.”

England’s council farms are owned by local government and young people can become tenant farmers. But a recent Rural White Paper advised the councils they can sell up to two-thirds of the land for development. Clover is angry and disappointed. “The government is selling the family silver...something that is an asset and can’t be replaced.”

Does this sound familiar?

In France, hands-on agriculture goes back two generations. In industrialized Britain, it’s 10 generations removed. “I am 51 and I’ve retired from farming because I see no future in it,” says Clover. “People see farming as vocational, not money making. It’s bloody hard work. Somewhere along the line people have to realize that food doesn’t come off the shelf. Eventually there is going to be a shortfall and in the Third World it’s started already. England is underproducing on milk and yogurt and it’s coming in from France. Irish beef is subsidized to keep the people quiet and they can dump over here for less than cost price. None of us get round the table together and we should.”

Clover walked off the farm on September 8, 1999. He was lucky because he lived in an area that was in high demand by urban country lovers. He now works as village handyman. “There is a sadness, but the joy had been driven out by bureaucracy, form filling, low prices. Environmentalists here are huge lobbies, they are funded by government and funded by industry. The Department of Agriculture in London still sends me form after form and I wrote them: ‘No longer in farming, cows all sold and checked by ministry...’ Still they continue to ask, ‘Why haven’t you sent in the census?’”

Compassion in World Farming (CWF) wants everyone to be vegetarian. “They are a fairly objectionable lot who say there is cruelty on farms and they have targeted Britain. Lecturers from Bristol University and Bath University–clever people who should understand and know better–speak for CWF. They lack common sense. The group displays graphic photos of animals being killed by religious sects in the Middle East which cut the animals’ throats first to bleed them. I asked ‘Why are you targeting the British farmer with foreign posters?’ They didn’t even know it. They are brainwashed and they think they are going to save the world. What they don’t know is they are going to destroy it.”

Bubble and squeak anyone?

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