The Full English
The Full English: Episode 4

The Full English: Episode 4

Factory Farms

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Vittles and The Full English would like to thank the following people for their contribution to this podcast:

Episode 1 (Breakfast): David Edgerton, Kaori O'Connor, Ben Rogers, Paul Freedman, Rowley Leigh

Episode 2 (Sheep): Pen Vogler, Maia Pal, George Comninel, Susan Rose, Ben Rogers, Matt Chatfield, Jeremy Chan, Rezaul Haque

Episode 3 (Tea and Sugar): Seren Charington-Hollins, Markman Ellis, Mathew Mauger, Mukta Das, Catherine Hall, Padraic Scanlan, David Edgerton

Episode 4 (Factory Foods): Matt Chatfield, Lucy Williamson, David Edgerton, Liz Bowles, Michael Clark, Aaron Bastani, Elena Walden, Tess Kelly, Pen Vogler, Tom Kerridge

Episode 5 (Modern European): Shaun Hill, Fay Maschler, Rowley Leigh, Jonathan Meades, Dan Lepard, Margot Henderson, Anna Tobias, Jeremy Lee, Ben Highmore, Fergus Henderson, Trevor Gulliver

Episode 6 (Fish Finger Bhorta): Ash Sarkar, Jason Edwards, Riaz Phillips, Andrew Wong, Catherine Hall, Adam Ramsay, Sunder Katwala, Mike Kenny

Episode four: Factory farms

Matt Chatfield: I would say that ruminant poo that's drug free is one of the most important substances on earth, and I would say dung beetles are as equally important to the future of mankind as bees basically. 

Lewis Bassett: That’s Matt Chatfield, a sheep farmer in Cornwall who you might remember from episode two. As well as being incredibly passionate about the flavour of mutton, Matt is great believer in farming methods that work in harmony with nature and which encourage healthy soils. That, Matt tells me, is the route out of the mess we’re in.

My name is Lewis Bassett and you’re listening to the Full English. In this episode we’ll be looking at how industrial agriculture changed how food is produced and consumed in England. Given the negative consequences of factory farming for climate change and for the health of soils, plants and animals, are ecological farming techniques the solution? Should the world’s growing population eat less meat? Or might modern processed foods play an important role in lowering meat related greenhouse gas emissions? We’ll be looking at these global questions and more in this, episode four of the Full English on factory farms.

Lucy Williamson: if you go back to the sort of mid 1800s just about everybody in the country was attached to the bread making process in some way, whether you owned a mill whether you were the farmer growing the wheat, whether you were doing the milling, and it was just a part of everyday life.

This is the Lucy Williamson, a nutritionist and advocate for good gut health. She told me how the white flour that goes into a supermarket loaf of bread is so heavily processed that all that remains of the wheat is the starch. This gives modern bread its uniformity and helps improve its shelf life. The nutrients that are lost in that refinement process are often added back in, but, Lucy says, we don’t know for sure that they are as easily absorbed by the body in this way. The fibre is also lost; the yeast that is added is homogenous, which can cause intolerance; and our gut processes the starch in white bread very quickly, meaning our hunger and energy levels spike and dip. The same kinds of processing happens with other foods as well.

LW: As a nutritionist and a health professional we're definitely trying to encourage people to move away from processed foods. What that industrialization has done is its enabled food to be produced in vast quantity and it's let go of quality. At the end of the day that's how we sum it up. 

David Edgerton: there is a quality quantity trade off.

This is the historian David Edgerton. 

DE: There's a move to transform British agriculture, through investments through subsidies, through the more general encouragement of national production, because it's not it's not confined to agriculture. And it's a programme which has an extraordinary success. So by the 80s really, the United Kingdom becomes essentially self sufficient in food. Something like 96% self sufficiency in things like wheat, beef, lamb, pork, vegetables, local fruit. That is an extraordinary transformation. It takes the United Kingdom back to where it had been in the in the 19th century, in the mid 19th century. And that means that for the first time in many generations, the food that British people eat is grown in the United Kingdom.

LB: But it’s industrialised production at this point? So it's being grown with modern techniques, involving intensive farming, the use of sophisticated machines, and high productivity, high yield crops and so on?

DE: Exactly. The transformation of the countryside is really extraordinary, the rate of labour productivity increases much greater than industry. So we have an increases in output. The yields per acre, or hector, go up very radically. The number of animals goes up. And the peak for sheep and cows comes in the 1970s and 1980s. So, yes, agriculture is intensified to an extraordinary degree. 

During the Second World War, essential imports to Britain, including food, were threatened by a Nazi blockage. So by 1945, and as the cold war dragged on, politicians sought to increase the UK’s self-sufficiency in food. But that period of self-reliance began to decline from the 1990s.

DE: What happened since is that the economy is that the opened up. So opened up first to Europe and then through Europe to the world at large, and that, again, has profound consequences for our everyday life and we no longer expect to drive a British made car or to use a British made telephone or for our furniture, or our floor coverings, or our curtains to be British made. I mean, it's hard for recent generations to understand that in the 1970s and earlier, this was the expectation. It was really rather surprising to see manufactured goods from other parts of the world.

As we discussed in episode one, the combination of free trade and industrialised food production has meant that England hasn’t had a particularly strong agricultural tradition for some 150 years. That doesn’t mean we’ve always lacked food though. The government’s focus on increasing food output after the war, combined with investments in public health, had a dramatic positive impact on public nutrition, captured in the data showing growing average hights, for example. Afterall, quantity is a kind of quality. But this industrial approach to food has had some serious costs as well. 

Liz Bowles: Certainly within agriculture, what we strived to do was to maximise yield at all cost, and to specialise farming. 

This is Liz Bowles, the associate director for farming at the Soil Association. 

Liz: Nothing comes without a quid pro quo. And certainly, that availability of calories through the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s has driven population increase, and it's reduced the incidence of famine. But it's come with those unintended consequences for biodiversity, for soil and for water and for air. And I think now, now we understand those consequences. We also know that given the precarious situation of the planet now we have to make changes in order to meet the nature and the climate crises we face.

So are ecological farming methods the answer? This is Matt Chatfield again talking about how his grandad’s generation farmed:

MC: It was after the war, chemicals were available because basically weve been building ammunition and they discovered that nitrogen as a chemical actually stimulated photosynthesis and made plants grow. So basically what happened is my gradfather would have been doing a mixed rotation. But then the government said we need to feed the nation and the best way to do it is plough up all your land. Plant the rye grass that grows really quickly if you add chemical fertiliser. And then drain all your fields. So you put drains underneath so all the water runs off. So basically he did that, and it meant that he could grow a lot of grass very quickly and produce a lot of milk for the area. But he had to continually produce ditches to drain the water. And basically over time it actually destroyed our soil. As soon as you put chemical fertilisers on the land your killing the soil. And all the micro-organisms have been killed. 

By the time Matt inherited his grandfather’s farm, his soils were entirely dependent on chemical inputs. As a result, he’s adopted an approach to farming called regenerative agriculture.

MC: To improve soil, you need ruminants, and that are as chemical free as possible. And then you start realising that it's poo that kick starts the whole system. So re-gen ag, what you're trying to do is feed the microorganisms that are in the soil, and you feed them by using carbon, and you get carbon either from carbon dioxide or from plants that get trampled down and then from worms that come up and grab them. And it’s as simple as that really.

Matt’s system basically uses sheep to regenerate his soils by eating grass and shitting out nutrients that the sheep eventually compact into the earth. The product is both incredible tasting mutton and improved biodiversity that, Matt says, starts with healthier soils.

Liz: To farm agro-ecological means that you're farming in tune with nature, not fighting it all the time. I'm thinking, as a farmer, all the time about the habitat  and the food availability for everything that we'd like to call my farm home. I think in the past, we haven't thought like that, we've just thought about the crops and the livestock we're producing and making sure they're looked after. But we haven't thought about everything else: the birds, the wildlife, vertebrates, insects, flowers, soil, soil micro bacteria – all of those need to exist in order to produce a functioning ecosystem. We're talking about much more complex rotations, mixed farming, not using artificial fertilisers, using natural and not using agrochemical anything like as much and livestock production based predominantly on forage rather than intensive livestock being fed on cereals and proteins.

This all sounds fantastic. But I can’t be the only person left wondering if this ecological approach to food production can feed a growing population? Referring to evidence that the Soil Association has published, Liz says it can, but only if we make changes to our eating habits.

Liz: Yeah, it's the one thing that people always ask me: ‘but surely, Liz, you can't feed the world if you follow organic farming practices’. So my response to this is always that actually we can't afford not to, simply because unless we can get to net zero in agriculture, as well as a properly addressing the nature and soil crises, we're not going to combat climate change. But it won't come without some changes to how we live. When it comes to our food, we're going to have to minimise our food waste as much as possible. And yes, we will need to be eating more fruit and vegetables and less meat and dairy from intensively farmed systems. So that there's some behaviour change needed in order that agro-ecology can feed everybody. But it's certainly possible given those two caveats.

Of course, it’s not only the Soil Association who are arguing for us to change how we eat.

Michael Clark: Hi, I'm Michael Clark. I'm a researcher based at the University of Oxford and I focus on researching the impact that dietary choices have on the environment and human health.

Michael and his colleagues recently published a study that looked at what we should eat for public and planetary health.

MC: So, the three main findings are one, very generally the healthiest foods are all also often among the most environmentally sustainable. The second is that the converse of that is that the least environmentally sustainable foods are also often the least healthy. And then the third is that there is a general relationship across the foods that we examine, that healthier foods are often more environmentally sustainable than less healthy foods.

At its most straight forward, Michael’s research suggests we should eat less animals and more plants.

MC: So things like nuts, whole grains, cereals, legumes, fruits and vegetables. They have very low environmental impacts and their increasing consumption of them seems to be associated with reduced risk of diet related diseases. So again, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and death.  At the very high end, you have red and processed red meat, so things like beef, pork, mutton, lamb, and then processed meat to be things like beef, turkey, bacon, and so on. Those are associated with an increased risk of things like cancer and diabetes and heart disease and stroke. And they also have environmental impacts that in many cases are about 50 to 100 times higher than the environmental impacts of plant-based foods.

Although this is the finding of his research, Michael doesn’t think everyone being vegan is a realistic answer. And in some cases, like Matt Chatfield’s farm, animal agriculture can even be part of the solution. But overall, our current consumption of meat and dairy just isn’t sustainable. It needs to fall significantly if we want to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Which is a problem because globally demand for meat is set to increase.

Aaron Bastani: I think right now we need basically three earths for what we consume. Right now we’ve got seven and a half billion people, we're looking at about 10 billion people at some point in the century. And the average human consumption hopefully will go up because right now, you know, a half billion people aren't actually eating enough calories.

AB: My name is Aaron Bastani. I'm the co-founder of Novara Media where I'm still a presenter. I'm also the author of Fully Automated Luxury Communism, which talks about the interface between technology and politics and how things could change quite significantly over the rest of this century.

AB: I think, you know, if you're, if you're saying these 10 billion people just need to behave like this, and everything will be fine. I don't think you're engaging with reality, I think you have a strange theory of change. I mean, clearly, people need to eat more, eat more vegetables, clearly, we want to have a diet that's lower in saturated fat, and so on. But in many countries, in particular in the global south, Sub Saharan Africa, East Asia, South Asia, there's rising demand for these products, you know, it's not less demand for these products. So the idea that even keeping demand stable, right, for dairy for meat for eggs, is a hugely ambitious idea. So the idea that, oh, we're just gonna get rid of it. And we're gonna say to, you know, aspirational people in Shenzhen and Mumbai, and, you know, Jakarta, ‘sorry, I know you've been seeing images in the West that people eating you know, Happy Meals and Big Macs for last 100 years, but you don't get to do that. We've decided as a society’. I think that's ridiculous.

Aaron says that it’s not just hypocritical to tell people in poorer nations that they can’t eat more meat and dairy, but this appeal to people’s morality is also not going to achieve results within the timeframe that we need them.

Ellie Walden: People today don't eat meat because of how it's produced. They eat it, in spite of how it's produced. I know nobody sits down to a meal and says, ‘I really want to eat this meat, because I really want this animal to have been raised and slaughtered’, they eat meat, because it tastes good. And it's a protein rich option that can feed themselves and their families.

EW: My name is Ellie Walden, I'm a Policy Manager at the Good Food Institute Europe.

EW: Our current food system is heavily reliant on industrial animal agriculture just purely to meet the amount of demand we have today. And in the future, that demand is also set to increase substantially. So we're predicted to go up by 70% between now and 2050. Just taking greenhouse gas emissions, for example University of Oxford a few months ago released a report that found essentially even if we just cut out fossil fuels entirely from our energy system, we simply cannot meet our Paris Climate Agreement targets without looking at our current food system. So if we're going to tackle the climate emergency at the, at the scale and at the speed necessary, we basically can't rely on dietary change alone. In other words, we can't just rely on convincing people at an individual level to, to give up the food that they clearly want to eat. 

That’s why people like Aaron and Ellie advocate for cultivated meat, also known as cellular agriculture, which is essentially creating the experience of meat without the use of animals. 

EW: Cultivated meat is exactly the same as the conventional beef, pork, chicken and seafood that we enjoy eating today. But instead of raising and slaughtering animals to get that meat, you essentially grow it directly from cells. The way that works in practice: so cellular agriculture basically involves taking a small sample of cells from an animal and growing them in what's known as a cultivator which is essentially a large tank, it looks a lot like a beer brewery. And inside the cultivator that essentially facilitates all the same natural biological processes that happen inside an animal. So you essentially provide that small sample of cells with the warmth and all the nutrients they need. And then they transform into kind of the cells of meats, so water, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins and minerals. And the result after you go through that process is essentially genuine animal meats. It's identical in taste to conventional produce, conventionally produced meat, but it's made in this much more sustainable and overall kind of safer way.

AB: But it's important to say, with cellular agriculture, there are two ways of fabricating these proteins which resemble animal proteins. The first is you edit, essentially a vegetable protein to more closely imitate an animal protein. So you're, you're editing, for instance, the proteins in yellow split peas, I think it is for the Just egg product. And you grow that with a genetically modified yeast. And that is in no way an animal, an animal protein, but it resembles that the texture, the flavour of eggs. With the Impossible burger, it's quite similar, they effectively get this thing called heme, which gives a burger it's kind of bloody irony flavour. And they do something similar there. But with some of the products that you know, we're going to see over the next year, two years coming to mass market, you know, chicken nuggets, beef burgers, those actual meat proteins, say from Just chicken, for instance, so that the Just egg products uses the vegetable proteins process, Just chicken is using a process whereby you actually grow meat. It's quite literally meat without animals. It's exactly the same, you know, chicken burger or minced beef burger. But without the animal without the animal suffering. 

If many of us already eat meat while knowing the animal came from a horrific factory farm, then there’s no reason to think that meat grown in a large vat of water should be off putting. But, I asked Aaron, can part of the answer to climate change really be something that feels so distinctly unnatural?  

AB: What is natural? As a species, Homo sapiens, there were people with brains that could more or less think like ours in the African savanna around 400,000 years ago. You know, we have a bunch of technologies like fire in the meantime but actually the human beings that you and I know, the ones that engage in agriculture, produce surplus, have cities, written language, numeracy, etc, that's all the last 12,000 years and so a lot of the foodstuffs that we think are natural have emerged since then. So you look at for instance, wheat, you look at barley, you look at chickpeas. Another example is bananas. You can’t have bananas without human intervention. Bananas can't reproduce. Right? You know that this is a crop, I think it was initially from Southeast Asia, and it's a very unnatural thing, a banana. It hasn't got any seeds when you open a banana, you know, where are the seeds? Where is this coming from? It's a completely unnatural kind of thing. Equally carrots, you know, we have orange carrots, they've only been orange since I think about the 16th, 17th century, people used to cultivate carrots actually for the for the leaves, not for the root vegetable. So this thing about, ‘oh, it's natural, it's unnatural’. You know, carrots aren’t natural, wheat’s not natural, bananas aren't natural. So, you know, where would you like to end this? So we're gonna say ‘I'm only going to eat’, you know – and you do get some people like this, right – they'll say, ‘I'm only going to eat einkorn wheat or speltz’, whatever, it's still not, quote unquote, natural, you know, because this stuff has been, it's been interbred by, you know, by Neolithic humans, and even pre Neolithic humans probably started experimenting with it. So yeah, what is natural? Cellular agriculture is a classic example of this. Ultimately, we've been doing hereditary breeding, you know, breeding features in and out of flora and fauna for 10s of 1000s of years, like I say, properly, really, for 12,000 years. And I think actually more importantly, in a world where we have to decarbonize by 2050, 2060, you know, this is this is a point of political urgency. 

Changing the way we consume meat is not only a question of technology and consumer adoption. Aaron explains that if we want an equitable transition to sustainable food sources, who owns the product and what they charge for it really matters. 

AB: Could we have global cellular meat production, which means we live within the planet's bio capacity? Yes. Could that be led by capitalism? Plausibly. Does that mean, we would solve global hunger? No, that's a political question. That's a question of social relations. And so, yeah, technology, will it save us? Sort of, yeah, but who's it gonna save as the big question. 

While there’s a lot of hype – and a lot of money – orbiting cellular agriculture companies in Silicon Valley in the US, alternative proteins are not exactly new. Tofu and Seitan have been eaten by some meat avoidant Buddhists in China for centuries. Medieval chefs in England made eggs out of almonds and bacon out of salmon during lent – a subject which deserves its own episode. When I was growing up, Quorn in the form of pies and ready meals often appeared at my family’s dinner table, particularly since my Mum and Dad are vegetarian. In fact, originating in England, Quorn remains an industry leader for meat-alternatives. 

Tess Kelly: So I'm Tess Kelly. I'm a farmer's daughter, a committed vegetarian, and I'm Sustainable Development Manager at Quorn foods.

TK: So it actually arose out of, you know, a real food crisis in the 1960s. There was a real concern around providing the right amount of food for people. 

Quorn’s story begins at the start of the cold war, the period in which the British government was seeking to ensure that the UK had a domestic source of food for the first time in a hundred years. And globally there were huge concerns about food security as well. This context helped give birth to quorn.

TK: There was a philanthropist and filmmaker called Lord J. Arthur rank, you may have seen some of the old black and white films with a man striking a gong. And that was the rank company that produced the films but he was a really fascinating character actually. And really engaged with this, this crisis of food, and wanted to put some of his investment into finding a new way to produce food, finding a new source, particularly of protein. At the time, carbohydrate was really plentiful. You know, we had, you know, a lot of starchy vegetables, a lot of crops were available, but the protein question was still really unanswered. So he set on an incredible mission really to set his scientists out to find the first new food since the potato, or so the legend goes. 

Arthur Rank’s scientist went out in search of a micro-organism that could be grown at scale. They took over 3000 soil samples from across England. the one they eventually began to develop came from a compost heap in Buckinghamshire. 

TK: As the development took place it was discovered that we could feed it with a relatively small amount of energy, it could be grown at scale and more importantly, it had some of the fundamental qualities that we were looking for: it was really high in protein and a great quality source of protein and most importantly it could replicate and imitate the taste and the texture of meat.

Making Quorn requires two 50ft high tanks. The micro-organism is fed in one tank and as it grows it floats up and into the other tank from where it’s harvested and processed in order to create the textures and flavours of the end product. Arthur Rank’s initial research was sold to a huge company called Imperial Chemical Industries, who manufactured a large number of products from fertilisers to explosives. It then took over 20 years for the first Quorn product to come onto market in 1985.

TK: So the first product was a launched in Sainsbury's actually, and was a meat alternative vegetarian pie. And from there we developed our kind of core products that most people will be familiar with in terms of our mince, our pieces. And the rest is history. And now we have everything to your midday nuggets to escallops and all the rest of it. 

As with many other firms in Britain’s economy, Quorn has since been globalised, now being owned by a parent company in the Philippines and listed on the Philippine stock exchange. Recently, Quorn estimated it had served more than a billion portions of its product – but the company has incredibly ambitious plans to expand. By 2032, Quorn wants to be serving 8 billion portions a year. While the product was developed to tackle a perceived protein shortage, it was initially marketed as a product for vegetarians. Now, as Tess explains, Quorn wants to be seen as healthy and sustainable option for everyone.

TK: We did some interesting comparison statistics a couple of years ago. So if you took all of our micro protein that's produced from our fermenters and turned that into chicken products, for example, if that was to be actual chickens, it would equate to roughly 33 million chickens worth of protein, which I just find absolutely astonishing. And again, you think about the energy and the food and the time that it takes to grow a cow or a chicken or you know an animal and then convert it into protein compared to the efficiency of our process to get you know, the same sort of quality of a product at the end I just find that absolutely astonishing. 

If alternative proteins like Quorn achieve their goals, the net result in terms of the climate is a probably benefit to us all. To achieve that, Quorn, and the newer cultivated meat companies following in its wake, have had to challenge the idea that their products are exclusively for vegetarians. But understanding the extent to which products like Quorn will play a role in a sustainable food system requires a shift in our attitudes towards factory foods in general. Just as some types of fresh food are often associated with being elitist in England, foods made with modern process are often looked down upon. 

Pen Vogler: we've become obsessed with avocado in this country and I’ve been trying to figure out why we are so obsessed with it being middle class. 

This is Pen Vogler. 

PV: The metro newspaper had a headline about avocado hand, which is where you stab yourself by trying to get the stone out of an avocado with a knife and you end up at A&E and why is the most middle class injury ever? And why are people so exercised about millennials spending all their money on avocado toast, when they could be saving for a home, or whatever it is, like a home is more affordable than avocado toast. And so I tracked it back to this campaign that the avocado growers association started which was to position the avocado as heathy, Mediterranean-style, Californian super food, and what was interesting was they expunged it of all references to Mexico and South America. They just pretend its Californian thing. It gets picked up by Gwyneth Paltrow and the healthy eaters and all the rest of it and it just fits right into this map that we've made for ourselves in Britain of foods being related to class. We have a place for it. We have a slot for it. We know how to understand it.

PV: I think it's that you can only eat it in a certain way, you can only eat it fresh, you can't tin it, you can't freeze it, you can’t dehydrate it. And so it’s healthy and it’s got to be eaten fresh. Those two words healthy and fresh, we’ve decided, go with a certain population. 

Pen is the author of a book called Scoff. In it, she says thatmuch of the time, what we eat isn’t determined by how it tastes or whether a food is sustainable or healthy, but it’s determined by where it fits in our preconceived ideas of class. This cultural framework often means that processed food is seen as inferior.

PV: Historically we've focused on the things that are not to do with the food. We've focused on judging each other by what we eat. So we say “I eat, lovely fresh sourdough therefore I’m this kind of person and you eat Mother’s pride therefore you’re that kind of person”. We might look at each other’s cupboards or shopping baskets and go ok you’ve got this kind of marmalade, this kind of tea, these kinds of sweets, and making judgements about people. So we've done that. And historically we've talked about what's appropriate for different kinds of people in different times. In the mid 18th century for example there was a lot said to the working classes or the agricultural classes about how it wasn’t appropriate for them to drink tea, or eat white bread, because it wasn’t a requirement of their station. Or robust peseant types needed robust brown bread. So food is used to distinguish people, to identify the individual as part of a group and therefore to separate people them. And so we've ended up with this kind of two teer system where you have mass produced highly processed food on the one hand and on the other hand you have – you’ll recognise the vocabulary – the farmers market, local, organic, and all the rest of it. 

And this is the thing: the English have a habit of telling people who they consider inferior exactly how to behave – both globally and domestically. Because in our class obsessed society, what you eat is meant to signify your social status. This becomes a problem if we want to create a sustainable food system since, on the one hand, it’s unrealistic to expect people to give up meat on the basis of moral appeals from those who claim to know better, while, on the other, welcoming meat alternatives as part of the answer to environmental issues will be limited when these products are read in class terms as a type of processed convivence food.

Tom Kerridge: It's very easy to be food snobby and middle class about convenience foods. But for many, many people, it's incredibly important.

This is the chef and restaurateur Tom Kerridge

TK: I grew up - it was a single parent family. So I grew up in Gloucester, myself and my brother and my mum, who had two jobs. That was it. So we grew up with very little in the way of money and disposable income – we were known then as latchkey kids, so that you'd let yourself in and cook tea for my brother. So yeah, I get it in the evenings be things like fish finger sandwiches, Findus crispy pancakes, those sorts of things. So as tins of ravioli oxtail soup, you know, just like that child of the ‘80s 

TK: it's very easy to talk about in a bad way, like you can say it’s processed food, it's really poor ingredients it’s cheap, it's whatever. However, at that point, it was necessity, it was food that works, it was food that it meant that for my mum's point of view, she knew that a 13 or 14 year old could light the grill and grill some fish fingers or turn the oven on and you know, heat some stuff up, Birdseye potato waffles or whatever else, tins of baked beans. Ensure us kids, you know, we're eating something warm. It would be lovely if everybody had the time and the money to cook lots of fresh ingredients and always be able to do it. But the reality of life is something that's very, very different, I think, to the to the perceived perception of what should be going on, with this kind of make-believe world that I think politicians and dieticians and, you know, try to create. When the reality is that people's lives are very different to that.

While the development of industrial agriculture successfully fed a growing population in Britain, it’s had negative consequences as well, including being an important contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. But that doesn’t mean that ecologically produced food combined with behavioural change is the only solution. It might sound ironic, but factory foods like Quorn are needed to tackle the issues caused by industrial agriculture. While it’s hypocritical for wealthy individuals and wealthy countries to ask aspirational people to eat less meat, it’s also unrealistic to expect moral appeals to achieve meaningful results in the shortest time possible. 

That means creating a sustainable food system will require both regenerative agriculture from ecologically conscious farmers like Matt Chatfield and factory foods like Quorn and cultivated meat. To recognise that means challenging the binary between ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural foods’ and their associated social status. Or, as Pen Vogler puts it, we need to stop scoffing at what other people scoff. 


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My name is Lewis Bassett and you’ve been listening to The Full English. We’ve opened a huge can of worms in this episode concerning England’s intimate relationship with processed foods, whether food really does tell us something about a person’s class and what class means in England today. We’re going to cover some of these topics in episode five, but to really get into them will require separate episodes. So if you want that to happen then please support the show. You can sign up for as little as £3 per month at By signing up you can get access to exclusive content such interviews and recipes, including some vegan ones.

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The Full English
A podcast by Lewis Bassett and Forrest DLG about food and English national identity.