1629 Return to Victory Gardens
Mobilize Food! Wartime Inspiration for Environmental Victory Today
by Eleanor Boyle, with a foreword by Tim Lang
Victoria: FriesenPress, 2022
$19.99 / 9781039123663
Reviewed by Mary Gale Smith
Almost daily, news headlines – heat waves, drought, hurricanes, land slides, floods, fires, and so on – remind us that climate change is real. The pandemic and the war in the Ukraine have highlighted the fragility of the global food supply system. Both confirm what many have been saying for years – that current ways of producing and consuming food are inequitable, unsustainable and environmentally threatening. In Mobilize Food! Wartime Inspiration for Environmental Victory Today, Eleanor Boyle argues that we should look to the past to inspire present and future food-related climate action. In doing so she weaves history, a description of how Britain marshalled food resources during the Second World War, with environmental data, suggesting that the wartime approach to food can be used in our current war on climate change.
The book is written in three parts. The first is a detailed history of how Britain mobilized to feed the country during the Second World War when imports were cut off and food shortages loomed. By creating a Ministry of Food under the charge of Lord Woolton, and taking sweeping wartime interventionist measures, the government ensured that everyone ate. The measures included mandating growing home food gardens, increasing farm production, rationing scarce foods, feeding programs, and reducing food waste, to name just a few. Similar actions were taken in other countries as well.
Canadians may remember Victory Gardens or ration tokens and cards, or have read Food Will Win the War: The Politics, Culture, and Science of Food on Canada’s Home Front (UBC Press, 2014), by Castlegar native Ian Mosby. However, the Canadian measures were not as stringent as those in Britain. Research conducted after the war in Britain found that by drastically changing the local food system and adding methods of sharing food, there was no malnutrition, and the unbelievable health benefits. “Citizens were physically stronger and less prone to disease than they had ever been. Diabetes mortality took a ‘conspicuous’ drop … heart disease and tuberculosis plummeted” (p. 80).
The second part makes the connection between food production and climate crisis. Boyle outlines the reciprocal relationship between the two – climate change threatens food production and availability, and current forms of food production, marketing, distribution and consumption exacerbate climate change. Food is frequently taken for granted. Even though Boyle cites endless studies such as a recent one from that claims food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (p. 113), the connection is not common knowledge. I used to teach an undergraduate course on Food Studies for Home Economics pre-service teachers. The comments on the Social, Economic, Cultural, Environmental and Political Aspects of Food module often surprised me. Many students said, “Why I am just learning this now,” and “Everyone should know this.” These comments may resonate with those who read this book and those who advocate for compulsory Food Literacy education in schools.
The book ends by reviewing the wartime actions and outlining various ways to mobilize that can, and are being taken today. They range from various forms of food governance, to enhancing local food systems, changing agricultural methods, and decreasing food waste, to individuals eating more seasonal, diverse, local and plant-rich foods. The most inspiring example was There’s a “City That Ended Hunger” (p. 153).
All sections are thoroughly researched — the bibliography is 42 pages! Also included is a section on Further Readings organized under headings such as Climate Change, Environment and Food; Food Politics and Justice; Problems and Solutions. Mobilize Food! is endorsed by many well-respected figures in food and climate activism. The forward was written by Professor Emeritus Tim Lang of City University in London, UK, whose specialty is food policy. He has along history of engagement in public and academic research regarding food policy and is co-author of Food wars: the global battle for mouths, minds and markets, first published in 2005 with a second edition in 2015.
Mobilize Food! is very readable. The text is augmented with photographs, posters advertising the war effort, graphs and charts, and the memories of interviewees who lived through the war. It could easily be used as a text for high school or undergraduate food studies or social studies courses. Currently in BC the only school subject area that deals with food is Home Economics. Even though the Food Studies curriculum for secondary students includes the study of food systems, food policy, food security, food sovereignty and Indigenous stewardship, the courses are electives, so the impact is not as significant as it would be if it were a core course.
Boyle as an educator recognizes the importance of food education. She is a teacher as well as a scientist and a journalist. An earlier food-related publication, High Steaks: Why and How to Eat Less (New Society, 2012), focussed on changing diets echoing the image on page 128 of Mobilize Food! that says “diet change not climate change.”
There is much to be gained from the past that can inform how to live sustainably today. In her latest book, she uses the historical data as a case study of how political will and adopting a common good, food for all mentality became part of the war effort in Britain. Doing so changed the food system simultaneously improving human and planetary health. She argues that similar multi-level action should be used to address two major modern crises — food security and climate change. We face a “mighty challenge” (p. 192) and although food is not the only cause of global warming and climate change, it is one of the places where we can start. As M.S. Prakash, (1995) says, “beginning with “basics” like the food we uncritically consume several times a day… empowers and conscientizes us to make radical changes.” Eleanor Boyle’s Mobilize Food! Wartime Inspiration for Environmental Victory Today does that.
Mary Gale Smith is a retired home economics teacher and British Columbia Food History Network researcher and blogger. As a sessional instructor at UBC she has taught courses in Food Studies and Home Economics Education and Research Methods. She is the co-author of Home Economics Now (Pacific Educational Press, 2004) and two high school textbooks on food and society: Food in Society: An Introduction (McGraw Hill School, 2013) and Food and Society: The Economy, the Environment, and Culture (McGraw Hill/ Nelson, 2013). Editor’s note: Mary Gale Smith has also reviewed a book by Margaret Cadwaladr for The British Columbia Review.
Boyle, E. (2012). High Steaks: Why and how to eat less meat. New Society Publishers.
Lang, T., & Heasman, M. (2015). Food wars: the global battle for mouths, minds and markets. Routledge.
Mosby, I. (2014). Food will win the war: The politics, culture, and science of food on Canada’s home front. UBC Press.
Prakash, M.S. (1995). Whose Ecological Perspective? Bring Ecology Down to Earth. In, W. Kohli (Ed.), Critical conversations in philosophy of education, (pp. 324-339). New York: Routledge.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
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