It's as thin as a slice of Wonder bread, but The Prince's Speech: On The Future of Food, is "by any measure, remarkable." Or that's how Wendell Berry, in his foreword to this new pocket-sized Rodale publication of the text, describes the speech HRH The Prince of Wales delivered at a conference held in Washington, D.C.
I am a big fan, have read most everything Prince Charles has ever written about food and farming, and so attended the conference because I wanted to hear him speak and maybe shake his hand. I wasn't expecting to learn anything new. As a world famous organic farmer and leading proponent of sustainable agriculture, the Prince's views are widely known: that our way of producing food is destructive of everything upon which it depends. But as it turned out, the speech blew me away.
I suppose it had as much to do with how as what he said. He challenged every assumption of conventional agriculture, as would have been expected, but he made his arguments carefully and in detail. His speech was "quietly voiced," in Berry's words, "and the more powerful for that. He did not speak as a blinkered partisan of a 'side,' but rather as a human to other humans, of concerns urgently important to us all."
Defenders of industrial agriculture will say, a prince most certainly can afford to farm organically. But their chiding is no less obvious an attempt to divert attention away from the clear truth in the Prince words that "the ways we have done things up to now are no longer as viable as they once appeared to be."
"The wealthy will always eat well," write Will Allen and Eric Schlosser in the Afterword. It is "food insecurity" that nationally and internationally must be addressed. "Yield increases for staple food crops are declining" the Prince told the rapt audience. "They have dropped from 3 percent in the 1960s to 1 percent today -- and that is really worrying because for the first time, the rate is less than the rate of population growth. And all this, of course, has to be set against the ravages of climate change. Already yields are suffering in Africa and India, where crops are failing to cope with ever-increasing temperatures and fluctuating rainfall."
Over a billion people -- one out of every seven of us -- are hungry and another billion suffer from what is called "hidden hunger" which is the lack of essential vitamins. Yet another billion people in the world are now considered overweight and obese. "It is an increasingly insane picture" says the Prince. In one way or another, nearly "half the world finds itself on the wrong side of the food equation."
The Prince's call to action: to put Nature back at the heart of the equation. "Capitalism depends upon capital," he said, "but our capital ultimately depends upon the health of Nature's capital." Then the packed room fell to a complete silence when he quoted Mahatma Gandhi who observed so incisively that "we may utilize the gifts of Nature just as we choose, but in her books the debts are always equal to the credits."
It's a speech worthy of a prince, available on Amazon.