“May you live in interesting times” is a phrase I have read more lately than ever before. Said to be an ancient Chinese curse (published in my adopted county’s own Yorkshire Post), it implies that ‘uninteresting’ times are peaceful and tranquil, while the ‘interesting’ ones are those of troubles.
Indeed, these days are interesting. Nothing like this has ever happened before. The so-called ‘Spanish Flu’ of the early 20th century ravaged the human population to the extent that we hope will never be repeated. However, the globalized response to COVID-19 made possible by modern communication media is unlike anything in human history.
We can only speculate what will happen next. A short period of fearful madness and then business as usual? Reversed globalization? A drastic decline in fossil fuel production? Hyperinflation and collapse of monetary systems?
All these scenarios sound scary, but only because, as a species, we’re afraid of change. Maybe this change was inevitable, and we must make the best out of it. In the words of a good friend of mine, “without coronavirus, ‘business as usual’ would continue until global ecosystems collapse. Now, we may have a chance to prevent it, and to design and create a different future.”
We must embrace the change and adapt to the new lifestyle quickly.
Our food system is overwhelmed. Supermarkets are unable to prepare for the sheer volume of customers stockpiling goods, delivery slots are booked weeks in advance, and food production forecasts sound increasingly pessimistic.
Recently, there was a recruitment call out for people to work on food farms in the southern counties of England. There are 90,000 jobs to fill with harvests only weeks away.
In previous years, these jobs were given to foreign workers making minimum wage. Between Brexit and the current pandemic, there has been a lack of interest from overseas workers this year.
The British food industry is in trouble. The situation is raising questions about how strong this network is and whether we can survive solely on our own resources. What will the impact be and how will people adapt? How will we build a more resilient system?
I see an excellent opportunity. Around the globe, people are being introduced to the art of growing their own food, sowing seeds for the first time. Friends of mine are turning their front lawns into herb borders and raised beds, planting microgreens on their window sills, and seed-bombing derelict land with wildflowers.
Part of the beauty of food sovereignty is that it can begin at any age or with any size growing space. Hundreds of revolutionary groups like Incredible Edible Todmorden have already begun transforming ordinary town spaces into food islands, with fruit, veg, and herbs for everyone to share. Being in control of our own food supply is empowering.
Dependence on a food system over which we have no control is replaced by community connection – a network of growers, producers, farmers, and neighbors who care about resilience more than profits. The value of local, small scale food production is now greater than ever. Hopefully, this lockdown will give many people time to reflect upon the state of their local system, pushing them to continue growing once this is over.
While it’s not always easy to keep positive, I find that focusing my energy elsewhere and helping others is energizing. It could be anything from an offer to share some seeds with neighbors and offering growing advice to first-timers to a quick video call to a friend who lives on their own. All these seemingly small actions make an impact, enriching us as humans, friends, or even strangers.
In the UK, the mood has started to shift. What we first perceived as a week off is now feeling a little claustrophobic. It is essential that we collectively keep up a good spirit and don’t lose hope.
On another note, it’s incredibly heartwarming to see so many ordinary people suddenly notice the importance and sheer bravery of our shop cashiers, bin men, postmen, and many others without whom we’d now be in a much bigger hole of misery. I sincerely hope that all of us, rich or poor, will take the opportunity to appreciate and thank those who keep the world going despite putting their life at risk.
This unprecedented time has exposed several inequalities worldwide. The architecture of our towns and cities and how income dictates what you’ll be looking at while in isolation is one of them. People who can self-isolate in the peace of their personal gardens are the lucky minority. Many others are deprived of outside space.
Perhaps, in the future, designers and architects will incorporate more greenery and natural design into our surroundings. Even a high rise flat might bring some joy if it overlooked a lower building with a green roof. Maybe we will one day see more green walls, vertical growing, and fruit trees growing in the city landscapes.
As a species, we can and must do better on the other side of this. We owe it to both nature and our fellow humans. Consider this a reset for the planet. We can’t carry on as we did before COVID-19. Let’s slow down and think how, together, we can make this world a better place to live.