‘You may not be aware of this…but you do not control what you eat.’

We don’t tend to think of ourselves as being part of systems, but in this fascinating book, Dimbleby explains how the global and, specifically, UK food system is simultaneously supporting us, manipulating us and even killing us.

What’s it about?

In his role as author of the National Food Strategy, Dimbleby looked closely at how our food system works and made some discoveries that horrified him, as well as some that gave him hope for the future. In this book he shares how he and his colleagues investigated the food system, some of the thinking behind the recommendations made to government and the extent to which they have been implemented.

What’s it like?

Genuinely interesting, informative and – often – disturbing. There are no simple answers and few quick wins in a food system dominated by big food and, increasingly, big pharma. Of course, this is by no means an attitude shared by everyone. Is the food you eat making you too fat? Then here’s a pill / injection / operation. Let’s fix you, not the system, enthuse the medical profession. Surely, Dimbleby demurs, in the long-term it would be more democratic and cost-effective to fix the system?

Along the way he looks at a diverse range of relevant topics, including how farming practices could evolve to ensure that we can still access sufficient calories from the land, without extracting these in a fashion that impoverishes the soil and the world, how countries with ‘good’ eating cultures have established this, and how the government could encourage food manufacturers to tweak their recipe formulations to ensure that food is healthier, or at the very least less harmful.

Final thoughts

This was a consistently detailed exploration of a myriad of important factors involved in the food system, which ultimately left me with a sense of frustration that the U.K. government does not share Dimbleby’s urgency and isn’t using the legislation it already has to create change.

I liked that this book is focused on the U.K. food system as it’s where I’m based and that Dimbleby sees personal responsibility differently to the many politicians and right wingers who preach that we all have to ‘make the right choices’ about food. Instead, Dimbleby explores the social imequalities driving rapidly exploding obesity rates and advocates for campaigning: our personal responsibility is to address problems with the food system in any way we can, be that through education, legislation or simply requesting that our children’s schools share their food policies with us.

In other words, it’s good to choose an apple instead of a doughnut when reaching for a snack, but it’s more useful to demand both items be priced in a way that reflects their true environmental impact and that encourages manufacturers to reduce the sugar load of their products.

I listened to this as an audiobook and it has encouraged me to seek out The National Food Strategy document to see where I might be able to (within my comfort zone!) promote necessary changes.

Recommended reading for anyone curious to understand why, as a nation and across the Western world, we are increasingly becoming unhealthier than previous generations.

Henry Dimbleby,
audiobook, Bolinda, 2023