Cereals have been, and still are, a cornerstone of the British diet, yet they have evolved, and their usage has evolved. Modern cereals must be high yielding, fast growing, disease, pest and increasingly pesticide, herbicide and fungicide resistant. They must be suited to large fields, monocultural living, sickly soils, and a sterile environment home to little else. We are eating more cereals than ever before, but unlike ever before. 77% of the world’s agricultural land is used to raise livestock according to the FAO, with millions of hectares globally dedicated to cereals; cereals that feed animals, that then feed us. And the ones that we do eat are increasingly ultra-processed, refined and bleached. Hardly slow!
The “Farming for Change” report calls for a 45% decrease in cereal production in the UK by 2050, yet requires us to increase our own cereal consumption rates. For an agroecological future, we need to cut the amount of cereals given to animals as feed, and feed them directly to humans instead! A simple change, but one that, as it stands, flies in the face of market sensibility.
We need to explore the narrative of what cereals are and we need to embrace their diversity. Thinking beyond wheat, we can incorporate more rye, barley, einkorn, spelt, oats, emmer and the pseudo-cereals, like quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat and maize into our farming landscape and food culture.
We need to explore the narrative of how cereals are grown. Grow new landraces, or population mixes (different varieties sown together for greater resilience). Restore the broadcast of British heritage grains like the Ark of Taste’s own rouge d’Ecosse, Hen Gymro and bere barley. Direct sow into pasture, use no till to protect soil, companion crop and intercrop, use agroforestry, under sow with nitrogen fixing covers like vetch or clover. Use cover crops when the field is bare to restore soil health. Be regenerative!
We could revitalize a network of independent and local mills and bakeries, bringing money back into local economies.
We can reclaim our bread; oust pre-sliced loaves and replace them with the artisan produce of these local bakers, like – for example – those who are members of the Craft Bakers and Millers Terra Madre community. Bakers who are using or reviving traditional methods, like sourdough or maslin, but also creating new ones, incorporating novel and exciting crops like amaranth into the British baking vernacular.
Beremeal link: Beremeal – Arca del Gusto – Slow Food Foundation (fondazioneslowfood.com)
Hen Gymro link: Hen Gymro wheat – Arca del Gusto – Slow Food Foundation (fondazioneslowfood.com)
Rouge d’Ecosse link: Rouge d’Ecosse Wheat – Arca del Gusto – Slow Food Foundation (fondazioneslowfood.com)
Craft Bakers and Millers link: Craft Bakers and Millers – Terra Madre
FAO link: FAOSTAT
“Farming for Change” link: FFCC_Farming-for-Change_January21-FINAL.pdf
Will Farr is a student at Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Sciences at Pollenzo, in Italy, undertaking an MSc in Agroecology and Food Sovereignty. Born into a farming family based in the rolling hills of Northamptonshire, he is passionate about topics as wide-ranging as biocultural diversity, indigeneity and identity, rewilding and ecology, and loves badgering on about how food is the most important thing in the world!
Follow him on Instagram williamjfarr
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