This is a transcript from Thought for the Day the other day (15 Sept 2009 – Good Morning Scotland BBC Radio Scotland). It’s a talk on food and resilience by Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker, author and Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology:
“Good Morning, It’s a year ago today since our banking systems were very nearly engulfed following the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in America. And I bet I’m not alone in wondering what if our own government’s financial bail-out had not happened and succeeded.
Not only might the hole-in-the-wall have stopped talking to us. But our globalised food supply system could also have been thrown into chaos, because without the banks doing their bit you don’t get the deliveries coming through.
I’ve thought a lot about this recently while working with an Edinburgh University student seconded to my supervision. She went up to Stornoway and interviewed people about what happens when the Ullapool ferry fails to sail because of bad weather.
She learned that the supermarket shelves quickly go bare, and it’s not just panic buying. It’s also because restocking is on a just-in-time basis, and so there’s no slack to make up for any disruption in the system.
For the sake of comparison she then went on to interview people who could remember the six week long seamen’s strike in 1966, that forced Harold Wilson to declare a national state of emergency.
Most people said they’d avoided hardship because crofting was still vibrant. They had their own potatoes, hens, sheep, and maybe a cow for milk or a fishing boat moored in the loch. But above all, they had an ethos of sharing.
This gave the local economy the resilience by which it could stand up to knocks. But in contrast, today we have greater efficiency, but it’s also a more brittle system – like the banking crisis could very nearly have taught us.
The lesson is that economic efficiency is vital, but only if matched by the community resilience that makes for true security.
That’s why such principles as Fair Trade, farmers’ markets and local entrepreneurship are all so important.
They remind us that the economy should be not just about money, but also about the human handshakes that reflect right relationships … for they’re what counts when the ferry fails to sail.