Context Analysis
- the big picture


Though it is a small survey, I think it gives a fair 'big picture' and a fair view of each organisation.
A number of patterns are revealed by the survey:-

Presentation. It is very interesting to look at the the self-presentation, style and attitude of individual organisations, as demonstrated by their web pages (the semiosis of their sites). I am not able to analyse these visual factors in any depth, except to note that they all tend to use natural colours and 'nice scenes', and that they all use 'green rhetoric' - it is difficult to tell apart the major industrialists and the conservation agencies.

An Imaginary Starting Point. At some point in the past, all food in the UK was produced by natural methods. This was by default, because there were no other techniques available - it was 'organic', even before this concept was invented. People had slowly bred better types of plants and animals, worked out how to improve the soil with manure, and improved yields and fertility. People's bodies had adapted to their local diets over a time-span of thousands of years.
Several main points can be made about this 'starting point' situation, which existed about a century ago:-

1. The Context of Food Policy
    Website Survey Technique
Survey Start Page
      Organisation List
Summary of the Survey
The Big Picture
      History of Food
Context Analysis
2. Government and Policy
3. Policy Analysis
4. In-depth analysis of sub-topics
5. The Dispositive (Triangulation)
6. Summary
7. Conclusions

1. There were major problems with this natural situation:-

a). insect and other pests ate the crops,
b). animal diseases and sicknesses were rife,
c). losses due to poor storage,
d). there was a high cost of feeding the horses which did the work and which had to be fed a proportion of each farm's production, with the same applying on the national scale,
e). it was highly labour intensive and dependent on the weather.
f.) famine and hunger were common, even in the west.

2. Because of these 'random' problems, farmers grew as wide a variety of crops as possible, then if one crop failed, they would have something else to sell or eat

This gives an interesting historical perspective, as:-

  1. These original problems are now nearly all solved (at least in the west)
  2. We have effectively undergone a quantum leap regarding food production in the last century, and particularly in the last 40 years. (for example, strawberries were once picked by casual labour in a 3-week season, now this is mechanised, and they are in the shops all year round)
  3. Many people now exist on diets where all the components of the diet were unknown or even undreamed of in the UK 100 years ago (curry, pizza, pasta, Chinese food with noodles beansprouts and bamboo shoots, etc.)

Although this starting point (when everything was natural) is imaginary, it serves as a point of reference for the progress and changes which have occurred since.

Developments. Since then, the 'big picture' is that there has been a gradual increase in the techniques and capability available to farmers and food processors, so that farming has now clearly crossed over an 'imaginary line' and become an industry, and is likely to go even further in the direction of industrialisation.

Consequences. As industrialisation has increased, there have been a number of consequences:-

Stabilisation of food supplies, and (probably) cheaper prices
The solution of the main problems that existed in 1900 - such as crop losses to pests, storage losses, animal diseases, etc.
This industrialisation may have generated a reaction:-
a. Complaints about residues and poisoning of food caused by the new techniques
b. Complaints about environmental and habitat damage
c. Movements to save species, landscapes, habitats, lifestyles, etc.
d. Moral protests about the treatment of animals and 'loss of quality'
e. Regrets about the loss of the old country lifestyles (e.g. the Countryside Alliance)
f. A counter-movement advocating a return to organic methods
There are also concerns that the new methods may not be sustainable - they contribute to global warming and that they are powered by irreplaceable fossil fuels.

Fears. As industrialisation proceeds even further, the following events could occur:-

  1. Major changes in local agricultures caused by global free trade and the WTO system.
  2. Increased food testing might increase public fears of contamination.
  3. Increased complaints of environmental damage could occur as more farms are rationalised and the smaller, less economic farmers forced out of business.
  4. Some land is being taken out of use (set-aside), as it is not needed for food production. This may return to wild if un-tended, altering the amenity value of the landscape.

There are also concerns about economic and legal issues; diet, nutrition and health; landscape, wildlife and nature; and also concerns at ethical, philosophical and psychological levels.

Consensus. To use an old metaphor, the organisations all seem to be 'singing from the same hymn sheet'. It is only natural to wonder why, and to ask 'Where is the hymn sheet itself ?', 'Who wrote it ?' and 'Is there an organisation that co-ordinates this ?'

Sincerity. All of the pages I have drawn on seem to be entirely sincere, with the deplorable exception of the children's book set in a farmyard.

On the next page, Context Analysis, I try to convert this "picture" into a more thorough analysis

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