Uncertain Harvest

6 January 2021

Uncertain Harvest: The Future of Food on a Warming Planet
by Ian Mosby, Sarah Rotz, and Evan D.G. Fraser
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Elena Bentley
$27.95      ISBN 9780889777200

Does a diet of algae, caribou, kale, millet, tuna, crickets, milk, and rice sound like the food future you imagined for yourself? Don’t worry, authors Ian Mosby, Sarah Rotz, and Evan D.G. Fraser are not predicting that the solution to our “collective food future” relies on these eight staples (despite what a quick glance down the contents page might imply). Rather than predict how we can create “a sustainable, resilient, and equitable food system,” Mosby, Rotz, and Fraser “critically assess the food futures being imagined and implemented this minute” in their new book Uncertain Harvest: The Future of Food on a Warming Planet. 

Part of what makes this book a success is its non-prescriptive approach. Right from the preface, the authors acknowledge that predicting the future is, and has been, futile. Algae pipelines, radiation-grown potatoes, self-replicating steaks – none of these previously put-forward solutions ever came to pass, nor were they even viable. 

It’s unsurprising to learn, then, that the authors’ conclusions don’t involve glowing tubers or magical hybrid seeds; instead, they suggest that policy change would have an immediate effect on food sustainability: “Creating the food future system that we all want will mostly come down to good public policy rather than that One Big Technological Fix™ we’ve been promised by generations of food futurists.” Along with policy change, they also advocate for changes in food regulation and laws, and they insist on more transparency from governments, food suppliers, and producers. “Consumers,” the authors explain, “particularly North American and European consumers[,] have become profoundly disconnected from the food that they eat on a daily basis.” As a result, “we have no idea what we’re actually eating.” We need to know what we’re eating, where it came from, and how it got here.

In addition to approach, readability also adds to the book’s success. Although words like photorespiration and blockchain, or phrases like “nitrogen-fixing landrace” and “open-pollination seed saving,” pop up from time to time, the information presented in the book is easily digestible. The subject matter can feel somewhat dire; however, because the authors add a dash of humour and wit here and there, the overall tone is a hopeful one. I especially appreciated the humorous bits in the chapter on food fraud. I don’t want to spoil your appetite, but you will likely never look at a hamburger or a sausage in the same way again – I know I won’t. 

I am not a food scientist, nor am I a climate-change activist. But I eat food and I live on Earth – as do you, dear reader. So no matter your background, this book will leave you with a lot to chew on – which is good, given that our food choices may be rather limited if we don’t find a way to sustainably “feed the 10 billion people estimated to be living on this planet by 2050.” Not to mention, should a global catastrophe disrupt our current food system and supply chains, “‘we’re just nine meals from anarchy.’” Bon appétit. 


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