As this is our long Winter issue, we wanted a theme that wouldn’t cast gloom into the breast of every reader. This is, after all, a time for both feasting and philosophical reflection, as we prepare for the year ahead. What better subject then, than food? Especially when, as both Sanjana Modha and Bishi Bhattacharya suggest in our pages, what we prepare and eat nourishes body and soul.
Yet it is impossible to escape the many questions around feeding the world’s growing population in an increasingly uncertain world, beset by wars, unstable economies and ecological fragmentation. Can we grow enough if supply routes break down? How can we farm food efficiently and sustainably? There’s plenty to consider here in the UK alone, and our cover writers, Tim Ecott, Joy Lo Dico and Claudia Cockerell, take deep dives into our ability to grow crops and raise livestock while restoring the environment (including our waterways) and protecting the livelihood of farmers. Food security is also part of our wide-ranging interview with Rory Stewart.
Others look more closely at potential solutions. Taras Grescoe, author of The Lost Supper, heads to Mexico in search of ancient foodstuffs that might hold the answer to feeding future multitudes, while Nick Hunt urges us to embrace our inner fungi forager. There are more personal perspectives, too, on the food industry and its effect on both our physical and mental health. Gavin Esler interviews the entrepreneur and food campaigner, Henry Dimbleby, about the scandal of processed food, a subject Rowan picks up with author and science presenter, Dr Chris van Tulleken in our back page Q&A. Meanwhile, Róisín Lanigan considers our obsession with counting calories, Lily Webb takes aim at celeb TikTokers, and Rebecca Gibb uncorks forgery in the wine trade.
One food issue that’s both personal and global is hunger, which inevitably arises where war, economic constraints and climate chaos intersect. The ongoing violence in Gaza will see millions more than usual facing hunger and homelessness this winter. Phoebe Greenwood gives us the benefit of her long experience in the region, and Rowan Williams urges understanding of the deeper issues. Just as we were going to print, Lipika Pellman filed a poignant, eye-witness account of her recent journey to Bethlehem, where the Christmas story began.
Of course, the continuing cost of living crisis means many at home are also facing hardship and difficulty this Christmas. Kate Devlin looks at how, paradoxically, many classic children’s books associated with magical seasonal indulgence were written during difficult times in the past. It can be a season of adapting to change, too, as Susanna Forrest discovers when learning the Christmas customs of her adopted home, Sweden.
We couldn’t finish the issue without celebrating some of the great food writers: Elisabeth Luard looks back on the life and reputation of Elizabeth David, while John Mitchinson shares his love of Édouard de Pomiane. And Helen Brown speaks to the contemporary writer and food campaigner, Bee Wilson, about her first recipe book, The Secret of Cooking.
With many more seductive features, plus our regular columnists, we believe you’ll find a feast of writing to savour as the Wheel turns and we enter 2024. With luck, you’ll also get to enjoy another great seasonal tradition: watching your favourite films. One of our favourites is the relatively modern classic, the 1995 Australian movie Babe. Ferdinand the Duck – speaking from the perspective of being on the wrong side of the menu – seems to capture all the ecstasy and agony of the season when he exclaims, “Christmas?! Christmas means dinner!”
Rowan Pelling and Peter Phelps