South Kensington is one of London’s cultural hotspots, the block that is bordered by Hyde Park and Cromwell Road is an intellectual concentrate of institutions that explore, catalogue and interpret the world around us. There is the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, Imperial College, the Victorian and Albert Museum, the Albert Hall and even Baden Powell House HQ of the scouting association. But as I walked the sodium light streets on the edge of Hyde park on a late October evening it was none of these I was heading for. It was that legendary institution that is synonymous with exploration and adventure, the Royal Geographic Society. So what may you ask is a biologist doing at the RGS?
Hence I found myself walking along the bustling pavements on the edge of Hyde park on a warmer than expected October evening, heading for the RGS HQ. I arrive at reception and peruse the exhibition of stunning photographs of Eastern Europe while I await my host. These images are amazing , shot from the air they present that exotic view that we so rarely have the opportunity to see. Images ablaze with crisp symmetries, abstract patterns imbedded in the landscape and intense colours. I wish I had longer to explore these images but my host arrives. Amy Lothian introduces herself and leads me to a room where Edd is waiting, introductions are made, there is an air of tense excitement in the room. Ed is telling me about the meeting he has just come from at the London mayors office re an event they are planning in Trafalgar square. Jay arrives, a storm of enthusiasm, fresh from his part as the devil in the first British performance of Frank Zappas “100 Motels” the previous night. Tim arrives last having rushed from a meeting with government ministers. I begin to feel that just coming up from Plymouth is a little pedestrian!
We are miked up and wait for the audience to settle down. Amy gives ushers us out and we walk past the statues of Shackleton and Livingstone who gaze sternly down as we pass into the famous Ondaatje lecture hall. A procession of four that hushes the conversation buzzing around the room. The theaters oak paneled walls exude a sense of history, adding an air of gravitas. The auditorium is not full but there are over four hundred people present and the row of red leather chairs await us on the podium, picked out by bright unforgiving lights.
We settle into our seats and the auditorium falls silent. The director of the RGS Dr Rita Gardner welcomed everyone and introduces the evening and Jay Rayner who then introduces us and the topic. Jay talks eloquently and passionately about food production in the UK and the security of our food supply. He linked unrest in the middle east and the arab spring with rising food prices and shortages, leaving us with the thought that we are just nine meals from crisis should the UK food supply chain be interrupted. How long before riots would erupt on Uk streets once the supermarkets were empty.
Tim Wheeler then discussed the role of new agricultural technologies, could these solve the problem. He ends on the note that there is no prospect of this happening., we urgently need to explore other avenues.
I then talk of how insect farming could generate large amounts of animal proteins far more efficiently than farming vertebrates as we do at the moment. Especially if we utilize bio waste streams as feed for them. I also explain how 2 billion people already consume insects as a regular part of their diet and eagerly anticipate these tasty treats and go on to discuss the recent UN report on insects in human diets. I conclude that we need to shift our perception of insects from one of disgust to delight. Following the path that the UK has taken in embracing sushi.
Edd Colbert then discussed the use of processed food waste as feed for pigs rather than sending it all to land fill. He outlined the problems that had arisen in the past and the processes that now exist to ensure that food waste dose not pose a hazard in the food chain.
For the next 45 mins we then fielded questions from the floor dealing with a wide range of questions. These ranged from water security, alternative foods in the USA, insects as animal feed and just why can’t we feed food waste to our pigs at the moment. The evening was concluded by the director who thanked every one present and announced the topic of the next event, Big Data was now on the RGS’s agenda. Member of the audience then approached the podium with questions that had not been aired and many useful contacts were made.
While feeding 9 billion had been the focus of the evening there was a sudden downsizing of our perspective and feeding the four became a pressing issue. The RGS director and her staff then escorted us to a local restaurant.
Feeding the 9 billion had been a wonderful opportunity to take part in an event hosted by and in a legendary institution, it had brought a fresh perspective to one of the most pressing issues of our day and had proven to be a most informative and enjoyable evening.
The entire evening was filmed and can be viewed on the RGS website along with a mass of information dealing with all of the topics discussed.
Edd Colbert, The Pig Idea http://thepigidea.org