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Politics & Gardening (The Carrot Revolution!) - November 2014

This blog was inspired by a Tweet from the amazing vegetable grower Charles Dowding about veg growing being political, referring specifically to the Americans after the Revolution insisting on growing native, rather than British, trees. Gardening and politics, you'd think they are unrelated subjects, but they are not. Politics gets everywhere, attempting to influence how you think and how you act, and always with some agenda.

Classical music is political. If you doubt this, take a poll of the voting habits of the audience of a classical music concert. They will be largely Tory with a spattering of Liberal and barely a Labour voter in sight. Is this just a coincidence, an artefact of class, or the fact that classical music embodies the values of the ruling classes, which see their artistic choices, politics and tastes not just as one choice among many but the obvious, common sense, right way to think? Classical music is the highest, most valuable, best kind of music because the people who control what is viewed as the best like it the most. That's politics.

In the same way, every novel that you read has been selected from thousands offered by a middle-class editor, university-educated in the views of middle-class critics to view literature in a certain way, which is in agreement with the views of university professors and literary critics who, coincidentally, come from similar social and educational backgrounds. The fact that the work of Virginia Woolf is ubiquitous in English literature courses at every level is only partly due to the innovative brilliance of her writing, and owes a lot to the fact that her father, brother and many in her social circle were closely involved with Cambridge University at the time when the modern subject of literary criticism was being born there. That's politics too.

What has all this got to do with gardening? Gardening is art, and what's true in one artform is true in another. In our society, we have tens of thousands of people queuing up for food banks, millions who are obese and suffering from diet-related illness, and major food safety scares. Yet Gardener's World devotes 25 minutes to growing ornamental plants, and 5 minutes to growing food. This, along with the choice of gentleman amateur Monty Don as presenter, and his two-acre garden as the setting, is a political choice, whether conscious or unconscious, by BBC programmers. It is telling the rest of us what we should admire, what we should aspire to, what our values should be, and that includes grand houses, ornament and show, and only marginally includes fresh, healthy food. In fact, we should be rioting at the state of the nation's food, screaming for the right to safe, nutritious food, and demanding spaces in which to grow our own. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, people are dying from malnutrition - overfed, but malnourished. And, tragically, that is not being melodramatic.

If that's not enough, our bees and all insects are suffering catastrophic declines, setting up an ecological disaster for the whole ecosystem, including our own food supply. Yet we are encouraged to concern ourselves with colour-scheming our borders and including 'structure', rather than food for bees. Plants advertised as 'good for pollinators' may have been treated with bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides. That, too, is political, influenced by the actively anticonservation ideology of those running the show.

Our country is effectively controlled by a handful of super-wealthy individuals and a hoard of less-rich and hoping-to-be-rich individuals who promote their interests in the hope of joining them. The bulk of the population should think (and vote) in the way they are told to by the newspapers and other media, not to mention the politicised education curriculum, aspire to the consumer goods and lifestyle that are advertised to them, and buy the (highly processed, high-profit) food advertised to them by the supermarket-fronted food industry. When they become ill with lifestyle diseases such as cancer, the NHS (funded from our taxes) breaks its back trying to supply treatment, at great profit to pharmaceutical corporations. Those pulling the strings behind all of this are the same few people chasing the same interest, profit, which is why the messages blend together into a seamless whole, like the Truman Show. It sounds like the stuff of paranoid conspiracy theory, and I wish it was, but it is in fact the truth.

Growing your own food is taking a step out of the system. It's sticking two fingers up to the Man. People who have allotments are not people who queue for three days to spend a week's salary on the new iPhone (which is obsolete in months). People who have learned how much work goes into growing food are more likely to ask ‘Tesco, how exactly do you produce a chicken for £2.50? What corners are you cutting?' People who know how good food really tastes are less likely to fall for cheap imitations in fancy packaging. People who grow food think for themselves.

Growing food isn't an exercise in earnest do-gooding, all sackcloth and ashes, either. It's sociable, especially if you have an allotment, it's healthier than the gym, it produces great food, it lowers your stress levels - it's win-win-win all the way. And winning is not what we are supposed to do! We are supposed to live our lives for the greater good, that is, the good of the great and super-wealthy. I'd rather live it for the good of myself, those around me and the planet as a whole, thank you . That's why I grow my own food.

I have read somewhere that, if you want to make a new world, don't waste your time arguing with the old one, just get on with building the new one. Vive la revolution, grow some carrots!