Sarah Sands: Charles: the voice of the ordinary, sceptical Brit

GM will stop starvation, say scientists. 'No,' wails the Prince, 'it'll destroy everything.' Please, let's just find a sensible middle way
Click to follow
The Independent Online

No one would mistake Prince Charles or Mervyn King for Pollyanna. King, Governor of the Bank of England, talks of the worst financial crisis since the Second World War. Prince Charles wails that industrial scale farming production would be "the absolute destruction of everything". But while King's disillusionment with global capitalism is admired by the solemn press, Prince Charles's wailing over the union of genetically modified food and big business is dismissed as Luddite and out of touch.

His sentiments were a little extravagantly expressed, but that is how the upper classes talk. To Prince Charles, things are either "fantastic", "marvellous" or "ghastly" and a "nightmare". I have heard Sloanes claim that they "literally died of laughter". His timing does seem imperfect. This is not the moment for farmers' markets and Antony Worrall Thompson's swank chickens. We all buy two-for-one at Aldi now.

Meanwhile, India and China are crying out for infinite quantities of meat and veg. Do we want everyone to shrink to the size of Olympic Chinese gymnasts so that Prince Charles can lay out his cabbages in miniature plots?

So on one side we have rationalist scientists and on the other Prince Charles and his dotty friends. Scientific might is right.

Yet wasn't it science, hand in hand with business, which solved the oil crisis by turning all our pastures over to biofuels? Which then proved useless and hastened the food shortage?

The backlash against organic food in favour of mass-produced has been a curious source of pleasure among Prince Charles- bashing columnists. Of course organic food is a luxury when you are economically strapped, but that does not mean it is inherently absurd or repulsive. The middle classes have also cut back on theatre and restaurants, but it does not make the arts or fine cooking a bad thing. I look forward to a future when Mervyn King lifts his gloomy old head and says we can eat tasty tomatoes again.

Furthermore, Prince Charles may be ahead of the times rather than behind them (not for the first time). A consequence of the increase in the demand for food is that farming is seen as a good investment again. The financial speculators who wrecked the price of commodities are spending their profits on buying land. This is exactly the moment to discuss what farming methods we should use and how we balance production and conservation.

Of course Prince Charles is childishly suspicious of GM foods, but the public position is one of healthy scepticism. We do not know what the consequences will be. Not even the superior scientists and rationalists know exactly.

Emotionally, we feel it does not seem quite right, and the common-sense instinct of the British public is traditionally reliable. Laast week I visited a friend's miraculous allotment – a meadow in the centre of London, brimming with sunflowers and sweet peas and plump vegetables. My friend spoke lovingly of her courgettes and greens. She has not had to buy vegetables all summer and it is has saved her a tidy sum.

So there is more than one way to solve a food shortage. There should be room for allotments in Fulham, or Fair Trade plots in Africa, or top-of-the-market Duchy of Cornwall produce, as well as vast plains of genetically modified fruit and veg.

Our water folly has finally evaporated

Unusually inspired by our Olympic female freestyle swimmers, I dusted off my cossie and went to our local swimming pool last week. In the next lane was another woman whose dreams were not matched by her performance. We passed each other like yachts in a windless ocean, blinking at the thrashing bankers in the fast lane. What surprised me about the other woman was that she poured herself a cup of water and balanced it on the edge of the pool, so that she could sip at it at the end of each length.

I repeat, there was no physical exertion from either of us, and the building's temperature was unremarkable. Outside it was lashing with rain.

It was an unusual hangover from the days when you could not cross the room without gulping from a bottle of Evian. When people behaved as if their commute to work was a tribal trek across the Sahara.

The moment Madonna was photographed leaving her gym without water was sociologically seismic. If she could do without water while she walked down the street, perhaps so could we. Of course, it might have been thirst that made her lose her wits and wander around in her big pants, but it sent a signal.

We don't need to be on a water drip in this temperate climate. Instead of constantly drinking, I now limit myself to water at lunch and in the evening. I am not suffering migraines and my skin has not aged 10 years in as many weeks.

The strange water neurosis, which affected so many of us, may have finally passed.

Why we must mind our mobile manners

On Friday afternoon, I was on the train to Honiton in Devon, gazing out of the window at the bucolic landscape, when a phone rang in the carriage. A woman across the aisle answered it and told the caller that she too was destined for Honiton.

It became apparent that she was going to appear on Radio 4's Any Questions?. "It is really boring," she sighed down the phone, and disparagingly reeled of the list of her fellow members of the panel. What made this awkward, was that I was one of them.

What to do? I hid my pile of newspapers and played games on my phone so as not to embarrass Mary Beard, the distinguished Cambridge Professor of Classics, but she later caught my eye, when a member of the Any Questions? team phoned her to check on her progress. "Sarah Sands?" she said, " Yes, I think she is in the carriage." I affected enormous surprise and introduced myself.

We shared a taxi and had a jolly pre-show supper with the other not-at-all boring panellists. It was only during the broadcast, when she launched into an attack on America for being responsible for all the world's problems while Russia got off almost scot-free that I felt a rising irritation. When her neighbour agreed warmly with her, I had to stop myself from shouting at him: "The old leftie won't thank you for it."

Janet Street-Porter is away

Sarah Sands is editor in chief of British 'Readers Digest'

Comments