Food for thought

call of the reed warblerReview by Nick Mattiske

Book | Call of the Reed Warbler| Charles Massy

Our supermarket shelves may be groaning under the weight of stock, but it is increasingly obvious that our food economy is a problem.

Monoculture crops and overly processed foods can lead to obesity, heart disease and cancer with fewer nutrients in foods bred for quantity not quality.

Many of us have a disconnection from the sources of our food, and the natural world is under strain from farming’s reliance on chemicals and fossil fuels. It is clear the system is not sustainable.

Charles Massy’s new book may be as important as those of Bruce Pascoe, Michael Cathcart or Bill Gammage for understanding how we can live sustainably in this wide, harsh land.

It is a long book, but we need perspectives that are not quick fixes. He looks at our history of working with the environment we find ourselves in, and laments that we have moved from an ‘organic’ mindset to a ‘mechanical’ one that removes us from an ecosystem we see simply as a resource to exploit.

Add to this the import of a European-style of farming often unsuited to Australia, and the prominence of multinational chemical corporations, who not only kill off the microbiology in the soil, but as fertiliser suppliers have vested interests in doing so.

Massy offers many alternative, hope-filled examples where large-scale farmers are returning to older, holistic, diverse, environmentally appropriate ways of doing things, and actually profiting.

In doing so, they are also contributing to the health of native vegetation and wildlife. This is not incidental, as Massy reiterates that the health of our nation’s farms and of ourselves is inseparable from the wider environment.

This is a vision that Massy, a farmer, took a long time to develop but it is one that Australians quickly need to acquire.

Available from University of Queensland Press. Available at:

RRP: $39.95

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