Inspired no doubt by his mother – the esteemed cookery writer, Josceline Dimbleby – Henry Dimbleby has come to stand for all that is good in the food industry.
From co-founding Leon (the healthy fast-food chain) to his work at the Department for Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), his latest book, Ravenous, co-written with his wife, the journalist Jemima Lewis, examines the paradox of how that which sustains us (food) might also be killing us and irreparably harming our planet.
What Makes Henry…
My daughter, Dory, pinching my cheeks. Or watching my sons, who have both taken up boxing, smash the living daylights out of each other.
The way we humans time and again fail to realise our own hopes and dreams. I don’t really mind it when I fail – the fear of it is much worse than the reality - but there is something about people setting out on a project excitedly only for it all to fall apart that gets me every time. Even in small ways. When I was young, a boy called Chris set up a pizza stall at the school fair. He started so hopefully, but no one came. The thought of him smiling nervously by his pizza as people just walked by still overwhelms me. Like a powerless Ozymandias. Life just sweeps us all away in the end.
We are very lucky living where we do when we do. I can’t remember the last time I felt scared. I feel worried about the destruction of our ecosystems, but I am too hopeful that we can reverse it to be fearful.
Looking at water. I spend a lot of time in the South Hams. Ham is an old word for a protected area. The South Hams are the area of Devon that is protected by Dartmoor to the north and warmed by the gulf stream from the south. Looking out from the cliffs over the channel or sitting on a bench looking over the Dart. Everything always changing, everything always the same. After half an hour or so of sitting still, the usual repetitive thoughts just boil off and your mind goes to new places.
The seemingly limitless supply of human resilience and ingenuity. Working in DEFRA, I was lucky enough to meet people doing extraordinary things to restore nature and tackle climate change. Collectively, we can do almost anything if we turn our mind to it.
The amount of that resilience and ingenuity that is focused on activities that are destructive to society and the planet. In Ravenous we describe the extraordinary lengths that food companies have gone to, to produce and market foods that are destroying our health and the health of the planet. We argue that both consumers and businesses are stuck in a Junk Food cycle – a race to the bottom. I have some sympathy for bosses, it is hard for them to escape the commercial pressure to make and market junk food. But the other day Nestle described its new Kit-Kat cereal – yes, you read that right – as “nutritious”. That kind of duplicity seems actively wicked.
Ravenous: How to Get Ourselves and Our Planet into Shape by Henry Dimbleby with Jemima Lewis, Profile £16.99
Henry Dimbleby will be appearing at KITE Festival on Saturday 10 May giving a talk; Appetite for Destruction: why don’t we all just eat better?