Bits and Pieces

Saturday, September 10, 2005

4 Meals from Chaos

Dean Esmay yesterday discussed a report by MI5 which puts forth the opinion that the UK is "4 meals away from anarchy", meaning that if the food supply was cut off we would resort to looting and such. Of course, it would never get to that with us Brits. No doubt one of us would smash the front window of our local Waitrose and then become caught in an eternal cycle of politeness that would stop us from ever entering the shop - "After you, sir." "No, I insist, after you."

I kid, of course. I find that the most mild-mannered of us are the ones who seem to lose it at the drop of a hat. No, what strikes me is that this is news at all. It just seems as obvious a statement as "smoking causes cancer" or "Marlon Brando let himself go a bit". Of course chaos would reign if we ran out of food. It's so obvious, in fact, that as soon as I read the article I put my finger on an author who wrote exactly the same opinion several years ago (that's not to say that the theme hasn't been explored many times in the past, but this particular book happened to be sitting next to my bed and I wanted to share a quote). It's Terry Pratchett, from the novel Night Watch (Doubleday):

In a few hours the shops would be expecting deliveries, and they weren't going to arrive. A city like Ankh-Morpork was only two meals away from chaos at the best of times.

Every day, maybe a hundred cows died for Ankh-Morpork. So did a flock of sheep and a herd of pigs and the gods alone knew how many ducks, chickens and geese. Flour? He'd heard it was eighty tons , and about the same amount of potatoes and maybe twenty tons of herring.

Every day forty thousand eggs were laid for the city. Every day hundreds, thousands of carts and boats and barges converged on the city with fish and honey and oysters and olives and eels and lobsters. And then think of the horses dragging this stuff, and the windmills... and the wool coming in, too, every day, the cloth, the tobacco, the spices, the ore, the timber, the cheese, the coal, the fat, the tallow, the hay EVERY DAMN DAY...

But now, in the dark, it all spun on Vimes. If the man breaks down, it all breaks down. The whole machine breaks down, he thought. And it goes on breaking down. And it breaks down the people.

If you've ever sat on the flyover of a motorway in the UK and watched the articulated lorries flow along the veins of the nation, transporting food and goods to feed every last one of us, every day, in a never-ending process, you'll laugh at MI5's projection. 4 meals? Hah. We're only a mouthful away.
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