‘The Magic Pudding’ is a classic Australian children’s book that was written and illustrated by Norman Lindsay – supposedly as an alternative to stories about fairies.
It was first published in 1918 and tells the story of the Noble Society of Pudding Owners (comprising a koala, sailor (human) and penguin – and later a dog) whose members try to protect a magic pudding from a possum and wombat who are determined to steal it.
The pudding in question is a “cut-an’-come-again Puddin'” that has the rare quality of reforming into a whole pudding no matter how much has been eaten.
But ‘Albert’ is not a passive dish that sits around waiting to be eaten or stolen. He is bad-tempered and rude, demands to be eaten, and frequently tries to run away. He is also clever enough to change flavours (when someone whistles and turns the bowl around twice) so that his owners never tire of him.
The concept of a magic pudding that never runs out was immortalised in a series of TimTam biscuit ads in Australia during the 1990s where a genie grants three wishes (here, here, here and here).
(I like to think that Cate Blanchett – in the second ad – would now ask for world peace and a global commitment to addressing climate change as well as an endless pack of Tim Tams. But I guess three endless packets of chocolate biscuits might go some way towards alleviating world hunger and exacerbating global obesity…)
Magic puddings are often referenced in Australia when politicians and other decision-makers deal in ‘cornucopian economics’ – ignoring the reality of finite resources and overestimating the potential for science and technology to sustain unlimited growth and exploitation.
(Noting that economists argue that we are unlikely to completely run out of any resource because as we use more, the remainder becomes increasingly less economically viable to extract.)
In the real world, there are no genies and no magic puddings that keep renewing themselves every time you take a piece (with the possible exception of solar, wind and wave energy).
Even forests, fisheries, groundwater and other natural systems need time to regrow or replenish themselves and may not recover if too much is taken or unsustainable methods are used.
So what happens to the planet if we pretend that we live in an ideal world and keep ‘pudding people first’?
(Check out this amusing 15 second youtube video from Victoria’s recent election campaigning – here.)
- ‘The Magic Pudding‘ at Wikipedia (Accessed 1 Dec 2014)
- ‘NYRB Reading Week: The Magic Pudding written and illustrated by Norman Lindsay‘ Book Review by Myra GB at http://www.gatheringbooks.org (Published 13 Nov 2010. Accessed 1 Dec 2014)
- Pie dish – Amy Sharp at Brooklyn cheese blog (Reproduced with permission)
- Magic pudding sculptures by Louis Laumen (2000) at Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden, Melbourne – Pip Marks
- Tim Tam biscuits – Pip Marks
- ‘Magic Pudding‘ cartoon – by Jill Redwood (Reproduced with permission)
From the perspective of a taxonomic botanist, I am very much aware that species are disappearing in numbers before they can be described and their role in biodiversity established. From my exposure to the timber industry, I’m aware that the high quality, slow growing native timbers have been harvested unsustainably for over a century and will be replaced by second rate timbers which grow fast but need secondary treatment to render them useful in the long term. What was passed over 25 years ago is now fetching premium price on the mainland , partially because of the shortsighted “woodchip it now” attitude that $1 in the hand now is better than $50 in 20 years time. Discounting gone mad!
Added to past indiscretions, the climatic shift, evident since the 1970s, has made investment in forest industries so risky that major players are ceasing activity. The recent losses of Alpine ASh forests in Victorian fires have reinforced that!
The loss of birdlife in the environment, from the most pristine appearing wildernesses to the marginal farmlands is also a telling blow.
Australia is now in danger of not being self sufficient in food, partially driven for the desire for export of bulk commodities, partially associated with the increase in costs associated with phosphate fertilisers (Peak Phosphorus may well have passed), and partly from the greed of the supermarket oligarchy, driving the price received by farmers below cost of local production because of the availability of particular specialist production areas remote from consumption areas. We pay a price for excessive “food miles” in that produce is bread for travel resistance, not nutritional nor gustatory values.
Our societal ignorance of the values of diversity in fruit and vegetable varieties condemns us to a life of mediocrity, and eventually a depauperate existance, dominated by fast food chains and galloping obesity with its concomitant flow on of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and grossly increasing medical costs.
Thanks Pip, for ringing the bell.
The depressing reality that you describe makes it easier to understand the temptation to believe in a cornucopian utopia…
Cornucopian Utopia = Pandora’s Box
The coming generations’ curse shall surely be upon us…!
The curse of the not so magic pudding?
As our generations curse is on our fathers who lacked the foresight to understand Malthus!
It seems most of us understand the concept of ‘finite’ – except economists and politicians.
Sadly I have less faith in the masses (see the last federal election for evidence).
Politicians are only there because people vote for them & most of us don’t take the time to get our heads around complex issues.
And at least economists are getting a bit better at considering environmental & social impacts.
Slightly off the topic, but I am reminded of a classic exchange in the TV series ‘Utopia’ that went something like:
“95% of Australians want the very fast train project to go ahead.”
“So who are the other 5%?”
“Just a whole lot of transport planners & economists.”
As ‘Utopia’ showed, sensible policies like improving freight connections & public transport just aren’t sexy.
(But perhaps debate about the east west link in Melbourne right now signals a shift??)
In the 1970’s David Holmgren, with his supervisor Bill Mollison, developed a thesis into the publication of ‘Permaculture One’ and then ‘Permaculture Two’. There have been many publications since then. Permaculture has been accepted around the world as a means of producing the necessities of life by working with nature and not against it. I have been a Permaculture practitioner and facilitator since I worked with David in 1992. There are many clear thinking Permaculture groups all around the world, following the organic practical lessons, both small scale and large farm scale, that David teaches. In my 60 years of agricultural research work, I have found that it usually takes 30 years for new ideas and techniques to be accepted by the broader community. But like the old saying, ‘ a profit is not recognised in his own country, but is regarded as a hero overseas’ .
When permaculture becomes an accepted part of agricultural training, then there will be an improvement in soil management, crop production and animal husbandry with consequent nutritional benefits and health improvements to all participants, both animal and human.
When Permaculture teaching is accepted as ‘Main Stream’, then the problems you refer to can be remedied on a larger scale than it is at the moment.
Thanks John. I’m a big fan of permaculture but suspect we still need more intensive forms of agriculture to feed the world. Science & technology can play a vital role in helping to manage resource inputs (including land & labour), environmental harm, social equity, and vulnerability due to large scale monocultures. Although there is a lot of science behind permaculture & organic production, I think we need to question some long held beliefs if we are serious about global food security (e.g. this excellent article by Mark Lynas who no longer sees all GMOs & chemical use as evil – http://www.hawaiireporter.com/?p=312709)
To quote Lynas, “The biggest risk of all is that we do not take advantage of all sorts of opportunities for innovation because of what is in reality little more than blind prejudice.”
He doesn’t mention it, but I also reckon intensive high rise insect production deserves lots more attention.
Hi John, I don’t know if you’ll see this but please reach out to me via email at email@example.com just wanting to catch up with some of the old PACT members.
I’ll forward your email on to John.