Read of the Week

An Empty Plate

Tracy Ledger


Review: Karen Watkins

They may be invisible but the tendrils of storytelling are key to any book. They are lacking in Tracy Ledger’s An Empty Plate.

It’s a heavy read, lacking in style, indigestible and deserving of a rotten tomato.

This book started out with promise, stating that 80 percent of South African families can’t afford sufficient nutritious food; that one in four children are so malnourished they are classified as stunted; and that knowledgeable agricultural extension officers who advised farmers in the past, no longer exist.

The book was launched late last year in the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA).

Comments about the PHA, considered Cape Town’s breadbasket, are peppered throughout the book but it misses an opportunity to give a detailed account of the threat the area faces from urban sprawl.

The focus of the book kept broadening and diluting attention so, in the end, it became a dense, disorganised, incomprehensive web of topics, scattered across the country, from garden markets to supermarkets and boardrooms.

Dr Ledger’s day job is an economic development researcher and is possibly why the writing style is dry and academic. Describing herself as an agri-food activist, she says anger and dismay, in equal amounts, are what made her write about “the biggest social crisis in South Africa”.

Maybe this is why she appears biased and places blame on a capitalist system.

The book would have greater impact if it were more balanced and if it gave a breakdown of the food system, while examining how government policies affected that system.

This is not a book to read as you sit down to dinner, or even at bedtime, but it will provide food for thought.

Tracy says people can engage with her on Facebook: Tracy Ledger Food and Social Justice. She is also on Twitter: @drtracyledger