The Other I

September 4, 2008

Supermarket shake-up

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 8:53 pm
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There is, for every living species in the world, a close connection between the amount of food that is available to that species and how it has thrived, or failed to thrive.  We humans are no exception.   Several million years ago, when Homo started to use stone tools to prepare and then hunt for food, his calorie intake increased, and with it, his/her brain capacity.  About the thousand years ago, Homo sapiens began to farm and to harness animals to work the fields, creating a more stable and productive food source than hunting and gathering had done for the previous two hundred thousand years.  The population surged.  And so it waxed and waned with droughts and rains and sunlight or lack of it for centuries.

In the 18th century, with the industrial revolution, farmers began to rotate crops which again increased productivity, and it increased again with the introduction of mechanization.  Increases in the population followed both advances. 

I have just come to realize that several revolutionary changes have also taken place in the last 100 years which have greatly increased mankind’s food production, which in turn has supported our unparalled population increases.  Until now, I thought the big change was in the development of genetically modified crops in the last fifty years.  I have been moderately in favour of organic food, but not vehemently opposed to GM foods because it has seemed to me that they may be the only way for the population on our planet today to grow enough food to prevent mass global starvation and the inevitable wars that would accompany it.

But I now think the question of how we feed ourselves goes far beyond a simple dichotomy between organic and GM foods.  The way we are growing our food may be destroying both our planet and our health.  And the question of the food we eat seems to be inextricably tied up with global warming and environmental change.

I am now half way through a book which is drastically re-organizing my view of our food production systems. I plan to summarize the main ideas in several posts here but it will take some time because, although very readable, the book which is responsible for this reorganization is dense with information I never suspected before.

If you want to read it for yourself – I recommend it with five stars – it’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  My brother Bob left it behind as a gift when he was here, and I am finding it absolutely mind-boggling.  Walking through the supermarket yesterday was like walking into an alien world.

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