Streams

Empires of Food

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Journalist Andrew Rimas and agricultural researcher Evan Fraser discuss what food has meant to humanity throughout the centuries and how our food supply is at risk. Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations shows how cities, culture, government, and religion are founded on the production and exchange of food. It also looks at what happens when crops fail and soil erodes, leading to poverty, famine, and war.

Guests:

Evan Fraser and Andrew Rimas

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Comments [9]

keever from New York City

I will get a copy of "Beef" tomorrow from the Fordham University library and have told them to purchase "Empires of Food." The topic of how agriculture has shaped our history is one that has interested me for decades and I look forward to seeing what these books have to say. It sounds like both of these books contain a lot of very useful information.

I marveled, though, at how your discussion avoided any mention of the most obvious concomitants of the shift from hunting and gathering to agricultural society - the development of permanent domination by a small minority of the population over the laboring majority.

When you related the story of the Egyptian Pharoah's dream of the seven fat and the seven lean cows ( you skipped the re-iteration of the sheaves of wheat ) you stopped short of the real culmination of the story. With Joseph's help the Pharoah parlays his control of the food supply into total tyranny over everyone in his domains except the priests.

Virtually very archaeological excavation that records the transition to large scale agriculture features three buildings at the center of the new "town": the granary where the new masters collect the production from the agricultural workers they have subjected to their rule, the temple where they house the priestly class that justifies their rule, and the barracks and palace where they install the soldiers and bureaucrats who administer their new regime. Your ability to ignore this element of the coming of "civilization" puts you squarely in the mainstream of academia.

With similar blinders you suggested that Ireland had a "monoculture" of potatoes that brought on the disastrous famine of the 1840's. Nonsense. The good land in Ireland grew wheat, more than enough to feed the population. Only the land that was too stoney or poor grew the potatoes the agricultural laborers were forced to eat. The starving Irish watched caravans of wagons removing the harvests they had planted and reaped, guarded by British troops, for shipment by their absentee landlords to the markets in England.

When "society builds something like Notre Dame cathedral" what is really happening is that the surplus value produced by the labor of the vast majority of the population is expropriated by the ruling faction, in this case the combination of the feudal and ecclesiastical rulers, as in Egypt or Paris, for their own purposes. The result is "culture" as we know it, but the means to that end is a murderous process of oppression. Your artfully twisted story-telling relies on weasel words like "society," used here as if it really identifies an "agent" capable of building cathedrals and cities out of thin air, which deliberately prevent us from seeing the concrete, and much less pretty, reality.

Jul. 08 2010 06:54 PM
anonyme

Did you know taht teh city of Seattle has instituted scrap collecting for compost making - fertilizer!!! Vancouver gave out composters about 15 years ago - donno teh result of that - in NY there's a lady at Union Sq who collects kitchen scraps teat become compost for farmers - also for us at $1. a bag.

Jul. 08 2010 12:40 PM
anonyme

Organic food doesn't need fossil fuels. The Amish in Lancaster Co know how to cultivate the natural bounty of the earth!

Jul. 08 2010 12:37 PM
Franco

What lesson can we draw from these studies if we apply them to energy production?

Jul. 08 2010 12:36 PM
anonyme

MONSANTO!!! Bullying farmers - nobody knows what their seeds do in teh stomachs of those who eat the crops - talk about collapse of an empire! The seeds are not living up to tehir promises fertilizer is oil !!!

Jul. 08 2010 12:35 PM
anonyme

So interesting - their aqueducts are still standing throughout the empire - this is really an interesting show. Weston Price posits in his Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (copyright 1939) that Hitler was really after soil

Jul. 08 2010 12:20 PM
anonyme from midtown manhattan

what was garum (?) made of? I read that it was fermented cod liver oil -

Jul. 08 2010 12:17 PM
Mike

I read a book a couple of years ago

Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Garden

by Ms. Lucile H. Brockway

She details how the British used their colonies to corner the market on certain plants like cinchona which I believe was used to make quinine for malaria resistance, taking rubber from Brazil to grow in Malaysia to compete with the Dutch rubber in Indonesia. The inability to compete in Hemp.

How much did colonization play in sustaining Food Empires?

Jul. 08 2010 12:15 PM
Mike

I read a book a couple of years ago

Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Garden

by Ms. Lucile H. Brockway

She details how the British used their colonies to corner the market on certain plants like cinchona which I believe was used to make quinine for malaria resistance, taking rubber from Brazil to grow in Malaysia to compete with the Dutch rubber in Indonesia. The inability to compete in Hemp.

How much did colonization play in sustaining Food Empires?

Jul. 08 2010 12:14 PM

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