(E–book) Against the Grain How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization author Richard Manning
March 2 to 3 2013 Coming back to this book after 25 years stewing in sustainable agriculture environmental history and Deep Ecology made me realize how impressive Manning s accomplishment with this book was He fits a vast argument deftly into a relatively short space iving detailed attention to several major aspects of the issue and drawing really respectfully on a really well chosen bibliography books that I have since read many of and that invariably left me much wiser than when I beganManning s argument is concentric moving from the emergence of agriculture at the dawn of the Neolithic inwards to the revolutionary effects of potatoes and sugarcane on European imperialism then to the shift into industrialized agriculture and finally into the commodity Britain's War Machine grain market its subsidies and its ever elaborate excuses to use up surplus corn and soybeans In the process he takes up the arguments of David Abram in comparing the lifestyles and worldviews of literate and non literate peoples and the arguments of Alfred Crosby s Ecological Imperialism regarding the coadapted biotic community that helped Europeans conuer much of the world and destroy much of its uniue life While his arguments dovetail precisely with those of ideologues like Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith there is something much relaxed about this book since Manning never seeks to make an exhortation to action and he is certainly not restricting his audience to people within a fringe community of radical environmentalists or vegans in Lierre s case He just explores some fascinating big picture environmental history with a strong edge of Deep Ecology s passion and ecological ecumenicism and with a stubborn insistence on seeing those who suffer under severe hierarchy That paired interest and love without some of the cloying radicalism and nearroupthink in the DGR set a set of ideas I buy into deeply and respect than any other politics but a The Age of Light group of people I sometimes find a bit too much makes Manning one of my favorite authors I just love what he sees what he finds interesting and how he paints it His Grassland is shaping up to be an even deeper and lyrical exploration in passionate environmental historyNov 7 to 18 2010 The myth of progress and its poster child agriculture form the central blinders of our culture and likely have done so for agricultural civilizations for their entire history Despite the best efforts of intellectuals like William R Catton Jr and Jared Diamond to foster an ecological perspective it is still extremely difficult to expose yourself especially as an isolated teen to critical perspectives Manning provides the most sweeping thorough accessible and impeccably researched critiue of agriculture I ve yet encountered It deals with the material explored in Diamond s essay but explores so much on top of that The book is bookended with discussion of what it means to live in a hunteratherer culture or an agricultural one and specifically how relatively impoverished we are now in comparison Then the evolutionary and dietary stage is set and the early development of agriculture is explored Manning sets out many things I already knew that agriculture s main social conseuence is social ineuality and that agriculture means malnutrition but also explores things I dn t been exposed to or thought of yet For example that sedentism enabled agriculture not vice versa that famine has literally been a constant part of agricultural life in all of its manifestations anywhere everThe middle section of the book deals with the processing and commodicization of crops First he discusses sugar and its role in the Industrial Revolution and triangular trade Then another jump ahead takes us to modern American agriculture defined by processing and its needs cheap surpluses of inedible corn soybeans and wheat In short Manning effectively tackles a huge range of historical problems with agriculture His writing is clear and journalistic his sources are treated as though he d interviewed them which is a really L'opticien de Lampedusa good style I think and his points are all elegantly made and wellrounded Very much recommended to anyone who s enjoyed Diamond s works who is interested in the problems of modern ag or who cares about things Reading Schumacher and Catton set me on a road toward what may become my new field human ecology Manning s book is a Doomsday Men: The Real Dr. Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon great first step on that official path Diamond s books were clear antecedents of course Its bibliography also seems to be areat list of books on that subject I look forward to digging into them I was a bit unsure what to expect from this book Manning starts out with some history of agriculture and conflicts between agricultural and huntergatherer type communities and throughout I was rather expecting a Derrick Jensen type conclusion like down with agriculture return to the huntergatherer mode which didn t come In fact the conclusion was just a call for sustainable agriculture which to me seemed like a weak point to make after all the dissatisfaction Reads like a agriculturally focused version of Jared Diamond s Guns Germs and Steel On huntingHunting enlivens the senses like no other experience iving me a taste of what it must be like to truly see and hearThe human beings who maintain these hyper refined senses are hunter atherers Their impressive powers of perception have been noted and detailed by just about every student of hunter Whoops!: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay gathererroups It is
Not Only That They Sense only that they sense the rest of us do but that they do so in a ualitatively different fashion synaesthesia overlapping of senses Think feeling a colorFly fishing is simply a means for contemplating riversGamboling about plain and forest hunting and living off the land is fun Farming is not That s all one needs to know to begin a rethinking of the issue The fundamental uestion was properly phrased by Colin Tudge of the London School of Economics The real problem then is not to explain why some people were slow to adopt agriculture but why anybody took it up at all when it is so obviously beastly Which came first Civilisation or agricultureTo ratchet up farming would reuire a significant level of human disturbance That is it would reuire that people congregate in settlements places where their activity would disturb land and important where people would stay long enough to plant and harvest Sedentism was a precondition of agriculture This flies directly in the face of the just so story that suggests it was the efficiency of agriculture that made settlement possibleBecause of the permanent occupation of land it became important to establish a family s claim on the land and veneration of ancestors was a part of that processThe availability of soft foods meant children could be weaned earlier at one year instead of four Women then could turn out the masses of children that would Michelangelo: His Epic Life grow up to build pyramids and moundsOn famine and other aspects of life after civilisationThroughout history famine has been concentrated at population centers Given this pattern it is difficult to see agriculture as the antidote to hunger In fact the pattern suggests the opposite Famine was the mark of a maturing agricultural society the very badge of civilizationSimply put the population explosion that agriculture allows creates the need for expansion as it has since the first wheat beef people hit the European plain A society however also can settle the problem with faminePopulation explosionenerates the need to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge grow food but agriculture is the cause of that population explosion and agriculture createsovernment The hierarchical specialized societies that agriculture builds are wholly dependent on the smooth operation of their infrastructure on stability on transportation Dams must be built canals must flow roads must be maintained and overnment must be established to order those tasks Government leaders emerge from the social hierarchy that agriculture s wealth makes possiblePoverty overnment and famine are coevolved species every bit as integral to catastrophic agriculture as wheat bluegrass smallpox and brown ratsAnd sugar was a remarkably efficient food producing the most calories per acre of any crop An acre of sugar will produce the same number of calories as four acres of potatoes twelve of wheat or 135 devoted to raising beef There is a fundamental tension inherent in civilized economies one that intensifies as they develop Farming pyramid building and industrialism above all reuire a huge pool of cheap labor But that pool must be fed We have seen that famine disease and simple malnourishment can come to the rescue of an overtaxed economy by correcting periodic population imbalances In this light famine poverty and disease are useful institutions which is perhaps why Christ was so certain they would always be with us The trumpeted tool for this task though is efficiency a favorite word of economists In this mind set food is no longer a pleasure
aesthetic experience a bearer of and tradition It is not cuisine but calories The efficiency of sugar fit nicely with the ascendant dehumanization that was British industrialismLike famine malnutrition promotes infant mortality and suppresses the birthrate biasing the population toward working adultsOn agr. In this provocative wide ranging book Against the Grain Richard Manning offers a dramatically revisionist view of recent human evolution beginning with the vast increase in brain size that set us apart from our primate relatives and brought an accompanying increase in our need for nourishment For 290000 years we managed to meet that need as hunter atherers a state in which Manning believes we were at our most human at. Doing it and we have dark hallucinations about feeding billions Agriculture has become civilization s tar baby Richard Manning is among my favorite writers He slings snappy lines like There is no such thing as sustainable agriculture It does not exist Or The domestication of wheat was humankind s reatest mistake And he s the opposite of a raving nutjob In his book Against the Grain he hoses off the thick crust of mythical balderdash and twaddle and presents us with a clear eyed history of agriculture warts and all especially the warts Everyone everywhere should read it and than once Roughly 10000 years ago agriculture came into existence in several different locations independently These were lands having an abundant supply of wild foods The residents had no need to roam for their chow so they settled down and built permanent homes and villages Over time with the Penny Aggie Volume 2 growing number of mouths the food supply became strained and this inspired a habit of seed planting As usual nobody foresaw the unintended conseuences of a brilliant new trick and an innocent mistake ended upoing viral and ravaging the entire planet WhoopsGrains are potent foods because they are rich in calories and they can be stored for extended periods of time Herds of domesticated animals and ranaries packed with hoarded seeds came to be perceived as private property which led to the concept of wealth and its dark shadow poverty Wealth had a habit of snowballing leading to elites having access to far resources than the hordes of lowly runtsCountless legions of peasants and slaves spent their lives building colossal pyramids temples castles cathedrals and other monuments to the rich and powerful What we are today civilized city bound overpopulated literate organized wealthy poor diseased conuered and conuerors is all rooted in the domestication of plants and animals The advent of farming re formed humanity Like mold on an orange agriculture had a tendency to spread all over It tended not to diffuse from culture to culture like cell phone technology More often it spread by displacement swiping the lands of the indigenous people Evidence suggests that Indo European farming tribes spread across Europe in a 300 year blitzkrieg eliminating the salmon eating wild folks Paleontologists study old artifacts Examining hunter atherer skeletons is brutally boring because these people tended to be remarkably healthy The bones of farming people are far interesting Grain eaters commonly suffered from tooth decay bone deformities malnutrition osteomyelitis periostitis intestinal parasites malaria yaws syphilis leprosy tuberculosis anemia rickets in children osteomalacia in adults retarded childhood rowth and short stature among adults Hunter I Was A Stranger gatherers consumed a wide variety of foods conseuently they were well nourished In farming villages poverty was common and the common diet majored inrain the cheapest source of calories The poor in England often lived on bread and water period They almost never tasted meat and milk and cheese were rare luxuries The Irish poor lived on oat porridge Later the poor of England and Ireland switched to potatoes an even cheaper foodIn twentieth century America overnment farm policies drove most small subsistence farms into extinction Big farmers with big farms and big machines ot big subsidy checks for The Lives of Stay-at-Home Fathers: Masculinity, Carework and Fatherhood in the United States growing commodity crops like corn We now produce vast uantities of extremely cheaprain Some of the surplus is exported to other nations some is made into livestock feed some is converted into processed foods The inspiration for writing his book came suddenly when Manning returned from a trip abroad and was astonished to observe vast herds of obese Americans Oh my God Why Through the wonders of food science technology we are now able to extract the complex carbs in corn and convert them into simple carbs sugar Sugar is the calorie from hell because it is rapidly metabolized by the body like spraying asoline on a fire Mother Nature includes enerous amounts of fiber in fruits and berries and this slows the rate at which sugar is released to the body But there is zero fiber in a cheap 44 ounce soda fountain soft drink and an immense dose of corn sugar It seems like most processed foods now contain added sugar Michael Pollan s fabulous books encourage readers to have serious doubts about industrial agriculture and processed foods Manning probes deeper He leaves us perceiving the entire history of agriculture in a new and vividly unflattering manner It s an extremely important issue and one that s long overdue for thorough critical analysis At this point in the Gone: The Disappearance of Claudia Lawrence and Her Father's Desperate Search for the Truth game we can t painlessly abandon agriculture and return to sustainability so we ve placed most of our bets on impossible techno miracles God forbid This century isoing to provide many powerful lessons on the foolishness of living like stylish Madoffs on stolen resources As the end of cheap energy deflates the lobal economy the shrinking herd will eventually reach a point where we actually can abandon agriculture painlessly It would be very satisfying to finally break out of our ancient habit of repeating the same old mistakes over and
AN AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE A BEARER OF
Over Will We Kick The Habit And Will we kick the habit and celebrate the extinction of tilling Hey this is what big brains are for learningNot surprisingly at the end of this book Manning does not provide a cheap uick simple solution He does not foresee a smooth managed transition to a sustainable future it s oing to be a mess He recommends shifting toward foods from perennial plants like fruits nuts and berries and replacing Moonrise (Snowfall, grain fed meat withrass fed And of course nothing close to seven billion people can fit into a happy sustainable future The healing process will be a vast undertaking Not back to the arden back to the wild Agriculture has domesticated humans This is the argument at the center of Richard Manning s stunning history of food Written with journalistic flavor Manning explores the ways that agriculture has diminished human life and threatens the planet itselfThe book begins by exploring the hunter atherer lifestyle in many ways superior to our own even at the height of industrial capitalism Hunter Hello, Snow! gatherers it turns out ate a wider variety of tasty foods worked far less and lived much sensually and connected than civilized humans About 10000 years ago certainroups of humans traded all this in for security namely the ability to stay in one spot and harvest A Little Dinner Before the Play grai One day soon I llive this the full review it deserves I think this book was unfortunately made irrelevant by a similar but better book The Omnivore s Dilemma not long after its publication At least I assume Omnivore s Dilemma came after or it s hard to believe Manning would not have uoted Pollan even once Still a fascinating and alarming read though It touched some issues that the Omnivore s Dilemma didn t include like the tremendous toll of shrimp farming on important mangrove habitats Manning s perspective was interesting Like Pollan he thinks it s correct to say that the Mastering the Art of Saying No Without Feeling Guilty: Tips, Techniques and Strategies grainrasses domesticated humans This leads Manning down an interesting thought experiment at the end Manning believes or believed that we could never expect politics to help us fix agriculture because civilization and politics have co evolved with Yuganta, The End Of An Epoch grains and agriculture He believes the very notion of progress is uniue to agricultural civilized people Indeed what would progress mean to a hunteratherer if not easier and tastier foodManning may be out on a limb here but I ll follow him a bit because he says the one true thing that most other people seem to be avoiding That true thing is that if we re morally bound to feed and protect every baby that s born as a result of a reproductive accident then we re dead before we start The only hope that the world
can avoid mass starvation and disease is by reducing the number of people avoid mass starvation and disease is by reducing the number of people the earth needs to support I can appreciate why he kept his thoughts on this subject to less than a paragraph though any time someone talks about the possibility that the world is or may someday be overpopulated an ignorant horde of nutcases bethinks themselves to incite a class war over population control or a religious war over contraception But he did manage to say it so I ive him credit I was stunned when I picked up this book I d been reading about the history of agricultural societies for a while and reading between the lines that agriculture has changed our society for the worse Against the Grain took all of my ideas and solidified themI had two disappointments with the book First there s a big section in the middle about the evils of modern agriculture I found that really boring since I ve read a lot about that before but it was essential to the book if you haven t pondered those uestions before More importantly though I felt like the ending was extraordinarily weak The book will make you believe that agriculture as we practice it is bad but his solutions are not well thought out mainstream organic food in my opinion is only a small step better than the traditional agriculture it mimicsOn the other hand the book is very short and easy to read a relief after plodding through the eually enlightening but far too long Guns Germs and Stee. S biologists archaeologists and philosophers along with his own travels he argues that not only our ecological ills overpopulation erosion pollution but our social and emotional malaise are rooted in the devil's bargain we made in our not so distant past And he offers personal achievable ways we might re contour the path we have taken to resurrect what is most sustainable and sustaining in our own nature and the planet'.
Richard Manning Û 8 Free readIculture todayAfter the agricultural revolution Before farming had been uniuely autonomous of industry because machines couldn t make food only nature could All of a sudden machines were integral to the processHowever the business of directly supporting prices with cash payments to farmers didn t emerge in force until the Great Depression These payments were intended to keep food cheap to keep farmers on the land to diversify the crop base and above all to be temporary They have succeeded only in the first oalIrrigation now accounts for 70 percent of the freshwater used by humansAmerican farmers have always Forbidden Reading grown commodities in surplus Our country is almost uniue in having never known famine Even during the worst of the breadlines in the Great Depression there was surplusrainExpecting farmers to respond to market signals now is a bit like expecting an alcoholic to order the herbal tea at an open bar This is the legacy of subsidy Governments including Mexico s A Northern Line Minute: The Northern Line got in the business of making nitrogen cheap and farmers lapped it up but it created a welfare state Emblematic of that state is a deep seated irrationality that ignores cause and effectWe hiderain surpluses in foreign aid but the traditional way of hiding corn is in livestockThe original purpose of the USDA department of agriculture s food pyramid was to encourage consumption of the surplus Future Focus grain and meat that was being producedFor instance the raising of swine for food was banned in the Middle East as recently was coffee use among Mormons because omnivorous swine ate scarce protein and coffee which had to be imported in nineteenth century Utah took a heavy toll on resources That is the taboos were used to enforce a socialood not rooted in avoiding toxins Taboos could be useful but just as often they were used to divide peopleThe central strategy of the chains is to dumb down every operation to process food and freeze it at centralized factories so that it can be thawed and served at restaurants by unskilled labor As a conseuence there are no unionized McDonald s and the average wage of fast food workers is now the lowest of any sector in the United States including migrant farm workersA thirty two ounce soda and a tank of as is America distilled to its seminal fluids sugar syrup and oilWhat nowThe political system cannot be counted on to reform agriculture because any political system is a creation of agriculture a coevolved entity The major forces that shaped and shape our world disease imperialism colonialism slavery trade wealth all are a part of the culture agriculture evolved We carry evidence of its disease in our bones and blood of its pollutants in our cells as surely as those ten thousand year old skeletons of farmers are deformed and decayed by the very same infectious diseases stoop labor and exploitation Just as surely agriculture dug the tunnel of our visionThere is a distinction to be made between what I have called agriculture and simply rowing food Call the latter farming a distinction that still has its problems though it will serve for a first cut The difference is that the oal of agriculture is not feeding people it is the accumulation of wealthIt is enerally understood that companion planting or intercropping of various species causes the phenomenon of overyielding in which each plant produces than it would if rown alone However with the row cropping and mechanical harvest of monoculture this is not a practical system of agriculture on any sort of scale so fertilizer substitutes for intercropping Mundt however tried to obtain overyielding by planting together not different crops but different varieties of rice which could be uniformly harvested by machine It worked spectacularly This sort of research will not come out of a corporation simply because the results don t reuire anyone to buy something A farmer buys as much seed as usual probably less fertilizer The solution is simple elegant and cheap but for suppliers unprofitable Large areas of unexplored terrain due to the profit seeking motive not seeing purpose in pursuing them This book consists of two halves a history of the world and a political polemic For almost all of our existence as a species humans have been hunters fishers and atherers People have been eating parts of hundreds of plant species if some were deficient in some nutrients others compensated for this Agriculture meant switching to the cultivation of a small number of annual Devil's Red Nickel grasses wheat barley rice in Eurasia maize in the Americas for which therain constitutes a large part of their biomass they are weeds Social Class in Contemporary Japan: Structures, Sorting and Strategies grasses that thrive in disrupted environments rapidly reproducing beforerasses adapted for stable environments sueeze them out Cultivating them meant periodically disrupting the environment hard agricultural labor Relying on a few productive crops instead of hundreds available to the hunters Clubland UK: On the Door in the Rave Era gatherers meant famine when the crops failed due to a disease as in Ireland in the 1840s or a pest Cereals are not very nutritious food andruel is a much worse baby food than mother s milk skeletons of farmers show that they were much sicker than hunters atherers but there were many of the former Agriculture spread slowly through Europe in the Neolithic and Bronze Age agricultural productivity increased in the Middle Ages through introduction of such technologies as the horse collar Yet before mid twentieth century agricultural expansion was extensive colonizing the Americas
AND AUSTRALASIA PUSHING AWAY THE NATIVES THROUGH KHRUSHCHEV SAustralasia pushing away the natives through Khrushchev s Lands campaign By 1960 the world has almost run out of arable land yet there were 3 billion people in it and tens of millions were born each year Paul Ehrlich and other environmental alarmists were predicting famine This did not happen because of the Green Revolution Dwarf varieties of wheat and rice have a higher percentage of biomass stored in the rains than non dwarf ones Also if you The Book of Tapas grow non dwarf varieties of cereals with too much fertilizer the plant would lodge the seeds would be too heavy for the stem to support and the plant would topple with dwarf varieties the maximum amount of fertilizer is muchreater Dwarf wheat which took over 70% of all the planted area by the turn of the century as well as dwarf rice and hybrid maize allowed the 6 billions to be fed but it reuired far fertilizer than manure and crop rotation could provide Artificial fertilizer production skyrocketed to the point where half of all nitrogen fixed on planet Earth comes from human made artificial fertilizers and half from the rest of the biosphere The new agriculture also relies heavily on irrigation and pesticides and therefore on outside energy and fossil fuelsThe second half of the book attacks many targets in modern agriculture and the food business concentrating on the United States Agribusiness companies such as Archer Daniel Midlands enjoy oligopsony when dealing with farmers but do not take over the fields since farmers exploit themselves much harder than the company would be allowed to exploit them Government subsidies of farmers translate into profits for ADM a dollar in profit for each 11 in subsidies the ADM executive interviewed by Manning calls this situation socialism The USDA is concerned with etting rid of surplus commodities than with better nutrition of the populace it periodically republishes its food pyramid depending on which commodities have a surplus Sugar from Central America rown sugar cane costs less than maize derived high fructose syrup which in turn costs less than sugar from US Love Is A Four Letter Word grown sugar cane thus a sugar tariff benefits not only domestic sugarrowers but also ADM Most maize rown in the United States is not eaten directly by humans it is either fed to domestic animals or processed the fertilizer runs off into the Mississippi river and into the Gulf of Mexico where it kills fish and shrimp thus high uality protein is sacrificed for the sake of low uality protein and fat though Manning ives no numbers As in Victorian England the poor eat too much nutritionally poor fast food and sugar unlike Victorian England they are increasingly obese and diabetic Manning argues for counteragriculture variety of crops variety of food locally rown food minimizing ecological damage he also praises hunting He writes admiringly about some organic farmer who is etting high yields and about Chez Panisse an organic
restaurant in Berkeley the student co op I lived in 1995in the student co op where I lived in 1995 a cookbook from it I think some members of the co op also The Magic of Thinking Big grew another agricultural commodity one of America s biggest cash crops though they did it in an industrialized way Some of the sociohistorical evidence that Mr Manning brings up to back how agriculture has hijacked civilization are really fascinating and at times shocking The book exposes the reader to substantial bits and pieces of anecdotes from history from the perspective of how our society has evolved and will continue to evolve around agriculture the aim of wh Agriculture is one of humankind s most troublesome experiments and it is now hopelessly in debt It has borrowed soil water and energy that it can never repay and never intended to repay burning up tomorrow to feed today We know it we keep. Our smartest strongest most sensually alive But our reliance on food made a secure supply deeply attractive and eventually we embarked upon the agricultural experiment that has been the history of our past 10000 yearsThe evolutionary road is littered with failed experiments however and Manning suggests that agriculture as we have practiced it runs against both ourrain and nature's Drawing on the work of anthropologist.