Sunday, August 15, 2004

Against the Grain by Richard Manning

Against the Grain by Richard Manning

This is book is a wealth of facts, synthesis, anecdotes, science. He plays fast and loose with some ideas, but his story/argument flows.

“We have seen that agriculture in fact arose from abundance. More important, wealth, as distinct from abundance, is one of these dichotomous ideas only understood in the presence of its opposite, poverty. If we are to seek ways in which humans differ from all other species, this dichotomy would head the list. This Is not to say that hunter-gatherers did not experience need, hard times, even starvation, just as all other animals do. We would be hard-pressed, however, to find communities of any social animal except modern humans in which an individual in the community has access to fifty, a hundred, a thousand times, or even twice as many resources as another. Yet such communities are the rule among post agricultural humans” (33)

“Sickle-cell anemia confers resistance to malaria, which is to say, if one lives in an area infested with malaria, it is an advantage, not a disease…the gene variant common in Africa arose roughly eight thousand years ago, and some four thousand years ago in the case of a second version of the gene common among people of the Mediterranean, India, and North Africa….Its origins coincide nicely with those of agriculture, which scientists say is no accident. The disturbance—clearing tropical forests first in Africa, and later in those other regions—created precisely the sort of conditions in which mosquitoes thrive. Thus, malaria is an agricultural disease….there are similar and simpler arguments to be made about lactose intolerance, an inherited condition mostly present among ethnic groups without a long agricultural history. People who had no cows, goats, or horses had no milk in their adult diet. Our bodies had to evolve to produce the enzymes to digest it, a trick passed on in genes. Lactose is a sugar and leads to a range of diet-related intolerances. The same sort of argument emerges with obesity and sugar diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even alcoholism.”(40) co-evolution

“We have no clear examples of colonized hunter-gatherers who willingly, peacefully converted to farming. Most went as slaves; most were dragged kicking and screaming, or jus plain died.” (41)

horses: 61-2
stepped into an “empty” niche
-Spaniards left some horses in 1500s in Argentina, when they returned in 1580s, horses were abundant (traveler: “in such numbers that they cover the face of the earth and when they cross the road, it is necessary for travelers and let them pass, for a whole day or more, so as not to let them carry the tame stock with them.” Jesuit reported herds of feral horses so numberous tha tit would take three hours fo rthem to pass by ‘at full speed’.
-feral horses were “a nuisance” in the NE coast of NA

“The practice of seeding to promote conquest began with conquest itself. Long before Columbus made his discovery, Spain began practicing for colonization with the conquest of the Canary Islands, which were immediately “seeded” with sheep and swine. Throughout the period of exploration, mariners typically carried these animals aboard and dropped them on strategic islands along the way, along with handfuls of grasses and other plants they thought might take root and provide sustenance so that sailors would have a food supply when they returned years later.” (64) “Julius von Haast, a geologist who arrived in New Zealand in 1858, wrote Darwin that there was a proverb among the Maori that “as the white man’s fly drives away our own, and the clover kills our fern, so will the Maoris disappear before the white man himself.”” (66)

“Modern famine is the result of bad government, but so was ancient famine. Bad government is a part of the syndrome, a chicken-and-egg problem. Population explosion generates the need to grow more food, but agriculture is the cause of that population explosion, and agriculture creates government. 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 government must be established to order those tasks. Government leaders emerge from the social hierarchy that agriculture’s wealth makes possible. Failures occur as frequently as humans fail. To hold agriculture blameless and government responsible for famine is like holding a lion blameless for a child’s death on grounds that it was the lion’s teeth that did the biting. Poverty, government, and famine are coevolved species, every bit as integral to catastrophic agriculture as whe3at, bluegrass, smallpox, and brown rats.” (73)

“It was the practice at many factories to hand the mass of workers a lump sum on payday; it was up to them to make change and divide it amongst themselves, and public houses arose for this purpose. In the process of making change, the public house would hold on to a bit in exchange for a pint or two. These same workers—and the family members who came to drag them from the pubs—could immediately trade some of the case for street food, fried potatoes and sometimes fried fish. The combination is a marriage of convenience that survived as fish-and-chips…” (80)

Sugar domesticated in SE Asia. then Arab agricultural revolution and Moors and slavery and the rise of Islam and sugar all coincide. p 81ff

in terms of feeding a population of laborers… “the efficiency of sugar fit nicely with the ascendant dehumanization that was British industrialism.” (82)

“Sugar gave the homeland cheap food, supported by slave labor in the Caribbean and South American. Its production rested on industrialized plantations that were markets for England’s factories. The plantations in turn created wealth that became the capital that financed the industrialization of Britain. It was a system that had nothing to do with the well-being of most of the humans involved and everything to do with raising wealth. Writes the anthropologist Sidney Mintz, ‘Slave and proletarian together powered the imperial economic system that kept one supplied with manacles and the other with sugar and rum.’” (82-3)

“The British custom of taking tea as an afternoon break has more to do with sugar than with tea. During the nineteenth century, when the custom arose, it was something like the coffee break in modern workplaces, but no so leisurely: a chance to gulp a quick cup of tea, which was invariably laced with sugar. In this way were the human machines of the factory ‘nourished’—fueled—without even needing to leave their machines” (83)

1960 population hit half of today’s population: (that’s why the Green Rev happened)
Green Revolution: “The shift from increasing acreage to increasing yield” (87)
--Hybridization, consolidation of farms, chemical fertilizers, pesticides. (91-2)
“the resulting hybrid may be sterile, incapable of nurturing future generations, but what it lacks in sustainability it makes up in vigor and tenacity.” (92)

US corn yields in 1900 were 20 bushels per acre
US corn yields in 2000 were 130 bushels per acre (93)

In US in 2000, 85% of cropland is 4 crops: corn (mostly for feed), soybeans (mostly for feed), wheat, and hay (mostly for feed) (98)

Dead zone in Gulf of Mexico (20,000 square k) from nitrogen runoff (99-101)
Aral Sea has shrunk in half because of irrigation since 1960, salinization increased and killed all the fish by 1980 (101)

China sends tankers to SE Alaska to load up with river water for drinking (102)

3 lbs of protein to raise a pound of farmed salmon (117)

“I have come to think of agriculture not as farming, but as a dangerous and con summing beast of a social system.” (119)

Progressives like Hnery Wallace and Norman Borlaug went to work to help poor people. Wallace’s hybrid corn did indeed do that for a time, making life better for a generation of farm folks. But in the end, it only enlarged the pile of surplus grain, which the system evolved to digest for its own purposes. The patrones of the world, the men made increasingly wealthy as the lot of small farmers has deteriorated, are a testimony to the power of that system to sap progressive energy. Sixty years after it started, the foundations are still in the business of promoting agriculture as a cure for poverty.” (119-120)

ADM ingredients: citric acid, lactic acid, high fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, lecithin, xanthan gum, wheat gluten, soy protein, and Vitamin C, (124)

FARM BOOM 1972-1981 (American ag. Exports went from $8b to $44b) (126-8)
-USDA granted USSR $700m in export credits in 1972
-US govt is “hooked on using corn and wheat to balance trade and structures subsidies to encourage those two commodities at the expense of almost all other crops” (127)
-richest 2% of farmers account for 35% of total farm sales and receive 27% of federal farm subsidies

“ADM doesn’t deal in food it deals in commodities; thus it is wholly dependent on the system of federal subsidies that has converted American agriculture to one big commodity factory.” (129)
“In 1950, farmers grossed forty-one cents of every consumer’s food dollar; that figure fell to twenty-one cents by 1994, simply because we eat more processed commodities…. Even today, a farmer gets fifty-eight cents of a consumer’s dollar spent on eggs, because an egg is food. A chicken makes it; a farmer puts it in a carton and sells it. When a corn farmer sells his crop to ADM, he gets four cents of the consumer dollar spent on corn syrup.” (129) ADM makes most of its corn into syrup. Nationally 42% of corn goes to syrup (138) every dollar of profit ADM makes on ethanol costs American taxpayers $11 (140)
Cargill, ConAgra, General Food, Borden, Continental Food, CPC, Ajinomoto, Ameriican Maize, A.E. Staley (147)

“Kirschenmann believes humans fell from grace ten thousand years ago, the fall a sin of pride that came from domesticating plants. Since then, all of agriculture has been an attempt to enforce distance from nature.” (131)

“US grain, free or otherwise, puts Third World farmers out of business, sacking local agriculture and local markets. Case studies going back to the 1950s demonstrate this in India, Peru, Egypt, Somalia, Senegal, and Haiti. This is one way in which we pay to hide the surplus that we have paid our farmers to produce.” (134)

in 1993 flood, nitrogen from Mississippi Valley created algal bloom in Gulf of Mexico which floated up the East Coast spreading disease that killed dolphins, beluga whales, Atlantic harbor seals, and porpoises (138)

“I insist on sensuality. I guard my smoked pheasants, old guitars, and quiet as jealously as any miser guards gold. They can do far more to protect me from what we humans have become: insensate, insensitive, inhuman. For the millions of years of evolution that made us, the ability to fully sense food and sex was the foundation of our humanity and the core determinant of survival. For ten thousand years, those same pleasures have been reserved for a few of us. Complete indulgence of sensuality is rare, and, as a rule, the purview of the rich. For ten thousand years, Homo sapiens has been unable to take its humanity for granted. Those who would resist dehumanization do so by daily staking a claim to it, by self-consciously adopting and aestheticism our hunter-gatherer forebears [sic] practiced by simply living. With the advent of agriculture, those qualities that united us—in fact, quality itself-came to divide us. Civilization did indeed modify the human genome, but only slightly, only around the edges. We remain at our genetic core largely what our hunter-gatherer history made us, which is to say, sensual beings. All of humanity at some level still requires the aesthetic. What was invented with civilization was the ability of some to deny sensuality to others.” (150)

on the influence of American hybrids of corn entering Mexico in the mid 1990s
“NAFTA is part of a long series of devices, ranging from the padded horse collar through smallpox and the musket to the multinational corporation, for spreading the dominant culture. The treaty is helping put small Mexican farmers out of business, condemning with them their forty varieties of corn. This variety is replaced in Mexican tortilla factories with the bland American corn bred primarily for feeding livestock, and now Mexicans.” (161)

High Fructose Corn Syrup first commercialized in 1967
“the commercialization of corn syrup completed the commodification of corn. Each kernel was now a raw material to be disassembled and fed to separate output streams. The yellow skin and other parts make vitamin supplements (necessary now because our food is processed), but especially animal feeds. The kernel gets separated from the germ (the actual seed) and is processed to cornstarch or sugar. The germ is squeezed for its oil. Oil, starch, and sugar became the triumvirate of the Corn Products Refining Company, the brainchild of a marketer who would use these three to rewrite the design of American cuisine, first by branding it. The company gave us Mazola Oil, Karo Syrup, and Kingsford’s Cornstarch. The company flacks wrote cookbooks based on these products and sold cooks on the advantages of products ‘untouched by human hands’ in the new antiseptic factories. The starch, syrup, and oil became the basis for Bisquick, Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix, and a slew of other ‘convenience’ products.” (169)

Jell-O (reconstituted cows hooves) as status dish in Midwest?
“to make Jell-O, one needed a refrigerator, something not at all common [earlier in the 20th century]. Taking Jell-O to the church social was a way of publicly announcing that your family could afford a refrigerator.” (170)

“The food processors were not offering nutrition; they were offering the illusion of wealth, stability, and order, and consumers became willing accomplices in the plot.” (170)

beginning before WWII, “the USDA issued a series of pronouncements, continuing to this day, prescribing proper intake levels of carbohydrates, protein, and fat (in ratios weighted, then and now, toward whatever happens to be in surplus).” (173)
Uncle Sam seal of healthy approval during WWII:
“The Doughnut corporation of America was denied use of the logo if it used the term Enriched Donuts” but allowed to use the logo when it called its product ‘Enriched Flour Donuts.’” (173)

“A thirty-two-ounce soda and a tank of gas is America distilled to its seminal fluids.” (182)

Coke, Pepsi needed to expand so they marketed to children. Mostly by TV, then in schools. One fifth of nations 1&2 year olds drink soda routinely, sometimes from baby bottles. (183)

“The notion of progress is a creation of agriculture. I can’t prove it, because the idea of progress is too deeply burned into us to be extracted and examined. It’s our secular religion.” (185)

“There is a distinction to be made between what I have called agriculture and simply growing 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 goal of agriculture is not feeding people; it is the accumulation of wealth. What agriculture grows is not food but commodities, grain not to eat but to store, trade, and process. Consider the range of plants humans consume, the hundreds of species. That’s food. Consider that two-thirds of our calories come from wheat, rice, commodities. It is an oversimplification, but a useful one, to assert that these commodities have a fundamental and key distinction from the rest of food: they are storable and interchangeable and close to currency in their liquidity; in fact, they are traded in markets just as currency is. They for the basis for the accumulation of wealth, and have done so for ten thousand years.” (188)

“We grow whgeat, corn, rice, and sugar not because that is what people want or need, but because that’s what we k,now how to grow well. We know how to grow these few crops well because commodities built the culture of agriculture, a spinoff of which is investments in research and development. Worldwide, the money spend on agricultural research has been spent almost exclusively on these crops.” (189)

industrial ag. input/output/waste
organic ag. Closes lops to resemble self-sustaining natural processes. (200

“However, if all of humanity began overnight to shop exclusively at organic farmer’ markets, though, our troubles would not be over. Organic agriculture is still agriculture, in that it relies on a relatively small range of plants that are evolved to follow catastrophe and thus require disturbance and are primarily annuals. Organic agricluture is a necessary step, but it is not sufficient, at least as it stands; a fundamental redesign is required. This redesign will require something approaching permaculture….not back to the garden, back to the wild.” (200-01)

sensual, food, sex “somewhere along the line we became so focused and competent in this hunt that we rigged the outcome. To hunt is to be insecure about the immediate future, to experience the nagging fear of want that has driven us to our worst excesses and our finest creations. Agriculture rigged this game by allowing storage and wealth, ensuring future food (and sex). Agriculture dehumanized us by satisfying the most dangerous of human impulses—the drive to ensure the security of the future. In this way we were tamed. Yet the hunter and gatherer survives in each of us. When a woman ambles through the Union Square market and the deep purple glint of a plum catches her eye, she is replicating a primal process, awakening pathways of primal signals. The process itself is satisfying, human. When she speaks with the farmer who grew the plum, she connects herself to a bit of her community, her link to the rest of humanity. We subvert agriculture every time we reestablish that link. Our weapon in this is sensuality.” (202)

“To See the Wizard” chapter is about ADM
“Hog Heaven” chapter is about “nutrition” in US history


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