Sunday, October 17, 2010
Empires of Food
Our civilization is based on food.
Seems like a no-brainer, but I’m thinking new thoughts about that these days. I’m reading a great new book titled Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations by Evan D.G. Fraser and Andrew Rimas. The book explores how various civilizations of the past have grown and expanded when times are good – good weather, improved technology, specialization of crops, fertile, new ground to cultivate leading to plentiful crops – and then collapsed into anarchy and despair when the growth cannot be sustained.
The Roman Empire, Europe in the 14th century are the examples I’ve read so far.
You can probably guess where the book is headed. In our own times decades of good weather and exploding new technologies have led to the abundance of food that we (most of us reading this) enjoy today. But weather is changing, and new technologies are exploiting the soil, not replenishing it, and agriculture is so monoculture it is all not sustainable.
I’m hoping the book will have a cheerful ending, but I doubt it.
Anyway, trying to do my bit, I got my first delivery of chicken from the farmer up the road. He showed up at my door, big smile on his face, bag of chicken in hand, dirt on his boots. My order of pork will follow.
Of course the chicken has been delivered either whole or cut into large pieces. Not the delicately cut skinless, boneless breasts that I buy at the grocery store, or the tray of identically sized thighs. And the whole chicken is gigantic. I’ll be looking for recipes using left-over roast chicken and sharpening my chef’s knives.
And hopefully delay the collapse of western civilization as we know it for another meal or two.