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Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization
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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 doing it, and we have dark hallucinations about feeding billions more. Richard Manning is among my favorite writers. It does not exist. 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 more than once. Roughly 10, 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 growing number of mouths, the food supply became strained, and this inspired a habit of seed planting. As usual, nobody foresaw the unintended consequences of a brilliant new trick, and an innocent mistake ended up going viral and ravaging the entire planet.
Against the Grain | Richard Manning | Macmillan
Grains are potent foods, because they are rich in calories, and they can be stored for extended periods of time. Herds of domesticated animals and granaries packed with hoarded seeds came to be perceived as private property, which led to the concept of wealth, and its dark shadow, poverty.
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Wealth had a habit of snowballing, leading to elites having access to far more resources than the hordes of lowly grunts. Countless legions of peasants and slaves spent their lives building colossal pyramids, temples, castles, cathedrals, and other monuments to the rich and powerful. The advent of farming re-formed humanity.
Like mold on an orange, agriculture had a tendency to spread all over. Evidence suggests that Indo-European farming tribes spread across Europe in a year blitzkrieg, eliminating the salmon-eating wild folks. Paleontologists study old artifacts. Examining hunter-gatherer skeletons is brutally boring, because these people tended to be remarkably healthy.
How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization
The bones of farming people are far more 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 growth, and short stature among adults.
Hunter-gatherers consumed a wide variety of foods, consequently they were well nourished. In farming villages, poverty was common, and the common diet majored in grain, 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 food.
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