Sitting down to an organic, locally-produced and nutritionally balanced meal – by which I mean scarfing a granola bar at my desk – I found myself reflecting on how food has determined the fate of human societies for the past 12,000 years. If your lunch isn’t prompting such musings, it’s likely you have not yet devoured Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations, University of Guelph geography professor Evan D. G. Fraser and journalist Andrew Rimas’ sweeping history of food from the (not-so) Fertile Crescent to our contemporary food crisis.
Cities, culture, art, government, and religion are founded on the creation and exchange of food surpluses. But eventually, inevitably, the crops fail, the fields erode, or the temperature drops, and the center of power shifts. Cultures descend into dark ages of poverty, famine, and war. It happened at the end of the Roman Empire, when slave plantations overworked Europe’s and Egypt’s soil and drained its vigor. It happened in the fourteenth century, when medieval societies crashed in famine and plague, and again in the nineteenth century, when catastrophic colonial schemes plunged half the world into a poverty from which it has never recovered. And today, even though we live in an age of astounding agricultural productivity and genetically modified crops, our food supplies are once again in peril.
Check out Evan Fraser’s interview in the Globe and Mail to discover the three false assumptions our global food empire is built on.
If you are in the Toronto area, come hear author Evan Fraser speak at Foodprint Toronto on July 31.
What are your concerns about the future of food? Leave a comment and let me know.