The Last Mile

J.B. MacKinnon, Smith, A. 2007. The 100 Mile Diet: a year of local eating. Vintage Canada, Toronto, Ontario. P149-262.

This semester has flown by! It is hard to believe that I read the first half of, “The 100 Mile Diet,” all the way back in the first week of January. It really makes me reflect on when I first found out we had to make a dish that had only ingredients sourced from only 100 miles. At the time, it seemed impossible, but now it’s the week of the final feast!

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Menu and my delicious food from the HCCYS Feast!

 

The first half of this book was the start of Alisa and James’ year long journey to eat only within 100 miles. At the start, they found it difficult to find food and know what to eat. But by the second half of the book (and the second half of their year) I could tell that eating within 100 miles had become simply part of their daily routine. I feel this also speaks to my ability to analyze these readings and write about them. At the start of the semester I didn’t know how to look for character arc, descriptive writing and the “bigger picture.” However, now that I have had lots of practice, I feel like these readings and blogs have become a lot more natural.

To be honest, I found the second half of this book kind of depressing. Alisa and James were mad at each other more than they were happy. In addition, I felt like both Alisa and James weren’t as excited as they were at the start of the book. It seems like they were fed up with eating within 100 miles. However, with the media attention they were getting, they felt like they had to continue the diet so they wouldn’t disappoint anyone. After the last discussion on this book, it seemed like the majority of the class liked Alisa’s writing better than James’. I now have to agree with them. There were sections of Alisa’s writing that were very moving.

For example, on page 163-164, Alisa describes a fight she had with James that begins with, “Why do we even bother?” This eventually leads to her questioning whether or not her and James should even be together. “I’m thirty-three years old, always broke, and merely existing in what, without having been sealed by formal wedding vows, had become a traditional marriage… Any day, at any moment, I could change everything, and while many of those alternative lives featured James at my side – the truth was that some of them did not.” I really liked, but also really disliked this section. I disliked that Alisa was questioning her future with James. It also made me feel down because it’s obvious that at this point in time, Alisa isn’t happy. However, I liked this part because it was very raw and honest. I would like to think that Alisa and James are the perfect couple but it shows that even great couples fight sometimes and question how their lives would be different if they had taken a different direction. Alisa mentions that at any moment she could change her life but the fact that she doesn’t shows just how much she loves James.

Another section Alisa wrote that really stood out for me was her visit to the Gulf Islands were she met Sylvester. It’s easy to read about how much the food industry has changed in the past 100 years but to hear about it from Sylvester’s perspective really made it more of a reality as opposed to a fact. Sylvester talks about how when he was a kid he learned to hunt, spoke his native language often and his community had a strong sense of culture. However, nowadays, no one speaks their native language, people drive instead of canoeing and go to the grocery store instead of hunt. All of these changes have resulted in a loss of culture. “I speak my language – but who am I going to speak it to? We’re going to lose our history and way of life (pg. 198).” I think Sylvester’s story can be compared to the food industry as a whole. With globalization of food, we have lost our ability to know what foods grow in our area, what fruits and vegetables grow in different seasons and what the plants fruits and vegetables grow on even look like! This reminds me of a time I was visiting a friends garden and saw a broccoli plant for the first time and I was so in shock. Something I eat all the time, yet I had never even considered what a broccoli plant looked like. New technologies and globalization have caused Sylvester and his community to lose their native culture. Technology and globalization has also caused the average person to lose touch with something so basic. Food.

I love the idea of, “The 100 Mile Diet.” Eating local is better for the environment, our health and the community. However, seeing how much time and effort Alisa and James have to put into making all of their meals kind of turns me off. I think that the average person would agree with me. Today everyone is so busy with work, school and our obsession with being connected to everyone all the time through social media. The average person doesn’t have time to travel to local farms on the weekend and spend days making sauerkraut, jam, canned fruit and bread.

This reminds me of, “Soylent.” This chemist that created a power that contains all the essential nutrients the body needs to survive. You simply mix this powder with water and you don’t need to eat. The man who invented this drink, 24 year old Rob Rhinehart, claims to not eat and only drinks “Soylent.” This powder claims to be cheap and saves the time it takes to make and eat food. Perfect for the busy person. Now this is an extreme case of losing food traceability but is it crazy to think that this may be the future?

Although I would never do the 100 mile diet, I do respect James and Alisa’s reasoning for doing so. After reading this book I plan on purchasing local food over non-local food whenever possible. However, I don’t see myself surviving off of potatoes all winter long anytime soon…

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The Last Mile

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side

Pollan, M.. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. The Penguin Group, New York, New York. P185-273.

It was a weekday evening when I decided I would sit down and begin to read this weeks reading of, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” I noticed the reading this week was quite long so I decided to get a head start on it. I had prepared a cup of my herbal, caffeine free coffee (to trick my brain into thinking it was getting caffeine) and placed it on the nightstand beside my bed. As I sat there all cozied up in my bed excited to see what Pollan had to say this time, I turned to page 185. The title read, “Grass: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pasture.” Okay… not the most riveting topic but I convinced myself Pollan would be able to make it interesting. However, for the first time, Pollan disappointed me. I read maybe ten pages before I decided to turn off Micheal Pollan and turn on some Micheal Scott (watch “The Office”). It would take me another two days to gather the willpower to start reading it again.

This reading details Pollan’s week long experience at a progressive, alternative style farm. He describes the methods of the farm, his personal experience and the story of the farmers. However, I felt as if the first third of this reading told the same story over and over. That story is Pollan wakes up tired, Pollan talks about why modern farming is unsustainable, Pollan talks about why grass farming is better, Pollan is tired again. Although I respect the science behind why grass farming is more sustainable than conventional farming, I just wasn’t interested in hearing about Pollan’s experience of moving cows from one area of grass to another. I found this first section very hard to get through. For me, the reading started getting interesting in chapter 11, “The Animals: Practicing Complexity.”

Pollan’s use of descriptive language in this chapter was exceptional. On page 209 he describes, “As I stumbled up the hill, I was struck by how very beautiful the farm looked in the hazy early light. The thick June grass was silvered with dew, the sequence of bright pastures stepping up the hillside dramatically set off by broad expanses of blackish woods. Birdsong stitched the thick blanket of summer air, pierced now and again by the wood clap of chicken pen doors slamming shut.” I found this writing to be both descriptive and poetic. Not only could I picture the scene Pollan was describing, but I felt as if I was also touched by the beauty of the scene.

Another scene Pollan describes in the same manner is when he is slaughtering the chickens. “The viscera were surprisingly beautiful, glistening in a whole palette of slightly electric colors, from the steely blue striation of the heart muscle to the sleek milk chocolate liver to the dull mustard of the gall bladder (pg. 234).” Even though Pollan is describing the image of a slaughtered chicken, he somehow makes the image sound very beautiful. I find it interesting that he uses foods (milk chocolate and dull mustard) to describe the colour of the organs. It feels as if Pollan is subtly trying to make the reader connect that this image of chicken organs isn’t far off from the chicken breasts that we eat for dinner. Why is it that when we see a slaughtered chicken cut open, organs exposed, we think “gross!” But, when we see a cooked chicken breast we think, “yum!”

Something I noticed that comes up a couple times during this chapter is how unfair the regulations imposed on small scale farms are. On page 230, Joel tells Pollan, “… we’re at war with the bureaucrats, who would like nothing better than to put us out of business.” Joel also mentions that the government imposes such impossible regulations on small scale farms because of their goal to centralize production and processing of food. Pollan thinks that Joel is perhaps being a bit paranoid thinking that the government is out to get him. Being a bit of a conspiracy theorist myself, I have heard claims and watched documentaries about the USDA shutting down small farms or putting them out of business by imposing impossible regulations. Hearing Bev’s story about his attempt at opening a small meat-processing plant only confirmed my beliefs. Pollan explains, “… the USDA abruptly pulled its inspector, effectively shutting him down. They explained Bev wasn’t processing enough animals fast enough to justify the inspectors time – in other words, he wasn’t sufficiently industrial, which of course was precisely the point of the whole venture (pg. 246).” It seems to me that this minimum requirement to be considered worthy of having an inspector supports Joel’s claim that the bureaucrats are trying to put these smaller farms out of business. Pollan also mentions the globalization of food into a global marketplace. “It took capitalism less than a quarter century to turn even something as ephemeral as bagged salads of cut and washed organic mesclun, of all things, into a cheap international commodity retailed in a new organic supermarket (pg. 257).”

Pollan mentions that every time we buy food, we are voting for the type of food system we approve of. “We can still decide, every day, what we’re going to put in our bodies, what sort of food chain we want to participate in (pg. 257).” Although I do believe in this statement, I disagree with Pollan in thinking that our food system will be able to transition from the current global supermarket to a food system based on local food. Sure, I love the idea of supporting local farmers! Who wouldn’t? However, in today’s society we have gotten so used to being able to go to the grocery store and buy whatever we want regardless of distance or season. Something I have learned over the years is that asking someone to change how they eat is like asking them to change who they are. Maybe I have a pessimistic view, but if you can’t convince someone to stop eating sugar-filled processed foods because it is bad for their health, how are you supposed to convince someone to switch to eating only local, in season food because it’s better for the environment, animals and farmers? I hope one day we can live in a world that is as sustainable as Joel’s farm but I just don’t see that happening…

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side

Puff, Puff, Pollan

Pollan, M. 2001. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. Randon House Trade Paperbacks, New York, New York. P113-179.

“I think people need to be educated to the fact that marijuana is not a drug. Marijuana is a flower. God put it here…” -Willie Nelson

One cannot write a book about plants that satisfy human desires without talking about the desire of intoxication. In this chapter of, “The Botany of Desire,” Pollan discusses the co-evolution between the cannabis plant’s desire to thrive and animal’s desire to alter consciousness.

After recently writing the outline for my essay on my local dish, I found I was especially aware of how well Pollan was able to include his own personal experiences, the stories of others, science and his own opinions to contribute to his “big idea.” I think Pollan’s big idea for this chapter was the co-evolution between marijuana plants and animals and how this has influenced human history. For in the eyes of Darwin, what would be the evolutionary advantage for animals to alter consciousness? And even more difficult to understand, what would be the benefit for cannabis plants to produce THC?

Pollan starts off his chapter by stating it is not only humans that desire to alter consciousness. He mentions cattle, bighorn sheep, goats, pigeons, cats and jaguars have all been shown to purposely eat plants in the wild to alter consciousness (pg. 116, 117). He also makes us remember when we were children and would spin as fast as we could until we were dizzy to experience the mind altering effects (pg. 139). Pollan suggests that there is a universal desire for animals to alter consciousness so there must be a reason we see this across the animal kingdom.

Pollan also uses several of his own experiences to contribute to his big idea. One of my favourite stories has to be when Pollan tries to grow his own marijuana plants from seed. In a series of very unfortunate events, Pollan unintentionally invites the chief of police to his house where he has a close call with the law. This story is funny but Pollan doesn’t include it strictly for humour. He uses the story to lead to his next point which is how much marijuana has shaped our law. “If the chief of police had spotted my plants, things would have gotten uncomfortable for me, but it was not as if I would have gone to jail. In 1982 a legal slap on the wrist, and perhaps a certain amount of personal embarrassment (pg. 124).” However, if Pollan had been caught with marijuana plants in 1988 or later, a mandatory five-year jail sentence would be the new standard.

This is one of many stories Pollan tells of how marijuana and the law have also been co-evolving together. For example, with these stricter penalties for growing marijuana, growth moved indoors. This opened a whole new world for ways to artificially encourage the marijuana plants to be more potent, grow bigger and mature faster. With such strict penalties for growing and possessing marijuana, why do people still bother growing and smoking it? At the end of this chapter Pollan attempts to answer this question.

The evolutionary advantage of cannabis plants having THC is still unknown. It could protect the plant from UV radiation, act as an antibiotic or maybe act as a defense for the plants, but all of these ideas don’t seem to be enough (pg. 156). As for the advantage for animals, “…scientists said that the THC in cannabis is only mimicking the actions of the brain’s own cannabinoids (pg. 157).” The function that this would serve would be the release of “feel good” neurotransmitters but also to forget and impair memory formation. So again, what is the evolutionary benefit of memory impairment?

“Some of our greatest happinesses arrive in such moments, during which we feel as though we’ve sprung free from the tyranny of time – clock time, of course, but also historical and psychological time, and sometimes mortality (pg. 164).” I believe what this means, and what Pollan also feels, is that we spend so much of our lives not living in the present moment. Don’t quote me on this, but I heard a statistic recently that a typical person spends 40% of their lives thinking of the past, future or daydreaming. Marijuana allows for us to simply be. When one is smoking cannabis they are not thinking about the parking ticket they got earlier that day or the big test they have next week but just enjoying the present moment. As for the evolutionary advantage of altering consciousness, I suppose there is no concrete answer. Perhaps it serves to help us forget useless memories, but maybe it has simply evolved because of it’s spiritual benefits. Intoxication in the story of cannabis is not as straight forward as the desire for sweetness of the apple and control of the potato, but it sure is an interesting one.

Anyone interested in this topic should check out this TED TALK called, “The War on Consciousness,” about the spiritual connection between marijuana and other mind altering drugs and consciousness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0c5nIvJH7w

Puff, Puff, Pollan

But first, coffee

Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seed. Basic Books, New York, New York. P143-160.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 5.56.38 PMhttp://geniusquotes.org/tag/best-coffee-quotes/

 

“I can’t even imagine being addicted to something,” I said to my friend, Pat, as we waited in my car to board the ferry to Victoria. We were having a serious conversation about drug addictions.

“Yes, it’s hard to imagine what it would feel like to wake up every morning and the first thing on your mind is getting high,” Pat commented back. The conversation changed directions and we boarded the ferry. After our long day of driving, we finally had landed in Victoria.

“I REALLY need a coffee right now, I’m stopping at the first Tim Hortons I see,” I told Pat.

“Me too. I haven’t had a cup since this morning.” There was a brief pause before Pat then said, “you know what I just realized?” I asked him to go on. “You know how we said we couldn’t relate to drug addicts? Well we are addicts. We’re addicted to coffee.”

So naturally I chose the chapter on coffee of Hanson’s, “Triumph of the Seeds,” to blog about this week. The chapter discusses the history of coffee, the science of caffeine and how coffee has shaped society. I like the examples he uses to emphasize the points in his writing, as well as his subtle comparisons between coffee and alcohol which suggest the historic transition from alcohol to coffee had a major impact on society.

For example, when discussing the evolution of caffeine, Hanson discusses recent research that shows caffeine present in flower nectar may serve the purpose to trigger reward pathways in honeybees (pg. 148). This would function to keep the bees coming back to pollinate the flowers because, in a sense, they are addicted to the caffeine. I found this to be an extremely fascinating adaption for the plant. Hanson could’ve stuck to just talking about the insecticide properties of caffeine, but adding this recent research is what interested me to continue reading.

I found his aside on, the “Breakfast of Champions,” to be very funny. I felt like this wasn’t necessary information but it added some comedy to his writing. The thought of, “steaming-hot ale poured over bread or mush, with eggs, butter, cheese or sugar added on special occasions,” sounds more like a dare than a typical breakfast (pg. 151). Thanks, but I think I’ll stick with my morning cup of coffee.

Another part I enjoy about this chapter is when Hanson contrasts the conversations ones has over coffee compared to the conversations one has over beer (pg. 153). “To philosophers, writers, and other intellectuals, coffeehouses quickly became indispensable hubs for articulating and sharing ideas (pg. 153).” Even today, business and formal meetings happen at Starbucks. Ideas are shared over alcohol too but they tend not to be “good ideas.”

I also like that he brought up the point that with, “The Internet, texting, social media, and other digital innovations have created longer workdays and an expectation of constant connectivity, a perfect environment for the stimulating effects of coffee (pg. 155)”. It is very true that in today’s society there is a constant need to always be doing something and to be connected with people. This can be very energetically draining and it seems that for most people, coffee is the only way to make it through the day. As my friend Pat would say, “coffee doesn’t give me energy, it makes me not too tired to be myself.” Coffee has been integrated into our society so well we forget what it truly is. It is a secondary metabolite produced by plants that has evolved as a natural insecticide and addictive substance to make sure honeybees come back to pollinate. From a human perspective however, it is a delicious beverage that can be enjoyed with business partners, friends, family or alone. Whether or not we like to admit it, it is also something we simply cannot live without (seriously though, take a second and imagine a world without caffeine…).

But first, coffee

How do you like them apples?

Pollan, M. 2001. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. Randon House Trade Paperbacks, New York, New York. P3-58, 183-238.

This week’s reading was “Chapter 1 Desire: Sweetness/ Plant: The Apple” and “Chapter 4 Desire: Control/ Plant: The Potato” from Pollan’s, “The Botany of Desire.” As mentioned on a previous blog post, Pollan’s “The Botany of Desire” discusses four desires that plants prey on humans for. The desires covered this week were sweetness and control.

As usual, Pollan is able to give character to the plants in question. He provides in both chapters a history of the apple and potato and how they have influenced humans over the years. Again, we see the apple and potato showing up in important colonization events, federal policy making and modern day advances. He reminds us that the relationship between plants and people is mutual. On page 5 he says, “We give ourselves altogether too much credit in our dealings with other species… It takes two to perform that particular dance, after all, and plenty of plants and animals have elected to sit out.” What Pollan means here is that all plants that have been domesticated by humans were chosen by humans but the plants also had to “choose” to be domesticated by people.

What I found interesting about Chapter 1, was how much religion and government were involved in altering the history of the apple. Pollan states that as John Chapman’s (a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed) apple orchards spread across America, religious groups got involved because in that day and time, apples were used primarily for making cider. On page 22 Pollan mentions the popular slogan, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” (a saying I’ll admit I think to myself every time I eat an apple) is the product of a marketing strategy to change the reputation of apples as an alcoholic beverage to apples as a nutritious food. I also find it funny how the image of Johnny Appleseed has changed so much. Bill describes Chapman’s best characteristics on as, “his philanthropy, his selflessness, his Christian faith… was also America’s first environmentalist” (p.24). However, the image Pollan describes of Chapman is of a crazy man with a child bride. Certainly not the role model Bill had described.

I enjoyed reading Chapter 4 much more than Chapter 1. This was the chapter on control. I liked this chapter because Pollan raised a lot of questions on the ethics of genetically modified (GM) crops. Pollan has argued in all of his books that the relationship between plants and people is mutual and that the plants are as much in control as humans are. However, in the case of GM seeds, it appears Pollan may be wrong. It is true that through artificial selection humans have been modifying the characteristics of crops throughout history but have humans taken it too far? “Now the once irreducible wilderness of these plants has been… reduced” (p.196). By directly altering the genome of these plants we are taking away their potential to evolve. It seems to me that these scientists feel as if they can do a better job than nature so they have removed Her from the picture.

Although it now seems like humans have finally found a way to take complete control over plants, I would argue that this isn’t the case. Human’s will never be able to completely control nature. For example, GM crops that produce insecticide will eventually produce insecticide resistant bugs which will render these GM crops worthless. Monsanto claims that once this occurs a new and improved pesticide will solve the problem but how many times will this have to happen until the new pesticide doesn’t work? The lack of research on GM crops and mis-placed trust we put into Monsanto is very concerning for me. The human desire to control nature might just be our greatest weakness as humans. As the famous Dr. Ian Malcolm would say, “life finds a way.”

How do you like them apples?

Humans of the Corn

Pollan, M.. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. The Penguin Group, New York, New York. P15-119.

Pollan’s, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” tackles another side of food production not seen in, “The Botany of Desire.” This book starts off with discussing the history of corn showing the reader the beginnings of corn consumption in Mexico by the Maya, to modern day use of corn. He also discusses in part I of his book, “Industrial Corn,” the effects corn has had on the meat industry as well as on human health. “The Botany of Desire,” argues that the plants that thrive in a human dominant world are the ones that have evolved fast enough to keep up with us, not because we chose them. After reading part I of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” it is hard to disagree with Pollan in how much corn has shaped our history, government policies and health.

Pollan begins his discussion on corn by introducing George Naylor into his book, a corn farmer. By doing so, Pollan gives humanity and identity to corn farmers which makes it easier to relate to. On page 24, Pollan paints a picture of what the Naylor farm used to look like when his grandfather first started the family business. “There would be a fair amount of corn then too, but also fruits and other vegetables, as well as oats, hay and alfalfa to feed the pigs, cattle, chickens, and horses – horses being the tractors of that time.” In only two generations, this beautiful, diverse farm was converted to a farm that only produces corn and soy, the fate of many farms across America. This transition from highly diverse farms to land producing only one or two crops reminded me of a paper I read last week in Conservation Biology. The paper, “Decline of bumble bees (Bombus) in North America Midwest,” by Grixti et al. (2008) states that one of the reasons bees have been declining in number is because of this loss of diversity in farms (among an endless list of other reasons). A result of the declining bee population is a decrease in yield of crops. This is a reminder of the connectedness of nature and that every action has a reaction.

After discussing the importance of metaphors and first and last sentences in Plants and People class the other week, I found I was unknowingly looking for these in Pollan’s writing. My search did not last long as the first sentences I read on page 15 said, “Air-conditioned, odorless, illuminated by buzzing fluorescent tubes, the American Supermarket doesn’t present itself as having very much to do with Nature. And yet what is this place if not a landscape (man-made, it’s true) teeming with plants and animals?” Wow. What an attractive introduction. He is able to paint a picture of your typical supermarket and remind us what it truly is. A supermarket isn’t simply a place to get food to feed your family, it is filled with the products of nature meant to satisfy our hunger. Another last sentence I found had a high impact was on page 26 when he says, “Corn is the protocapitalist plant.” This is such a bold sentence because, in my opinion, Pollan is stating that the corn industry was the stepping stone for capitalism. The final last sentence I would like to bring up is found on page 119 after Pollan’s family visit to McDonald’s. “And so it goes, bite after bite, until you feel not satisfied exactly, but simply, regrettably, full.” This McDonald’s meal consisted of about half corn products and 4,510 calories. A meal designed to satisfy the Homo Sapiens desire for energy rich foods and the food industry’s desire to provide food that is cheap to make and tasty yet unsatisfying so we always have room for more corn rich food.

Pollan’s, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” is another perspective shifting piece of work. The perfect mix between facts and storytelling makes Pollan’s books an easy yet educational read. Corn has changed our farmers. It has also become a decision maker in federal policy making to ensure it continues to be produced at the volumes it currently is. And last, but not least, it has changed the way we eat. Corn has infiltrated our history, government and bodies which is why I would argue that corn is one of the most successful organisms on the planet. In the words of Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

References:

Grixti, J.C., L.T. Wong, S.A. Cameron, C. Favret. 2008. Decline of bumble bees (Bombus) in North American Midwest. Biological Conservation 142: 75-84.

Humans of the Corn

The Transition to Farming

Diamond, J. 1999. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, New York. P85-113, 131-156.

I recall picking up this book from the bookstore and reading the title, “Guns, Germs and Steel,” and thought what could this possibly have to do with plants? However, as Diamond argues throughout his book, it has everything to do with plants.

After the last reading from Diamond’s book I was disappointed to see that this week’s reading was another three chapters from “Guns, Germs, and Steel” (sigh). However, as I started to get into the book, I found it wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating it to be. Diamond’s scientific writing style suits this book because unlike Pollan’s storytelling book, Diamond’s writing seems to be more of a theory to a question he has. A very scientific approach indeed. Chapters 4-8 make up the part of the book, “The Rise and Spread of Food Production.” In these chapters he seeks to find explanations as to why food production succeeded where it did and when it did. Although, as he soon discovers, there are many factors to take into consideration and the explanation is much more complex than the idea that food production started in the areas with the most fertile vegetation.

The first question Diamond address in Chapter 4 is why did people start switching from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a plant and animal domestication lifestyle? Diamond argues that hunter-gatherer societies spent most of their time in search of food and travelling to new areas. This prevented large societies from forming as well as from parents giving birth to many children. However, with the domestication of plants and animals, societies were able to store food and remain in one place. This allowed for more children to be born, increasing population size. An increase in population and availability of food also allowed for some members of the society to specialize into other professions. This in turn led to well organized societies with new technology, the opportunity for diseases to spread and political organization. The title of this book finally made sense to me now! As Diamond points out, plant and animal domestication set off a chain reaction which allowed for the development of guns, germs and steel.

It is hard to imagine living in a hunter-gatherer dominant society but Diamond argues that, “… we should not suppose that the decision to adopt farming was made in a vacuum, as if the people had previously had no means to feed themselves. Instead, we must consider food production and hunting-gathering as alternative strategies competing with each other.” What he further explains is that it was no smooth transition from hunter-gathering societies to farming societies. Many farmers had to work much harder than their hunter-gatherer counterparts. So why did farming end up being the favoured lifestyle? He argues that there are four major factors to take into consideration when asking this question. These factors are the decline in availability of wild foods, the increased availability of domesticable wild plants, development of technology making farming more efficient and the rise in human population associated with farming (p.110, 111). Diamond states that this transition has been occurring over the past 10,000 years (p. 109); however, I would argue that it is still occurring.

Looking at his factors that have led to increased food production, I would say that all four factors are only escalating in importance. For example, with the extensive urbanization in today’s societies, there is very little availability of wild foods. In addition, our access to domesticable plants is easier than it’s ever been. A ten minute walk to the grocery store presents opportunities to obtain food from anywhere in the world. In addition, with new technology still developing to make food production even more efficient, we have the capacity to support an enormous human population size. Some people would even argue that without pesticides and GMO foods, we would not have enough food to support our growing population size. With only a small number of farms providing most of the food for the world, I would say that we live in one giant society built on extreme farming practices.

I think most people would say that humans have been so successful because of our intelligence. However, as Diamond argues, it was the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to farming societies that have led to the success of humankind, guns, germs and steel.

The Transition to Farming