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Better Living Through Agriculture

Why should we plant, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?

Hazda Bushman

Questioning our lives isn’t just a personal exercise. We are all in the same boat. The question, then, isn’t just “why do I keep doing this?” but “why did we start doing this in the first place?”

Think back to junior high social studies…Before the Fertile Crescent, everything was dark. Only with agriculture did humans really become humans. We lifted ourselves out of the savage life of foraging: living in caves, searching for food from dawn until dusk, chasing beasts or being chased by them, always hungry and worried where we would find our next meal. We could now devote our abundant free time and energy to erecting great cities, creating art and literature, musing about gods. Agriculture is the defining characteristic of humans and all our achievements followed this one. By controlling and containing our food source, civilization began.

Did it really? The traditional paradigm of agriculture depicts it as superior to a more primitive lifestyle of hunter-gatherers. Domesticating crops is seen to be the more evolutionarily advanced form of food production. Today, agriculture supports nearly all humans and most of the arable land on earth is cultivated. However, recent studies have shown that hunter-gatherers were highly successful evolutionarily and healthier biologically, and, some argue, socially happier than early farming communities. What prompted us to abandon the lifestyle we had practiced for 90,000 years, especially if it was more advantageous than the one we replaced it with?

Promise Partner, “The Origins of Agriculture

One of the myths about agriculture is that without it, there would not have been enough food for everyone. The opposite is true. There’s not enough food for everyone because we have agriculture. Agriculture led to greater population and fewer resources, not the other way around.

Agriculture doesn’t cure famine, it promotes famine – it creates the conditions in which famines occur. Agriculture makes it possible for more people to live in an area than that area can support, and that’s exactly where famines occur. For example, agriculture made it possible for many populations of Africa to outstrip their homelands’ resources, and that’s why these populations are now starving.

Daniel Quinn, The Story of B

It is quite possible that in the Fertile Crescent, pre-agricultural settlement, followed by sudden scarcity brought on by climate change, precipitated a need for agriculture. But this doesn’t change the fact that agriculture compounded this vulnerability.

To sum things up:

The ethnographic evidence indicates that people who do not farm do about everything that farmers do, but they do not work as hard… There is evidence that the diet of gathering peoples was better than that of cultivators, that starvation was rare, that their health status was generally superior, that there was a lower incidence of chronic disease and not nearly so many cavities in their teeth.

The question must be raised: Why farm? Why give up the 20-hour work week and the fun of hunting in order to toil in the sun? Why work harder for food less nutritious and a supply more capricious? Why invite famine, plague, pestilence, and crowded living conditions? Why abandon the Golden Age and take up the burden?

If agriculture provides neither better diet, nor greater dietary reliability, nor greater ease, but conversely appears to provide a poorer diet, less reliably, with greater labor costs, why does anyone become a farmer?

Jack Harlan, Crops and Man

You are a farmer. Or more precisely, farmed.

Just Say Slow

“Fast food” isn’t just hamburgers and TV dinners. It includes nearly all cultivated food. That’s because the problem with fast food starts with agriculture. The word agriculture means “field farming.” Field farming consists mainly of annual crops, particularly grains. Perennial crops like fruit trees can take years to produce. The American groundnut was rejected in Europe largely because it takes two years to be ready to harvest. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

When it comes to the Stop-n-Go, we “just can’t help it” because at both ends of the industry, from fast food to fast farming, everybody’s hustling. The System is a vast network of pushers and users because our culture, even organic agriculture, is one big drug addiction. An addiction to what? To instant gratification. We want it NOW. In our McBKFC culture, convenience is king. No work; no wait. But wait, there’s more.

Cheaper Than Heroin

The fact that overall health declined when cereals were incorporated into the diet suggests that their rapid, almost total replacement of other foods was due more to chemical reward than to nutritional reasons.

Wadley and Martin, “The Origins of Agriculture

Agriculture was not adopted because it was easier. It may not even have been adopted out of necessity. “Population pressure seems to have played no direct role in early stages of domestication.” Agriculture was adopted gradually, “one might even say reluctantly.” It’s quite possible that agriculture only took hold because agriculture makes drugs.

Chef Boy Rx?

Chef Boy Rx?

Something doesn’t have to be a white powder to be a drug. The mainstay of agriculture is the carbohydrate: wheat, rice, corn, potatoes. Your body converts these saccharides into sugar. And sugar is more addictive than cocaine.

Sugar is just the icing on the cake. Carbs also affect the brain like Prozac and similar antidepressants. Nobody does it like Sara Tonin.

Thirdly, grain, particularly wheat, breaks down into opioids as potent as morphine. We’re designed to crave our mother’s milk, and wheat mimics the active ingredient. Cheers! Raised on toast, the pub is not the only bar we go to for comfort.

From time immemorial, we’ve been helping ourselves to happiness. Consider our leading comfort foods: grilled cheese, lasagna, and macaroni & cheese. Could this be much of the reason grains are our top agricultural products? Not everyone is convinced. The theory is not entirely proven. But one green machine that flat out fires up our receptor sites is the opium poppy, and it was one of the first domesticated plants. Whether it was first used for food, pleasure, or medicine, no one can say, but the Sumerians called it the “joy plant.” It has sold like hotcakes ever since.

Opiate of the Masses

Civilization is a jealous god and works everywhere to consolidate its own power. Civilization developed human supremacy, monotheisms, the patriarchy, abstract moral philosophies, and racism (as just a few examples) to prop it up in the face of its insecurities. These manipulations have held sway for so long that very few among the civilized ever question them.

Will Falk, “The Ecopsychological Imperative to Dismantle Civilization

Another major outcome of agriculture was social inequity. Higher population density led to more complex social organizations, empires, armies— basically, textbook World History. And who’s at the bottom?

Who let this all happen? No one questions their world so long as they’re sedated. And what is it that puts people to sleep?

Civilization arose because reliable, on-demand availability of dietary opioids to individuals changed their behavior, reducing aggression, and allowed them to become tolerant of sedentary life in crowded groups, to perform regular work, and to be more easily subjugated by rulers…

Wadley and Martin, “The Origins of Agriculture

Wheat: breakfast of champions? More like loafing around! You’re more doubtful than doughty when you’re full of dough. It’s no wonder the great American pastime is “dinner and a movie.” The best thing since sliced bread would have to be television. Most of what we consume is not really food; it’s entertainment.

A Piece of Cake

The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

Another major reason grains are our main staple is that they are relatively easy to stockpile. And when you control the food supply, you control the people. In the late 18th century, French peasants were spending half their income on bread. When prices rose and the royal stores were withheld from the public, this led to The Flour War that precipitated the French Revolution. Let them eat cake! Although the queen almost certainly didn’t say that, it’s tough to quit while you’re ahead.

By the time the French had had it up to there, the royal scam had been going on for millennia. Take Passover, for instance. I grew up celebrating it. For eight days, Jews eschew bread and eat matzah (plain crackers) instead. Ostensibly about freedom, the holiday commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. Originally, it grew out of two earlier festivals, one centered around the first domesticated food animals (sheep and goats), the other, the first domesticated grains (barley and wheat). But even the historical interpretation of Passover has a backstory, and it reveals the true power of agriculture.

On Passover, you’re supposed to ask a lot of questions. But nobody asks why the Hebrews were enslaved in the first place. The answer is right in the Bible. Joseph (of the technicolor dreamcoat) is said to have dreamt of a coming famine. He obviously did — figuratively speaking…

The White House, c.1918You don’t need a crystal ball to predict a lunar eclipse or to know that, with agriculture, famine is a reliable occurrence. Joseph enabled the pharaoh to buy up all the real estate and enslave the entire country simply by storing seven years’ worth of grain.

Hunter-gatherers would have been fine. That’s why outlawing foraging on public land is an international human rights violation. But even back then, we were getting our food from the store: from what was stored by the state. This was one of history’s first great achievements in social control. Not much has changed since.

Today, the closest thing to the Garden of Eden that civilization has come up with, our modern monetized Golden Age, is the all you can eat buffet. They don’t call it Golden Corral for nothing.

Junkie Food

Any anthropologist can tell you this bone was from a hunter-gatherer, a pre-grain eating person, and this bone, by contrast, from a grain-eating person, because the latter has holes in it and looks like it has arthritis and it not as thick and strong. You can see physical degeneration almost every place where people have switched from indigenous diets to primarily grain-based diets.

Tom Cowan, MD, “A Holistic Approach to Cancer

drug dealer, MC

The power of agriculture is that it supports a larger population, not a healthier one. Carbohydrates, the keystone of cultivation, are, like all drugs, a cheap high, one that wreaks havoc on our health. Obesity and its related diseases follow from fattening ourselves up on grain or making a staple out of nearly any other starchy carbohydrate. The opioids in grain, particularly wheat, can cause a wide range of other maladies. Not such a happy meal.

The problem is not new. Ancient Egyptians had nearly all the same diseases we have today. Even Otzi, the 5,300-year-old “Iceman” found buried in the Italian Alps, had heart disease. The Red Lady, who died 14,000 years before him and ate a variety of foods, did not. Simply put: more grain, more pain. Agriculture is bad to the bone.

The Wages of Cin

“Prevention of cancer” can refer to either the inhibition of carcinogenesis per se or, once cells make the transition to malignancy, the sufficient delay of tumor growth so that it remains undetected and asymptomatic during a subject’s lifespan. There is evidence that even modest carbohydrate restriction may influence both of these mechanisms positively through various pathways…

Paleolithic-type diets, that by definition exclude grain products, have been shown to improve glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors more effectively than typically recommended low-fat diets rich in whole grains. These diets are not necessarily very low carbohydrate diets, but focus on replacing high glycemic index modern foods with fruits and vegetables, in this way reducing the total glycemic load.

This brings us back to our initial perception of cancer as a disease of civilization that has been rare among hunter-gatherer societies until they adopted the Western lifestyle. Although there are certainly many factors contributing to this phenomenon, the evidence presented in this review suggests that reduction of the high carbohydrate intake that accounts for typically over fifty percent of energy in the Western diet may play its own important role in cancer prevention and outcome.

Klement and Kämmerer, “Is there a role for carbohydrate restriction in the treatment and prevention of cancer?

Everybody knows sugar causes cavities. But carbs aren’t just cariogenic; they’re carcinogenic. Remember that your body breaks down carbohydrates into sugar. Cancer needs sugar to survive. Carbs cause cancer the same way that food causes human beings. If you don’t feed someone, they die. If you don’t feed cancer sugar, it dies too. The road to cancer is paved with good confections.

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