For many years, scientists who studied biology, behavior, and ecology (under the name of various disciplines) looked at resources, including and especially food, as a major determinant of social structure in social animals, herd structure in herd animals, and so on. Then, there was a revolution and it quickly became apparent that sex, not food, underlies everything and is the ultimate explanation for the variation we see in nature. That pair of dimes lasted for a while, then the other penny dropped and thanks to key research done by a handful of people (including me, in relation to human evolution), it became apparent that there was a third significant factor, that ultimately trumped sex as an organizing force. Food.
I hate it when the author of a book about something historical (history = written records) or even contemporary requires a paleolithic or prehistoric context. If I had a dime for every first chapter I’ve seen where a perfectly expert expert drones ignorantly on about how their book is a follow on of something that started in Olduvai Gorge and side stepped the Neanderthals and all that, I’d have several dollars. Praise the gods that Julian Cribb, in his new book Food or War, only does that for a few paragraphs and does it well!
This book is important, impressive, and a must read.
Food has organized society, politics, war, settlement, colonialism, and the economy more than any single factor, and food has been revolutionized by those things as well. As a simple way to understand this, consider any particular traditional food ask yourself, “would this even be possible were it not for the ability to sail up wind in a ship?” The answer, once you get to it, will almost always be no. Plantains, grass-based cereal crops, maize, potatoes, cassava, a range of vegetables such as tomatoes and various gourds and squash, green leafy things, all of it, are now available to grow in each and every habitat they can be grown in, not just the habitats that happen to be in the geographical region they were domesticated in. And, importantly, this transition happened centuries ago, depending on where one looks. Much of it happened before missionaries or explorers accounts even have a chance to flesh out the details of native live, and certainly long before anthropologists or other professional observers arrived on the scene.
Food or War is the book you must read now to understand the complex historical dynamics behind what you are eating.
The book covers food up to the present, and all the major considerations related to it. Drought, loss of land, climate change, migration, foodies, permaculture, organic farming, and on and on are all addressed in this well written scholarly but for everyone volume. And Cribb makes a stab at projecting into the future, and suggesting what we may consider doing about our food related problems.
This is not a happy book. A book dedicated to Paul Ehrlich is not going to be a happy book. It is a black book with blood red writing and a skull and crossbones on the cover. The title puts an or between the words food and war. This is not the read you need to get you away from the awful discourse polluting our psyches at this moment in history. But it is the book you need to read in order to understand and contextualize many of our policy related problems in the here and now. Plus, it is simply very well written, very well researched, and you will learn things. Many things.
Here’s the TOC:
- Food and conflict
- War and hunger
- The strategic importance of food, land and water
- Is ‘agriculture’ sustainable?
- Hotspots for food conflict in the twenty-first century
- Food as an existential risk
- Food for peace
- Urban dreams and nightmares
- The future of food
- Conclusion: key recommendations of this book.
I strongly recommend this book. It is available for pr-order, coming out in September.