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Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization Paperback – January 13, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
In this controversial and prodigiously researched condemnation of our current and past systems of growing grain, Manning (Food's Frontier: The Next Green Revolution) argues that the major forces that have shaped the world-disease, imperialism, colonialism, slavery, trade, wealth-are all a part of the culture of agriculture. He traces the beginnings of agriculture to the Middle East, where plants were abundant and easily domesticated in coastal areas; hunter-gathers, who became fishermen, formed settlements near river mouths. Manning skillfully details the historical spread of agriculture through the conquest of indigenous peoples and describes how this expansion led to overpopulation, famine and disease in Europe, Asia and Africa. Sugar agriculture was supported by slaves and farming by laborers who grew produce for the rich while the workers ate a high carbohydrate diet (potatoes, rice, sugar, bread) and ingested no protein. In the U.S., modern agriculture has evolved into an industrial system where agribusiness is subsidized to grow commodities like wheat, corn and rice, not to feed people but to store and trade. According to Manning, agricultural research focuses on just these few crops and is profit driven. Although he succeeds in drawing attention to critical problems caused by agriculture, such as water pollution and malnutrition, he is pessimistic about reform coming from political systems. He romantically advocates hunting animals for food and hopes that such citizen movements like urban green markets and organic farms can lead to better nutrition.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A growing body of somewhat controversial scholarship ties the beginnings of war to the "culture of scarcity" that emerged with the invention, sometime in the Neolithic era and probably in the eastern Mediterranean, of agriculture. Before that, these theorists contend, humans lived as hunter-gatherers who were, far from the common vision of the half-starved caveman, quite comfortable and well-fed, because their diet was both varied and seasonal. The investment of time and energy to grow a few crops led, paradoxically, to both great excess and horrific want; when the crops failed, famine followed among people whose population had swelled beyond the small tribes of the earlier peoples. These theories are regularly bruited about at academic meetings, but rarely are they the subject of popular writing (Daniel Quinn's 1992 novel Ishmael constitutes an exception). Manning brings theory to life with well-crafted essays that cover such diverse subjects as the Irish potato famine and the controversy over bioengineered plants. Readable and well-researched, this book unsettles as it informs. Patricia Monaghan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Agriculture marks the end of our hunter gatherer days and the beginnings of a most misnamed term "civilization". Staying put caused surplus, which brought about the need for armies to protect that surplus…etc
Interestingly it took over 2000 years for us to notice that wherever "civilization" flourished with certain farming practices, soon after came drought, plagues etc, causing the land to be arid, or die in other ways. The six inches of soil we rely on for all things carries an amazing depth and breath of organisms who are the most valuable and helpful to all species, just Class Arthropoda alone, is over 100 million to one of us yet their whole existence we cannot do without for a day as they are detritivores... I won't go on read the book.
There is however a deeper metaphysic in the book that should put it on everyone's reading list, and that is what really makes us human. "Against the Grain," gives us an insight into that history, not available elsewhere.
I was surprised to see how the entire development of civilization took its peculiar course because of having grains as the main foodstuff. Like any kind of security, it creates attachment and halts the development of the most human qualities: compassion, communion, joy, creativity, and equality. The current disastrous growth of population is the product of this security. While the author does not speak anything about the history of wars, it looks like large-scale wars are also the result of agriculture. When I think of Elliott waves and other waves in economic development, I see they can be related to the expansion of land used for crops and advances in genetics, or lack of them and growth of population and fear. Even the balance between feminine and masculine was destroyed by growing crops and making women to give too many births.
However, today there is no land untouched by crops; nothing is left for people to maintain the old agricultural and patriarchal system and its values. This world was created by wheat and rice and corn, and... with too many people... lack of water and land... it can be destroyed by them. I wish that many people adopt the lifestyle of the author who (so poetically he describes it) hunts for his meat and eats vegetables but not grains.
Moreover, grains are clearly not healthy (e.g. see the book Wheat Belly). However, people in general are not that conscientious and fear change, and will be forced to change by "nature". This process will possibly be deep and painful. The curious thing I now know from this book is that pre-agriculture people who didn't grow grains had more leisure time and were more artistic, and supportive of each other. I live in a country with nomadic heritage where crops were introduced only recently, and I see and feel the differences between cultures from the inside.
I am really, really grateful to Richard Manning for his profound ideas and research.
"The assumption is that nomads and hunter-gatherers, who usually traded with civilized folk, knew a good thing when they saw it and so simply adopted the farming technology. In other words, a bunch of guys who spent their time running around the woods, hunting and fishing and trading meat for sex, one day saw someone hoeing weeds and said to themselves, 'What a fine idea! Let's go do that instead.' Is it possible that the technology did not spread entirely by adoption, that hunter-gatherers were wiped out or displaced by an advancing agricultural imperialism? The record suggests that although some adoption did occur, by and large farming spread by genocide." p45
His description of the modern world is not any sunnier.
Against the Grain is much easier to read than Manning's Grassland which was thick with Pirsig-esque tangents. (I am very impressed with both works.)