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Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy Of Industrial Agriculture Paperback – May 1, 2002
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From Scientific American
"We ... find ourselves in the midst of a historic battle over two very different visions of the future of food in the 21st century. A grassroots public movement for organic, ecological, and humane food is now challenging the decades-long hegemony of the corporate, industrial model." With 58 essays and more than 250 photographs, Kimbrell, director of the Center for Food Safety, aims to provide "a timely treasure trove of ammunition" for that movement. The ammunition includes a litany of environmental harms caused by industrial agriculture and a strategy for bringing about "the end of agribusiness."
Editors of Scientific American
How and why has agriculture, an endeavor that for millennia involved intimate knowledge of and profound respect for nature and place, become so industrialized that it's wreaking havoc all around the world? And what can people do about it? Editor Kimbrell, author of The Human Body Shop (1993), has assembled an eloquent group of contributors to answer these urgent questions in a book distinctive for its wealth of clarifying information and illuminating interpretations as well as for its generous design and striking use of photographs. Seminal thinkers such as Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and Ron Kroese make the distinction between agrarian and industrial agriculture, assess the treacherous divide between them, and chronicle the catastrophic unintended consequences of monoculture farming, genetically engineered seeds, and the massive use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers. Kimbrell and company not only testify to the myriad ill effects of agriculture based solely on profit rather than the well-being of people and the planet, they also discuss alternative farming practices and the prospect for a new agrarianism and a brighter future. Donna Seaman
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
You might say the contents of the book are also writ a bit too large. I don't mean that literally. For such big pages, the typeface used for the main text is actually quite small and might prove to be challenging for the far-sighted. What I mean by "writ large" is that some of these essays tend to be overwrought in their insistence on impending and actual widespread disaster. That's certainly true of most of the early essays presented here. They are hyperbolic in their predictions of dire consequence. They might remind readers of Paul Ehrlich's premature insistence on immanent Armageddon in "The Population Bomb."
These early essays are heavy with warnings about "eco-crimes and social devastation," "moral and environmental crisis," "cancer epidemic," "mass extinctions," "a future of increased environmental devastation, mass starvation, social disruption, and corporate control," and "tragic, morbid intumescences."
However, as these early essays of philosophical alarm give way to essays about how alternative organic, integrated, smaller-scale approaches to agriculture can be applied to the cultivation of specific crops - the material becomes more "grounded" (forgive the pun) - and therefore more convincing. The result is a book that tended to arc me from complacence - to activism - back to a certain level of complacence.
Reading the first panicky outcries tended to make me complacent with disbelief. Then as I read on though, I became increasingly persuaded of the need for quick reform. These subsequent essays demonstrated natural linkages that I hadn't thought about before. For example, some writers pointed out how our emphasis on uniform acreages and on high-yield has led to the use of vast amounts of pesticides and herbicides that in turn kill vital nitrogen-fixing microbes in the soil. This leads to the need for yet more artificial chemicals in the form of fertilizers. All these frequently toxic substances in turn kill birds, beneficial insects, and the kinds of predators that previously kept an integrated balance of forces at work on the more old-fashioned family farm. Some essays enlightened me about how genetically engineered plants cannot be the answer either. Their specificity doesn't invite the kind of variety necessary to maintain a diverse environment.
I closed the book resolving to be a wiser consumer by doing things like patronizing more farmer's markets. I also resolved to myself become a wiser small-scale producer with whatever modern version of a "Liberty Garden" I could muster in my own back yard.
But then, I went out to my local grocery store and found myself surrounded by such abundance and variety that I again began to doubt the urgency or meaningfulness of the warnings I'd just read. I also had time to consider a few objections to embracing the measures these essayists advocate. Most of their reforms would involve a shift to more labor-intensive practices. But it's unlikely that enough low-wage or volunteer labor can be found in the long run to always make family farms viable. Whenever young people are interviewed about their career ambitions, the desire to pick organic radishes under the hot sun is notably absent from their plans for themselves.
I also had time to take slight exception to the completely anti-corporate bias of this book. Much of our over-use of chemicals and of huge, high-power machinery is attributed to corporate greed and corporate zeal in selling ever more stuff to blameless farmers. But this doesn't take into account the fact that farmers, at least in developed countries, have often actively sought to buy the latest labor-saving, energy-consuming methods of cultivation. This book hardly mentions what could be the countervailing example of the Amish. Many Amish farmers are the objects of envy because they have been prospering using their horse-and-buggy basics, while surrounding farmers have been going deeper and deeper into debt buying all the biggest, newest, mechanical combines available. The Amish example proves that expensive, high in-put methods of cultivation haven't been an absolutely inevitable, mandatory corporate imposition.
Then, outside a single essay by one-time urban farmer Michael Ableman, these writings don't sufficiently credit the kind of green diversity being fostered in cities. I also had time to consider some of the contradictions between writers. One advocates the use of perennial varieties of crops in order to avoid the erosion and other ill effects of plowing. But another essayist says that the no-till approach actually can harm bird populations.
So after digesting these warnings for a while, I found myself backsliding from an earnest wish to put this book's wisdom into practice. Nevertheless, I would hardly say I ended up completely back where I'd started. This book brought me to a new level of awareness about the depth of the interconnectedness of things. It gave me lots of "food for thought."
Most of its essays are earnest, intelligent calls to realize how our factory approach to agriculture has made the world, if not absolutely riddled with disaster, at least a bleaker, less considerate and considered place. So I do recommend "Fatal Harvest." It is bound to expand your horizons. Well actually, it is likely to contract your horizons - from the current vast acreages of monoculture with their row-on-row regiments of identical plants reaching to the vanishing point - to focus on the advantages of smaller-scale, individualized plots.
Fatal Harvest features impressive design, stunning photography and intriguing side-by-side comparisons of industrial versus agrarian based agriculture systems. Thoughtful essays by leading agricultural thinkers complement the commanding images. If you need one book to show you how our current food system is not only unsustainable but also hazardous to you, your family, the environment and wildlife, this is it. It should be required reading in agriculture schools, Cooperative Extension agencies, the halls of Congress and anywhere else that the seeds of future farming policy are sown, for if we don't work to change this system, we will face many more farm crises in the future.
For years we have been told that American farmers must grow bigger, use more chemicals and genetically engineered organisms to `feed the world.' The current rate of soil loss, chemical damage and crop failures expose how this corporate model of farming will soon exhaust the land and water supply, poisoning the very earth that is supposed to sustain us. We will no longer be able to feed the world, and perhaps ourselves, unless farming policies and practices change. This book not only offers stark evidence of agriculture's dirty little secrets, but real world solutions to the problems industrial agriculture create.
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What is revealed in these pages is a secret that must be exposed.Read more