A presentation and exploration the essential shortcomings of the world man has made for himself through a blind pursuit of wealth powered my the engines of technological progress and efficiency. Describing our disconnection from an awareness and appreciation of a living world and presenting steps that man can undertake to regain what we have lost and reverse the course which is killing both ourselves and our living world. Perhaps the most important book since Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring".
I highly recommend this book; it's a great resource to obtain a base knowledge of many areas of our country's agricultural sicknesses, and more besides. A professor recommended it to me and I found it useful in writing an article that has now been submitted to my university's policy journal. It's a big, heavy book, so save some space on the bookshelf for it. But it's a gem of knowledge you're unlikely to regret finding.
First be warned - this collection of essays on the trouble with modern agribusiness is not a bedside book. It's a large, heavy tome that you have to be up and about in order to read. It almost requires a dictionary stand to support it. There might be some point to this size. Among the many pictures included are photos of the vast sweeps of monoculture crops that the book's authors are inveighing against. Seeing huge pictures of these huge tracts does help impress the sterile monotony of such an agricultural approach upon the reader. But on the other hand, it's odd that a book aimed mostly at environmental protection and conservation should allow so much paper to be consumed on its behalf.
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.
One person found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
This is a large book, the sort that you leave on the coffee table. "Fatal Harvest" shows pictures of industrial agriculture side-by-side with sustainable agriculture. The comparison can be downright shocking: on the one hand, entire fields covered in plastic tents to keep in the neurotoxic pesticide (accompanied by plenty of ominous DO NOT ENTER signs). On the other hand, a diverse beautiful field of healthy crops. Sometimes the comparison isn't that stark, depending on the crop. But either way, these pictures aren't just selective photography. Having visited fields like this personally, I can vouch that the pictures represent reality. In many ways industrial agriculture is a terrible thing, and people need to see it with their own eyes.
When I received this book recently as a gift I was completely overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the considerateness of the donor. Overwhelmed by the high quality of the production. Overwhelmed by the large number of "big names" who had contributed. Overwhelmed by the quality and meaningfulness of the photographs. Overwhelmed by the quality of the message that it gets across. Overwhelmed by the ammunition it gives me in my own personal drive for safer, more reliable food. Overwhelmed by how helpful it will be to the waverers who have not yet plucked up the courage to break their links with the chemical establishment. Let me start with the photos which are not only high quality but extremely helpful because side by side we are given a picture of crops grown under two systems which represent the two poles of producing our food. The text on the left page goes like this: "Industrial Eye: see what you are looking at: MELONS: More than half the melons sold in the U.S. are grown in California where industrial melon farms stretch for miles and miles ... Two of the most heavily used toxins in industrial melon production are ... Life is also difficult for the melon pickers ..." On the right page we have: "Agrarian Eye: See what you are looking at: MELONS: These melons are one crop among dozens at the Live Earth's 23-acre farm near Santa Cruz, CA. The melons are part of a diverse system of annual and perennial fruit and vegetable crops that rely on soil health to support the plant's natural ability to deter pests. But it's not done so easily - there are many challenges ... Coastal fog also poses potential fungal problems for melons, which Broz addresses by using fungal-resistant varieties of melons ... The melons are sold at local farmers' markets and through the farm's community supported agriculture (CSA) program, where families receive a weekly box of seasonal fruits and vegetables throughout the growing season." Next the text. "Part One: Farming as if Nature Mattered: Breaking the Industrial Paradigm" is composed of seven articles such as "Global Monoculture: The Worldwide Destruction of Diversity". Then "Part Two: Corporate Lies: Busting the Myths of Industrial Agriculture" is composed of articles each addressing one of the seven myths such as "Myth Two: Industrial Food is Safe, Healthy and Nutritious". The book continues through to "Part Seven: Organic and Beyond: Revisioning Agriculture for the 21st Century" with nine more articles such as "The Ethics of Eating: Why Environmentalism Starts at the Breakfast Table." In these 370 pages we have all the information we need to convince those sitting on the fence that we must reduce our dependence on industrial agriculture. When confronted with this volume it is difficult to imagine how all those involved in the industrial agricultural chain will be able to put up an effective argument. On the contrary, it should be convincing to the thinking service organization that this is where their future profits lie and they should climb on the band wagon helping rather than hindering. For the farmer who is wavering - and probably for good reasons as his livelihood is affected - he will find in this volume the encouragement he needs; others have forged the trail and he can follow in the knowledge that the forerunners have solved the major problems. Bravo to all those concerned with the preparation of this volume. You have done mankind a great service. It is a long tunnel down which we are travelling, but I for one can now see the light in the distance. Because of your initiative the rest of us will travel our own path with more confidence and with greater speed. At last we can hope for some sanity in our food production. If we can get this volume into the hands of enough people - people who care - then we really can change the world. If Silent Spring was the book that woke the world to the evils of indiscriminate chemical use, then this volume will go down as the one that banged home the last nail in the coffin of industrial agriculture.
25 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
A coffee table book about the dangerous practices of industrial agriculture might not be the most appetizing addition to your coffee break, especially if you are dining on food composed of conventionally grown ingredients. But this book does such a compelling job of cataloging the failures and hazards of traditional American agriculture - as well as the solutions - that you won't be able to put it down, despite the hard-to-swallow truths about our unsustainable food system. 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.
46 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
Like other reviewers, I was unable to put this book down once I opened it. Although I understood in sort of a theoretical way that corporate agriculture was not a good thing, the pictures in this book connected all the dots for me. There is something about the photography that is simply transfixing - which seems odd given that the photos are of agriculture - but true nevertheless.
After reading this book I could not bring myself to buy any more non-organic produce, so be forewarned - this is not a "coffee table book" in any ordinary sense. It should come with a warning label.
9 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?