Head in the Clouds

18 Apr

Head in the Clouds

As the tour bus grunts against the steep pavement, puffing its black, acrid diesel smoke I am lifted as though in a slow, straining elevator. Bit by bit the landscape unfolds itself to reveal a beautiful patchwork quilt of delicious greens, yellows, and browns, all colors sprouting from the Earth. I could never have imagined farming to be such a beautiful sight, in such ordered disarray like the topography contours of a map sprung to life before my eyes. This is South America; this is Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and likely resembles many other places unseen by my own eyes. Thinking of these highlands transports me back to a time and place I have long-since thought about, one filled with curiosity and wonder, where time was not the enemy but, rather a distant guardian gently nudging me from one country to the next. Those were the days, with nothing but a backpack and the traveler’s bible with so much to see, yet so little funds.

There is one plant that grows in these decidedly picturesque Andean Highland farms that I hold near and dear, it is from the Chenopodioaceae family and goes by the name of C. quinoa or more commonly, Quinoa. Its name is the Spanish spelling of an early Quechua name: kinwa. This ancient power food was successfully tamed by the first peoples of South America 3000-4000 years ago in the terraced soils of quilted farmlands high in the mists of the Andean mountains. A crop so revered it was sown with golden implements and called ‘chisaya-mama’, Mother of all grains. This plant, with its deep penetrating roots and broad leaves was held sacred by Incans and Aztecs all the while fuelling their empire by way of flour, soup, cereal, bread and alcohol. Sacred eh? Rightly so, Quinoa is a pretty special plant in terms of nutrition, with its claim to vegetarian-fame as being the only plant source classified as a complete protein. In fact, Quinoa seeds contain 16 protein and all essential amino acids needed for optimal human health as well as a wide range of vitamins and minerals, making it an ideal choice for vegetarians like myself, or for anyone looking for a nutritious and delicious carbohydrate in their diet. Notice, Quinoa has thus far not been referred to as a grain (with the exception of the ancient Incans, but they couldn’t have known) – that’s because it’s technically not a grain. As we know, the typical cereal grains, such as corn, wheat, and rice are under the umbrella of the Poaceae family, Quinoa is really a pseudo-cereal masquerading as a grain. Call it what you will, it’s still a marvelously nourishing plant source.


I remember the moment seeing this sacred plant, during a journey to the salt flats of Bolivia. Travelling to the flat, parched landscape of geometrical wonder required crawling by way of an all-wheel drive vehicle through the rolling Mars-like hills of the Altiplano; where there seemed to be no living forms besides the odd bush, flock of flamingoes or dwindling herd of vicunas (wild alpacas). I am often chastised by my partner for not looking out the window during road trips; this may have been one of those moments, as he elbowed me and said “look, over there.” As he pointed I looked out the window and saw rows upon rows of unassuming green bushes, planted in the barren, rocky soil. I recall thinking “looks like that garden isn’t working out very well.” As he pointed, our guide followed his finger, he said one word: “Quinoa.” Right then and there I’m sure my eyes lit up like a Christmas tree, “Quinoa!” I exclaimed to him “of course, I totally forgot it grows here, we have to get some!” We continued our journey, further into the untamed landscape. If you have never been to Salar de Uyuni, the salt flats of Bolivia, I recommend that you go. It is an almost indescribable sight, the salt truly does form geometrical shapes, and it goes on forever, as far as the eye can see, like a flat, white ocean.

Upon returning to the city market in Bolivia I began my quest to obtain some of this super food. I had grand ideas of taking some with me to our next destination: Nicaragua for a six week beach stint to celebrate of our friends’ wedding. I thought that the dietician bride would be extremely impressed, since the starch choices in Nicaragua consist of white rice or white rice, with a side of plantain. With my barely passable Spanish and hand motions that could have doubled for charades, I asked a vendor “tiennes quinoa?”  She shook her head ‘no’ and waved me along. This was a recurring trend until I reached a vendor who gave the hand signal for ‘wait’ and ran off behind the scenes. He returned with four small bags of tiny whitish circular specks. I was surprised to see that they were branded bags with a blue crown on them, for some reason I had been expecting to find vendors with large barrels of bulk Quinoa, and why not, everything else was. The man explained to me that Bolivians did not eat Quinoa often since it was too expensive for them to buy. Well, you can likely imagine how I felt standing there with my arms encircling something that was out of reach for the very people who produced it.

Socio-economic disparities like this exist all over the world, but they certainly seem more pronounced in developing nations. The rising popularity of Quinoa around the globe has driven the price high, and has put more money into Quinoa farmer’s pockets, but even they can’t afford as much of it as they would like to. The average South American would have to pay $5 a bag of their heritage. Instead, these cultures are racing to catch up to North America’s nutritionally-void eating habits, chock full of empty calories and white carbohydrates. It’s really no wonder why nutritionists in Bolivia are stumped for ideas in regards to getting communities to eat better when their limited income pushes them to purchase noodles and rice. Some Bolivian elders say that if given the choice, children would still pick the novel Mr. Noodles over a cup of quinoa.

It seems that the demand for Quinoa will not cease, nor should it I suppose. It’s time to visit alternate production, perhaps growing it in regions other that South America. I know this may tip the economic scales against Quinoa farmers, but one has to question the security of C. quinoa’s future if it continues to grow in only a handful of places. I know I will be planting my Quinoa seeds as soon as the Earth warms its soils. This marvelous plant is closely related to the pigweed that thrives in my garden, so I feel fairly confident in its survival. Planting Quinoa near Kamloops? You may ask. After all, it can grow in North America at altitudes from sea level up to 3800m. If we want to continue to use this healthful plant, it’s time to start cultivating where it affects us, right in our own backyards.

























Bhargava A, Shukla S, Ohri D. 2006. Chenopodium quinoa– an indian perspective. Industrial Crops and Products. 23: 73-87.


Chepstow-Lusty AJ, Bennet KD, Fjeldsa J, Kendal A, Galiano W, Herrera A. 1998. Tracing 4,000 years of environmental history in the Cuzco area, Peru, from the pollen record. Mountain Research and Development. 18(2): 159-172.


Abugoch-James LE. 2009. Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.) Composition, chemistry, nutritional, and functional properties. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research. 58:1-31.


Romero and Shahriari. 2011. Quinoa’s global success creates a quandary at home. New York Times. A6.



As the Crow Flies

12 Apr


Smith, A and MacKinnon, JB The 100- Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. 2007. Random House, Canada.

“Most of them, I suspect, will still have seen a cow. Fewer and fewer, however, will have touched one, cared for one, watched one give birth, or seen a cow give milk or its life for our consumption.” (57)

I have waited patiently all semester to read this book. I love love love it! It really was a powerful book for me and I thought the authors presented their life-altering decisions and discoveries with class and flare. Chronicling their lives for 1 year to us, sharing their tears, fears, frustrations and triumphs, and no…not from a soapbox. I greatly admired the way that this story was presented, it takes talent to display the cruel surprising facts of our food system while not sounding sanctimonious for battling them head on. Kudos James and Alyssa for providing a sobering, yet humorous uncovering of what it means to eat locally, and what it takes to actually do it.

What a journey these two take us on; peddling us through rain-drenched suburbs of Vancouver to the roaring rapids of Northern BC. Uncovering to themselves and to us little hidden food gems in corners not thought possible. It seems that one you start looking for something, it’s really not so hard to find after all. That being said, I think that these two lived in an ideal climate to start their endeavour as Vancouver rarely is covered by snow and has a mild climate with all the rain you could ever want. Can you imagine if they spent their first months of their diet in Doreen? They might have decided to shoot a moose. I think the fact that their ‘summer cottage’ is a dilapidated old home in Northern BC speaks volumes about these two. Back to the basics must have been calling to them for quite sometime.

Even though James and Alyssa wrote about their trials and tribulations with great humor, one could certainly sense the frustration and hunger that they undoubtedly felt, as anyone would. This draws parallels between what emotional responses food can elicit in people. Think of how your spirits lift when you see a beautiful batch of baking come from the oven, or when you go home for Christmas dinner and smell the smells of home. Alternately think of those cookies that you burnt or how you feel when you are really hungry. Food and emotions are intertwined in our lives everyday. This theme runs throughout the book and you can really feel the emotions that come and go with the different seasons of food.

Cooperation was paramount in achieving a year of local eating for these two. I think of what that might mean for me in my life. This book certainly is inspiring and makes me want to step up to the challenge of living locally, but…..always a but, I must think about the other person in my life that eats what and when I eat. He is not game for restrictive eating, and only abided to a month-long alkaline diet providing that I did all of the gruntwork…which is fine, for a while. So when I said “don’t you feel amazing?!” he replied “yes, but it’s so much work, and I’m always eating”. This backs my point that it seems far easier when both participants are willing to share responsibilities. That being said, when garden season is in full swing it’s criminal to not eat locally, so we do fo a few months out of the year…with a few exceptions of course, namely coffee…and chocolate.

To wrap this up, I thought that this novel was powerful and uplifting with a can-do attitude. I would recommend it to anyone curious about our food system, or anyone at all really. Along with being a great story, there are more than a few lessons to be learned from this book which, I hope we all learned.

A Nation’s Discombobulation

24 Mar

Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire, Chapter 3, pages 113-179. 2002 Random House, Inc., Toronto and New York.

I can honestly say that this chapter held my attention a little more than any other so far. I was very curious to find out what Pollan had to say about pot, and at times, I was a bit surprised. Pollan raises a question early on: why is cannabis forbidden? I found myself wondering the same thing, if plants can be used to make other drugs like alcohol and tobacco, which are arguably far more dangerous to human health (mental and physical) then why are plants such as tobacco not forbidden also? Some answers seem more tangible once the history of marijuana is uncovered for us. It seemed to be used by our ancestors cautiously in most cases – with the exception of the Assassins and the copious amounts of hashish inhaled by them. We have been able to walk hand in hand with these mind-altering plants while wavering back and forth over the invisible line of acceptable intoxication and abuse. It seems that the trajectory of marijuana really changed with scientific advances. We humans certainly can’t leave well enough alone, let us make it bigger and better than ever before at any cost. I must admit that I sided with Pollan when he was shown the expat’s “garden” closet of an army of pot plants. While I believe science does us a world of good in a lot of cases, I felt almost a bit queasy at the description of this ‘factory farm’ for plants. I think most outdoor gardeners would feel a bit unsettled by this scene as well. I would have to disagree with Pollan though on matters of plant aesthetics. For if you have ever seen these green giants growing in a natural setting there is something attractive about them and all of their proud, green glory. With huge, outstretched leafy hands they seem to say ” I am strong, shameless, and resilient. Come, put your hand in mine, together we will reach for the sun,  may we achieve great things”.

This intoxicating plant has played a part in shaping and then helping us to forget our history, and it plays much of the same role today. To alter our minds and to help us forget, or perhaps to help us see the ‘now’. I get the feeling that reading The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle, would have been more beneficial or easier to follow if I would have been high the entire time. I think even if you don’t smoke, or condone smoking pot, there are still ways in which every person strives to forget, or to alter their perception even for a brief moment of time. It seems to be a necessity for people and other animals to switch their brains to another channel for a bit, like some kind of preservation from one’s self.

I think that indulging in intoxication by way of smoking or ingesting marijuana is a bit like a religion in itself for some. For others, it might be a fad, or the ‘cool’ thing to do. Bud has almost a cult-like following. With glossy growing magazines and their sexy hydroponics adds with bikini clad women covered in tattoos and dread-locks, it has certainly had some help in the marketing department. I don’t see pretty ads for cocaine or heroine, this leads me to believe that cannabis is really on the cusp of global acceptance…as we continue to find out in near split decisions for legalization of the substance. I believe that one day soon it will become legal. If this happens, we will likely see plants rising from the basements and marching into the labs, where it almost certainly will have its trajectory altered by humans once more, and we will follow on the same path right behind it, asking for more.

Not Just for Railroad Ties

19 Mar

Nabhan, G.P. 1990. Gathering the Desert. University of Arizona Press. 209 pp.


Hmmm, well this was an interesting departure from the works of Pollan. I liked the casual tone of this story. Nabhan seemed to want to get some fun facts across without worrying too much about weaving it into an eloquent story. Somewhat informal, I dig it. Seems like the kind of story that might come from someone drinking Mescal at nine in the morning.

As the two botanist ate their atole de pechita, which sounded delicious by the way, the senorita preparing it answered the spoken thought of Nabhan’s question “I wonder why more people don’t continue to make it,” (p. 4). Her answer was not surprising, still it was unsettling to think that there is such a nutritional parallel running through almost any culture, whether indigenous or not. We all seem to be turning to the ‘easy’ foods, easier to procure and prepare perhaps, but undoubtedly much less nutritious for us. The quote by Nicols Hildyard on page 7 holds much weight in this argument. “If there is a solution to the world hunger problem, it surely does not lie in destroying cultures but rather reestablishing them. Indeed the great irony is that nutritionists are needed in precisely those societies whose culture has broken down.” Time to get back to basics, back to our roots – anyone’s roots for that matter.

When I read about the Sonoran who harvested to parasites of the shrubs in sand seas, I only had one thought – Who comes up with this stuff? Certainly an industrious bunch to say the least.

Creosote, this is something I am vaguely familiar with as being painted on railroad ties to keep them from rotting. I had always assumed that this was a dangerous and entirely man-made chemical as I was warned against touching, sitting on, or rubbing against said ties. Also, I seem to recall an Incinerator plant proposal for Kamloops to ‘burn’ these ties – and a lot of opposition against it.  Hold up though!…. not the same creosote, which makes a lot of sense as you undoubtedly would not want to drink this type of creosote or slather it on your skin. The above creosote is a tar byproduct…not to be confused with the creosote bush.

Now that that’s cleared up, the  creosote bush (greasewood) seems to be a truly magical and medicinal plant. Long living too. Take the giant ‘doughnut’ of creosote that is old King Clone – awesome name! This plant was initially thought to be 11000 years old!! Well as it turns out, it’s more like 9400 years old, still nothing to scoff at. How is it living such a long life without succumbing to the nibbles of creatures that would surely benefit from its medicinal effects? Well, it tastes like crap, and furthermore, even if a little critter could stand the taste, it’s GI tract wouldn’t be able to digest it anyway. The only known bug to eat this ‘little stinker’ bush is the Astroma grasshopper, which likely doesn’t have many predators either.

Apparently tinctures, salves, and beverages made from the creosote bush are said to aid in curing ailments from arthritis to body odour. “It has been used by the Indians for the treatment of almost as many diseases as has penicillin.” (p. 15). If fact, it can even be used to kill Penicillium and other bacteria. What’s that?  The FDA has deemed creosote bush constituents potentially unsafe – shocking! But of course all of the other drugs approved by the FDA are completely safe because they must have our bet interest in mind….sensing the sarcasm? There is much to learn from our ancestors, and just because something is modern that doesn’t make it more appropriate for us. something about that saying.. If it aint broke….. Perhaps it’s time to wake up and smell the creosote bush.

Sugar & Sunshine

12 Mar

Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire, Chapter 1, pages 1-58. 2002 Random House, Inc., Toronto and New York.

I truly had no idea what a rich history apples held in their arsenal. Pollan paddles us through the story of the apple and the immense help that came to them in the form of a man named John Chapmann, something of a human bumblebee. Pollan paints a captivating picture of Johnny Appleseed as a man of the wild frontier, more mild than wild though. I suppose it makes sense that the biographical information on Mr. Chapman is somewhat lacking in concrete detail. He was a vagrant after all, travelling continuously, and putting down roots only in the form of apple seedlings. He seems to be a fascinating fellow though, albeit quite eccentric. I imagine that it would take a different sort of person to dedicate one’s life to hauling around apple seeds and planting them all over the landscape while sleeping on floating ice and in hollowed tree trunks.

It was intriguing to find out that the apple’s health benefits were possibly one of invention by the apple industry of the 1900s in order to clear the apple of any unholy association with its cidery past. The quote ” I wondered if all the cultural energy spent painting  Chapmann as a Christian saint wasn’t really just an attempt to domesticate a far stranger, more pagan hero.” validates some suspicions (page 10). I have a feeling since some of the details of his life are a bit sparse that this is likely the case. No matter what his motive or method or madness, it may be undeniable that all of us owe John Chapmann a big thanks.

In this day and age I would never have guessed that the apple is really wild at heart, or at seed shall I say. I was oblivious to the apple’s genetic variability when planted from seed. I suppose Safeway isn’t necessarily giving me the best genetic representation of the apple’s diversity now is it? Obviously the way we produce apples isn’t doing anything for their genetic variability either.

Can’t we blame this one genes too? Our genes have caused us to seek out the sweetness of sugars – as strong a force as the gravity that keeps our feet on the ground. We have selected time and time again the plants that give us what we want – sugar. “I’m thinking of my son’s first experience of sugar: the icing on the cake at his first birthday. I have only the testament of Isaac’s face to go by…- was in fact an ecstacy” (page 18). This demonstrates perfectly that within all of us is a desire for something sweet. Another desire of humans is the desire of intoxication, inhibition it you will. To be just on the brink of control, but without that voice that governs our thoughts and actions with such scrutiny. I can see why apples first earned their fame through cider. Of course this invisible line between controlled abandon and gross intoxication is a fine, and often blurred one…eventually giving apples a bad rapport. Luckily by this time, there were some excellent apples for eating. As the saying goes: An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Now to the modern-day Johnny Appleseed. Mr. Forsline in an astounding orchard in Geneva. This place sounds truly magical, brimming with thousands of apple trees, a sort of ‘couples retreat’ for apples of all varieties and their spouses. This Noah’s Arc for apples demonstrates just how much human domestication has funneled the genes of the apple. “most of the apples we grow have the same five or six parents” (page 51). Of course it is less fit of a plant, this homozygosity has proven time and time again to stand far less of a chance against insects and disease. The solution: to fight sex with sex. As Pollan aptly states “The best technology in the world can’t create a new gene or re-create one that’s been lost.” (page 56). Hmm, looks like it’s time to start planting some apple trees.

Cornography: Starring the talented Zea mays

12 Feb

Pollan, michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Pages 15-119. 2006 Penguin Press, New York.

A dilemma (Greek: δί-λημμα “double proposition“) is a problem offering two possibilities, neither of which is practically acceptable. (wikipedia.org)

Yes, I do know what a dilemma is, but I thought that the above one-liner summed it up pretty perfectly. What, you ask, are the two possibilities? Well, I guess to continue using and growing corn at the same rate we are now with potentially devastating effects,or to stop utilizing it in the way we are. Neither sounds very practical do they? After reading this section I want to turn my back on corn the grain, and embrace other grains and foods NOT containing corn. Let me add that I’ve just finished a bowl of cereal …to be more specific, a bowl of Nature’s Path Organic Crunchy Maple Sunrise (gluten-free). Sounds scrumptious doesn’t it? Turning to the ingredients list which lists the order of ingredients in their order by weight (meaning the first ingredients makes up the most percentage of the weight of a food, i.e. the product contains mostly this ingredient) and I find… suspenseful isn’t it…corn. Gasp! Shocking isn’t it? No, not really, and I can  see why as Pollan navigates us through the maze of corn and corn products and the ingenious ways in which we use corn. Keep in mind, I didn’t say turning your back on corn would be easy.

“What am I eating? And where in the world did it come from?” Not very long ago an eater didn’t need a journalist to answer these questions (17). So true. When Pollan tries to follow the industrial food chain, he is led back time and time again to the same places: corn fields in the American Corn Belt, who’s capitalized letters suggest that this really is a place rather than an idea. I was amazed at the number of products in which one could find corn. Magazines? Linoleum? Diapers? Really? Walking or not, almost everything is corn.

When Pollan visits a corn farmer in Iowa I was struck by how much change had occurred in the landscape in so little time. George Naylor can recount that in his childhood “You had fences everywhere…Everyone had livestock…The ground never used to be this bare this long”. (38).I guess I thought that the change happened ever so slowly until one morning people awoke to realized that they were surrounded entirely by corn. Pollan points out that while corn can take a lot of credit for reshaping the landscape, it can’t take all of it. Industrialization played a part with the invention of motorized farm equipment putting the working livestock out of business and reducing the land needed to feed said livestock. This left more room for our golden hero,corn to be planted.

It seems so strange that the economic rules of supply and demand don’t necessarily apply to corn. When the supply drove prices low, what did they do? Why, plant more corn of course. Seems counterintuitive….unless, there’s a reason behind this logic or lack thereof. The reason: security from the governments by way of ” The Ever-Normal Granary” (49) which all sounds very lollipops and rainbows,until Mr. Butz came along and abolished it in 1973. The new government policy came into play promising a target price for corn farmers even when market prices were very low. Sounds promising, but  now it seems like a way for the government to do its dirty corn-laundering. These lines on page 58 sum it up perfectly: “In nature, the population of a species explodes until it exhausts its supply of food; then it crashes. In the market, an oversupply of a commodity depresses prices…it no longer makes sense to produce any more of it. In corn’s case, humans have laboured mightily to free it from either constraint, even if that means going broke growing it, and consuming it just as fast as we possibly can”.

I understand how one can feel depressed after reading this much gloom and doom about our food system. I really feel a bit drained after reading, thinking, and writing about the implications of our intensive food production. I truly think that the section on feeding our factory farmed beef (and other animals) speaks for itself. It is such a crock of shit when governments or anyone in power positions use the smoke screen that’s it’s all about food security. If our food is so secure, then show it to us. No part of our food chain should be off-limits to us. How can farmers who don’t care where their products end up, and what condition they arrive in (since it’s meant for animals) take pride in their livelihood. We have introduced so much anonymity into out food production, so tell me how is that secure..or safe for that matter? Are we saying that we don’t give two hoots about our food system as long as our food comes out in a pretty package at the end? Or that we don’t care about the animals entering our factory ‘farms’ as long as they look like tasty burgers and faceless nuggets in our grocery stores? I think we are.

I hate to get all vegetarian on your ass, but I might have to. Page 78 lists all of the wonderful conditions that cows may be subject to, and doesn’t come close to touching on poultry, swine, or fish. It states that essentially the corn that we are cramming down their bovine throats is making them sick, and if they were to subsist on this diet for more than the alloted 150 days, they would likely die. This is animal abuse. Now before you roll your eyes, stop. Think about it…you might have a hard time arguing against this point. If you would rather not extend your compassion to the bovine community, fine, but let’s look at our fellow humans. Is this type of food safe for us to eat? Our ‘food safety’ policies are so concerned with raw milk and the likes that it is deemed unsafe for mass human consumption for fear of Listeria and other pathogens. I’m sorry, how many people died from eating tainted lunch meats or poo-sprayed spinach (sprayed with the very stuff coming out of the rear of our factory steers, which is extremely high in e coli due to their corn-based diets), well I don’t know the exact number, but there were enough.

I’m going to stop here before this becomes a novel or an emotional train wreck (haha). Obviously we all have the ability to make choices about our food consumption, and they are certainly not always cut and dry. No matter how tasty those white meat nuggets are, we need to keep making an informed choice. As long as we keep learning, thinking, asking, and demanding knowledge about our food systems we can make the informed choices. Lead by example, because as the cliché goes…actions speak louder than words.

On a lighter note…On a lighter note

Piecemealing it Together

3 Feb

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Chapters 4,5,6 & 8. 1999 W. W. Norton & Co., New York.


Characterized by unsystematic partial measures taken over a period of time.
gradual – scrappy
For any one else that had to look up the definition of piecemeal, you are not alone, although I feel a bit slow after reading the definition. Does anyone else think that Diamond had a thesaurus at hand and was on a mission to insert confusing synonyms at every turn? Okay, it wasn’t that bad but some of them did make me giggle.
I found that this first section of Diamond’s book started out to be very promising. I really appreciated the connections drawn between the haves and the have-nots as well as how important animals were in the advent of shaping agriculture as we know it today. Of course they added to the germy part of things, but they were certainly an advantage when it came to food production and transportation, and a military advantage for those on the conquest. It all seems a bit Freudian though – increased food production really allowed people to get their freak on and also let out their aggression on others. I wonder what they dreamt about?
Just when I was really starting to enjoy myself, bam! Diamond inundates me with a myriad of questions. Why this? Why that? Why did they do/not do this? Geez, give these poor people a break. It seems to take on a bit of an accusatory tone, for example the line “Instead, what cries out for explanation is the failure of food production to appear, until modern times, in some ecologically very suitable areas” (93) seemed that it was pointing a finger at something. Now maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, but I felt that the term ‘failure’ carried a bit of a negative connotation, but then again, maybe it’s just my imagination.
I guess that I should cut Diamond some slack, because for all of the questions that he posed, he certainly did his best to answer them. Some of the answers were definitely not what I had been expecting. I was surprised to learn that chickpeas, which I had always assumed originated in India, were domesticated in Turkey. Also that wheat was domesticated in the Fertile Crescent and not in a farmer’s field in Saskatchewan (kidding).
Props to the Fertile Crescent. This area seemed to have all the fun: the soil, the mammals, the plants, and the people to tend to it. People with smarts apparently…or was it that they were just in the right place at the right time? By the end of the eighth chapter Diamond begins to answer this question. Good thing too, because I was beginning to feel bad for some of the groups I thought he was picking on. What do you mean was it the fault of the apples or the Indians? I thought, hey, they just hadn’t gotten around to that yet. Maybe there were more important things to do, and they had access to good eats through hunting and gathering. Diamond confirms my suspicions at the end stating that “they too would eventually have domesticated apples- .” (156). He concedes that while only a few areas of the world developed food production, and at different times, there probably would have been many more people in different areas producing food had they been given more time.
To farm or not to farm?….That was the question. The question that nobody asked themselves, for Diamond says it was not a conscious decision. While objects tend to take the path of least resistance, I guess people are no different. So if it was easier to hunt and gather, then that’s what happened, and if it was easier to farm, well farming happened. Does this give us licence to say that we inherited some laziness from our ancestors? I vote yes.
For some areas though, farming was really the only way. For example, the people of New Guinea there was no competition between hunting and gathering and farming, there was simply not enough high-calorie gathering going on, so with the introduction of farming and outside crops, the choice seemed obvious. Although I must say that a 100-pound chicken (“flightless bird (the cassowary)”) (147) does sound like a pretty good catch…beats a 100-pound human. Gross, sorry!
I was a bit surprised that Diamond would question the mushroom-gathering methods of his New Guinea cohorts. I was prepared to read that they might have suggested to eat Diamond for a high protein snack. I can imagine that they were insulted, and rightly so.
It is important to note the first line of one his last sections “Lest these conclusions be misinterpreted, we should end… with caveats against exaggerating two points: people’s readiness to accept better crops and livestock, and the constraints imposed by locally available wild plants and animals. Neither… are absolute.” (154). I found this line soothing and felt that this made Diamond to seem like less of a bully, haha, which I know he’s not, for he even says himself “the reason for failure… lay neither with the people nor with the apples.” (156).