10,000 years ago agriculture was invented and in the midst of its successful evolution, the world was ruined because the fruit of the land — the wealth of our health — was held in a few hands instead of everyone’s.

America built its reputation in the world by being fresh-faced, fertile, undiscovered and undeveloped.

We fed ourselves first and then we fed everyone else and in that process our families split apart, people in the Homeland grew hungry and we lost the ability to individually feed ourselves with our own labor and the sweat from our own hewn hands.

There was a time — in the pre-industrial Age — when families would raise their own crops, hunt their own food and feed their own families. You canned food for the winter.

You hoped for the best against the rain and wind and snow.

The commoditization of sugar and cotton created slavery and the fertility of the land became more valuable than its people. Prosperity in the industrialization of agriculture was determined by the luck of the land and never again by individual familial hard work.

Then mechanization of the farming process was born and tools replaced hands in the field. Too many mouths were born that had to be fed by less land.

Land barons grew fewer to feed thousands of families. The responsibility for feeding the family moved from the family farm to the corporation. The land was ruined. The food supply was chemicalized. The animals were injected.

Access to natural nutrition was replaced with food pyramids and recommended daily doses. Government cheese subsidies replaced fruits and vegetables.

Import/Export imbalances grew. Where once everyone had the opportunity to grow their own food for free — we now are enslaved by price controls and the commoditization of required proteins for living: If you want to eat, you have to pay the going rate or starve.

Where once food was the thread of survival and the core of the family and the community — food has now become a forced political and economic cudgel for command and control used against people across the globe as changes on the genetic level are aimed at — and blamed on — the value our food supply:

A surprisingly recent instance of human evolution has been detected among the peoples of East Africa. It is the ability to digest milk in adulthood, conferred by genetic changes that occurred as recently as 3,000 years ago, a team of geneticists has found.

The finding is a striking example of a cultural practice — the raising of dairy cattle — feeding back into the human genome. It also seems to be one of the first instances of convergent human evolution to be documented at the genetic level. Convergent evolution refers to two or more populations acquiring the same trait independently.

Throughout most of human history, the ability to digest lactose, the principal sugar of milk, has been switched off after weaning because there is no further need for the lactase enzyme that breaks the sugar apart.

But when cattle were first domesticated 9,000 years ago and people later started to consume their milk as well as their meat, natural selection would have favored anyone with a mutation that kept the lactase gene switched on.

Almost all Dutch people and 99 percent of Swedes are lactose-tolerant, but the mutation becomes progressively less common in Europeans who live at increasing distance from the ancient Funnel Beaker region. A research team led by Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Maryland has now resolved much of the puzzle.

After testing for lactose tolerance and genetic makeup among 43 ethnic groups of East Africa, she and her colleagues have found three new mutations, all independent of each other and of the European mutation, which keep the lactase gene permanently switched on.

The evolving “Problem of the Land” and its food and fiber crises is given extra research light by the UC-Davis Sustainable Agriculture initiative:

Agriculture has changed dramatically, especially since the end of World War II. Food and fiber productivity soared due to new technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization and government policies that favored maximizing production. These changes allowed fewer farmers with reduced labor demands to produce the majority of the food and fiber in the U.S.

Although these changes have had many positive effects and reduced many risks in farming, there have also been significant costs. Prominent among these are topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, the decline of family farms, continued neglect of the living and working conditions for farm laborers, increasing costs of production, and the disintegration of economic and social conditions in rural communities.

A growing movement has emerged during the past two decades to question the role of the agricultural establishment in promoting practices that contribute to these social problems. Today this movement for sustainable agriculture is garnering increasing support and acceptance within mainstream agriculture.

Not only does sustainable agriculture address many environmental and social concerns, but it offers innovative and economically viable opportunities for growers, laborers, consumers, policymakers and many others in the entire food system.

Do you grow your own food? Do you slaughter your own animals?

Where do you purchase your food? Do you eat chemically treated food and animals?

Do you believe what you eat matters to the longevity of your body?

36 Comments

  1. Great to have some historical perspective on such a fundamental subject as how we source and provide our food.
    Do you grow your own food?
    I grow as much as possible – and use partner foods/plants to control pests etc. I make my own bread.
    Do you slaughter your own animals?
    No – although my son has served up fresh pheasant for dinner before after having caught, killed, plucked and cleaned it. ( Survival training).
    Where do you purchase your food?
    Local organic farm – both meat and vegetables.
    Do you eat chemically treated food and animals?
    I avoid as much as I can and prefer to make my own pies, pasta, cookies, cakes etc to avoid processed foods as much as possible.
    Do you believe what you eat matters to the longevity of your body?
    I think it is a factor in longevity – along with genes, and other environmental factors.

  2. Thanks for the wonderful detail, Nicola! The one thing we all share is the need for a clean and available food supply.
    It is so great you are able to grow your own food. My grandfather did that in a small town in Nebraska. He used an unused alley to grow green beans and radishes and corn and cantaloupes and sunflowers and beets and other great food. He’d pick it fresh and we’d eat it five minutes later.
    In the urban core it is much more difficult to find a steady supply of farm-fresh food that isn’t necessarily created by conglomerates.
    We have Farmer’s markets here on certain days of the week where you can buy “fresh food” and bakery items that are organic and healthier for you than any of the store bought stuff that gets shipped 2,000 miles before it hits the stores.

  3. David,
    Love this article!
    We have a Farmers Market here in Norman where I like to buy whenever I can. The Market has everything from produce, breads and coffee to meat and dairy. It is not always available, though, so I buy from the grocery store more often.
    I am also a Pledge Partner for Oxfam America. I donate to their organization monthly to support small farmers and advocate fair trade.

  4. Emily!
    Farmers markets are great — they’re becoming more commercialized now, though, and that concerns me. The “market” is gaining greater value than the “Farmer.”
    Back in Lincoln you can buy fresh-picked sweet corn from the back of a pickup truck on the side of the road. When I was growing up it was 10 ears for a dollar.
    Love the Oxfam connection! Do they give you special reports on what your money is doing each month?

  5. Hi David,
    The high level of chemicals in processed food is depressing. How can anything with 10 lines of chemical additives be good for you, even if it is low fat?
    I no longer eat Mr. Cow or Mr. Pig. I still eat Mr. Chicken and Mr. Fish. It’s the best I can do.
    I could never slaughter an animal. Have you read “The Slaughterer” by Isaac Bashevis Singer? A very powerful short story.
    Donna

  6. That’s right, Donna. We eat a lot of chemicals in our food that are there to preserve the food, not to make us better.
    Animal fats are hard to avoid.
    I have read that book, and I’ve looked at all the PETA images of what really happens with factory animal farming. It’s just grotesque.
    One of my favorite Tolstoy quotes — he was a Vegetarian — that I have often shared here is, “As long as there are slaughterhouses there will always be war.”

  7. Vegetables I can cope with pretty well – fruit is what I find difficult – although there are enough local orchards to supply apples and pears – oranges and bananas get more difficult as do such delicacies as olives. I try and balance my unease at the distance they travel by buying Fair Trade where I can.

  8. You’re right, Nicola! Fruit is hard to do — especially on the East Coast.
    Growing up in the Midwest we had watermelon and cantaloupe and apples and various berries but that was it. Californians have the best of both fruit and veggie worlds — everything grows big out there!
    I love all sorts of olives. They’re tops for getting the best oil into you. Next best is the wonderful avocado.

  9. Hi David,
    I have to admit that I don’t grow or raise any of my food and all of it is procured from grocery stores — mostly the Super Walmart and a local grocery chain because they have the lowest prices.
    We have some empty lots that are somewhat off the beaten path and I’ve thought that it might be fun to rent a roto-tiller and see if we could grow a garden.
    We live in an interesting area because we are just down the street from some farms that always open up little markets whenever their crops are coming in. Strawberries and corn seem to always be popular offerings and we always make a point to stop when those items are for sale.
    Our new neighborhood also hosts a farmers’ market in the old dairy barn that was saved as a historical reminder of the prior use of the land.

  10. Hey Chris!
    I remember you worked in a supermarket! They helped civilize the cities. One of the most important things people look for when they change neighborhoods is the close availability of a good and reliable food source. We need good markets. People want low prices.
    I hope you’ll try to grow some tomatoes and strawberries around your new home — they are both hardy and taste really good even in their first growths.
    I’m so glad you have access to good, fresh food at the farmer’s market! I always go crazy for their homemade apple pies. Organic. Vegan. Sweet. Delish! 😀

  11. Hi David!
    Oxfam provides its Pledge Partners with periodic updates on the projects their donation money is funding (I believe these updates may be quarterly) and a subscription to its magazine titled Exchange. Oxfam also has an online store that sells only Fair Trade items that is a lot of fun to visit! I got my mother a pot of Fair Trade honey for Mother’s Day…