Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Apocalypse Now?

I've been reading two interesting, if frightening, books that critique our current system of food production and distribution. In The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler, author of a scathing indictment of suburbia entitled The Geography of Nowhere (which I haven't yet read), asserts that we have already reached peak oil production and that the westernized world, which is overly reliant on cheap oil for everything from manufacturing to agriculture to the millions of Americans living in the aforementioned suburbs, is in for a big shock. All those technologists touting the wonders of hydrogen and other future fuels are simply delusional Pollyannas, says Kunstler, since "no combination of so-called alternative fuels or energy procedures will allow us to maintain daily life in the United States the way we have been accustomed to running it under the regime of oil" (p. 100) It is with a grim sort of glee that Kunstler describes the myriad ways in which declining oil production will cause us to descend into what he has deemed the long emergency - a period of increased localism, especially in regards to food production (remember, the current system of food distribution means most goods travel between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to table). Take Kunstler's rants with a grain of salt, however, as he clearly has a beef with suburbia and some of his statements verge on Islamaphobic.

Thomas Pawlick's The End of Food uses a simple question - "Why are the tomatoes you buy in a supermarket like red tennis balls?" - as an entree into a thorough examination of our modern food system. What he finds is shocking: the nutritional content of most fruits and vegetables (not to mention meat) grown on corporate farms has been steadily declining since at least the 1950s. And that's just the beginning. Food additives, antibiotics, factory farms, pollution, loss of biodiversity - Pawlick exposes how the corporate model of agribusiness, with its relentless focus on "efficiency," is costing us all. The solution is to "think locally, fight locally," by planting community gardens, shopping at farmers' markets, and participating in grassroots campaigns, such as efforts to label genetically modified foods.

And just in case Kunstler's long emergency is just around the corner, I've put Robin Robertson's Apocalypse Chow on hold.

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