Agriculture: a world conqueror

Diamond J. 1999. Guns, germs, and steel. New York (NY): W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. p. 85-113, 131-156.

It’s a sad truth that human society is based on a history of conflict between agriculture and those who refuse to abandon their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Diamond exposes this truth by introducing us to two characters by the names of Fred Hirschy and Levi. Fred Hirschy, was an elderly farmer who developed one of the first farms when his boat arrived from Switzerland. Levi, on the other hand, was a farmhand on Hirschy’s farm, who was a member of the Blackfoot Indian tribe. Levi gives us the Indian’s perspective on the white mans conquest of the new world when he exclaims “[d]amn you Hirschy, and damn the ship that brought you from Switzerland!” (p. 85). Hirschy, and other immigrant farmers have disrupted and displaced Levi’s entire way of life. Agriculture has won the competition against hunter-gathering and “[a]t current rates of change, within the next decade the few remaining bands of hunter gatherers will abandon their ways, disintegrate, or die out, thereby ending our millions of years of commitment to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle” (p. 86). That’s a sad truth isn’t it?

Diamond goes on to explain how the domestication of plants and animals has led us to the world we know today. This was done by allowing a denser human population, through the production of food, textiles, and transport, but also by displacing those who live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Agriculture has spread throughout the world, but it is interesting to see how plant domestication has evolved independently in many places throughout the world and at vastly different times before it spread to displace the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

Diamond reminds us again “ we must consider food production and hunter-gathering as alternative strategies competing against each other” (p. 109). I find it most interesting when he refers to food production as a catalyst in a feedback loop leading to a denser human population. More food is able to support more people, who in turn are able to plant more food. The only places where plant domestication has not displaced hunter-gatherers are where the land cannot support mass food production. Other places, such as the Fertile Crescent, support mass food production and are the birthplaces of agriculture. I was pleased when Diamond finally explains the importance of the Fertile Crescent and what it is! He has mentioned it throughout the book, but has never take the time to explain what the Fertile Crescent is. It’s hard to believe that I know very little about such an important place for birth of agriculture and of human civilization (as I now understand).

As agriculture spreads throughout the world and the human population continues to grow, I understand that there is a need to accept this as the common method of feeding the population; however, I do not believe that this has to be at the cost of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Spend any time with a First Nations person who knows their environment and you will discover many treasures along with an intimate connection with the environment that agriculture could never provide. With the loss of the hunter-gathering lifestyle, are we also losing that intimate connection with our natural environment? I hope not.

Below are some photos of a traditional beach pit cook I participate in last summer (2015) at Pachena Bay in Bamfield, British Columbia. This way of life is truly wonderful.IMG_0006IMG_0009IMG_0008

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