I wrote about Cadillac Desert, the classic book about water in the American West, in September. Scores of millions of people depend on the waterworks that were built up over the 20th Century there, and many millions more benefit from the bounty of fruits and vegetables that grow there, much of it in California, where agriculture accounts for 80% of overall use. The story of Cadillac Desert, though, is that there has been a tremendous price paid for all that concrete, steel, energy, and the treasure needed to build and operate the waterworks. Environmental destruction has been catastrophic, lives were lost when dams broke, thousands of small farmers and their communities were destituted because the water too often benefited Big Ag, and the American taxpayer was bilked out of billions over time. Continue reading
That water flows toward power and money is, according to Marc Reisner in his magisterial book, Cadillac Desert, “the West’s cardinal law.” In every chapter, that sad fact is illustrated in abundance. The book, first published in 1986 and revised in a 1993 edition, put a new lens on the American West and the regional and national politics of water. It, like so many chronicles of the abuses of power, and the lies, arrogance, and destruction that accompany them, is both revelatory and maddening.
Dept. of Better Late than Never: A friend gave me the book more than 30 years ago. Continue reading
I sat in on a fascinating discussion last month on the future of urban agriculture in New York City. There are, you may be surprised to learn, hundreds of farms and gardens in Gotham producing food. There are school gardens, backyard gardens, and community gardens, as well as farms at NYC Housing Authority complexes and commercial farms, as the Urban Agriculture website of NYC government shows. There are even rooftop farms like the highly successful Brooklyn Grange. (Although there are no apple orchards in the Big Apple, there are places within striking distance where you can go to pick.)
That’s the title of a new report from a world-class working group of scientists commissioned by EAT, a non-profit that means “to catalyze a food system transformation,” and the venerable British medical journal, The Lancet. The report is ambitious, offering us nothing less than a global agenda “for healthy diets from sustainable food systems.”
The rationale for this critical report is twofold, first, as far as healthy diets go, we are sorely lacking today: 20% of global deaths are caused by poor diet. Only smoking exceeds poor diet as a risk factor for premature mortality. But, Continue reading
I was delighted recently to get a note from a University of Michigan student who had read my article on monoculture, reposted from here, at the United Nations University website, Our World. The student, Nils Johnson, and his three colleagues put together a clever and very useful series of interviews, and even took my theme for their title. (I wrote “Monomania is a serious disorder, characterized by, according to my dictionary, ‘excessive concentration on a single object or idea.’ In the case of much of American farming, that single object is the production of as much corn as possible at the greatest possible return on investment.”) Continue reading
Here’s a happy circumstance: The very good folks at Our World 2.0, one of the best web magazines going, produced by the United Nations University Media Centre, have seen fit to re-post my article from last week on the corn monoculture in the US. I’m pretty pleased about it. Go over to Our World 2.0 and see the rest of the great material they’ve got going on food, agriculture, climate, biodiversity and other essential subjects.
By monoculture, I don’t just mean the production of one crop over vast quantities of land, with all the resultant havoc that that plays on the soil, water, native flora and fauna, and, to be perfectly clear, on the climate system, but I also mean the monomania that is incarnate in Big Ag. Monomania is a serious disorder, characterized by, according to my dictionary, “excessive concentration on a single object or idea.” In the case of much of American farming, that single object is the production of as much corn as possible at the greatest possible return on investment. The monomania of corn production utterly disregards economic, environmental and social concerns. The word itself is, to be sure, old-fashioned, but it is nevertheless manifest in how modern society goes about the business of growing our food, feed and, most wastefully of all, our fuel. Continue reading