What’s on the table is what’s eaten (Part 1: History)

What’s on the table is what’s eaten (Part 1: History)

Excerpt from: »WHAT’S ON THE TABLE IS WHAT’S EATEN: A text seem­ing­ly about recal­ci­trant cows, ver­ti­cal farms and unrecog­nis­able future habi­tats for sapi­ens«. Reflec­tions by Daniel Pod­mirseg, Vien­na August 25th 2023

The domestication of Homo Sapiens

We are still part of nature. But with that the dis­cus­sion about nature is closed once and for all. Here it’s about cul­tur­al achieve­ments. About 11,500 years ago, we assumed - step by step - that it might be wis­er to grow food our­selves. From the ini­tial 50.000 m² that a per­son need­ed to feed him­self suf­fi­cient­ly before the Neolith­ic, we now need 2.300 m² per caput.

It is a fact that by observ­ing and under­stand­ing sea­sons, tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions, chang­ing light­ing con­di­tions, the relat­ed suc­ces­sion of cul­tures and plant growth as well as the behav­iour of wild ani­mals, we copied, influ­enced, and changed parts of nat­ur­al process­es by pro­duc­ing thou­sands of cul­ti­vars of fruit, veg­eta­bles, grains and ani­mals, nature has nev­er seen before.

The Neolith­ic rev­o­lu­tion can also be viewed dialec­ti­cal­ly. Regard­less of whether we domes­ti­cat­ed the wheat, or it domes­ti­cat­ed us, it is an ambiva­lent suc­cess sto­ry that began for us back then. As hunter-gath­er­ers, we had a far more diverse food bas­ket until the 20th cen­tu­ry. Pri­mal wheat was just one of them. It is an extreme­ly demand­ing wild grass species. Of all plants, it was the one we pounced on. The list of require­ments for a hap­py and high-yield­ing wheat stalk is long, from exten­sive solar radi­a­tion to the right com­po­si­tion or ratio of water and nutri­ents. The lat­ter should by no means be shared with oth­er plants. And if there are too many stones in the soil, the expect­ed har­vest, which is essen­tial for sur­vival - once a year - is con­sid­er­ably impaired.

An incred­i­bly large amount of work has thus been imposed on us by the tran­si­tion from hunter-gath­er­er. Water­ing, weed­ing, till­ing the soil, stoop­ing, sweat­ing, bend­ing, paw­ing, crawl­ing. An incred­i­bly ardu­ous phys­i­cal activ­i­ty the sapi­ens’ body is not designed for. Not with the hap­py fore­sight of a boun­ti­ful sup­ply for the mea­gre win­ter months ahead, but all in dai­ly wor­ry and psy­cho­log­i­cal ten­sion about it, com­pa­ra­ble to the moment of the rolling ball on the roulette table.

Com­put­ing sys­tems, lan­guage, admin­is­tra­tion, stor­age facil­i­ties, build­ing typolo­gies, legal sys­tems and juris­dic­tions had to be co-devel­oped in par­al­lel, as what had been labo­ri­ous­ly and some­times ago­nis­ing­ly acquired had to be man­aged, defend­ed, and dis­trib­uted. Wheat has spread over an area equiv­a­lent to Algeria.

Farm ani­mal hus­bandry did not begin with the sta­ble, but with the pro­tec­tion of herds from preda­tors oth­er than humans and cer­tain­ly from humans of oth­er tribes, with the removal of recal­ci­trant, weak­er, or old­er indi­vid­u­als. Whether they became tame because we inter­vened in evo­lu­tion through selec­tion or by being fed by us on a dai­ly basis is irrel­e­vant - both hypothe­ses are con­vinc­ing. To feed all our farm ani­mals today we need an area equiv­a­lent to two Aus­tralias. They rep­re­sent 95% of the total mass of all mam­mals liv­ing in the world. 

Pho­tog­ra­phy: Unsplash

From mimic to meaning

Thus, in evo­lu­tion­ary terms, we can see the inven­tion of agri­cul­ture as a stroke of luck for Homo Sapi­ens. At the begin­ning, accord­ing to var­i­ous esti­mates, we were no more than 10,000,000 peo­ple on earth, con­cen­trat­ed on the north­east coast of South Amer­i­ca, parts of Mex­i­co and west­ern North Amer­i­ca, cen­tral Africa, the Lev­ante and Turkey, Indone­sia, and East Asia. We cracked the 8 bil­lion mark this year. There­for each of us feeds about 9 farm ani­mals in this very moment while reading.

Bio­mimicry was the orig­i­nal impulse of humans. How­ev­er, this con­ver­sion is no longer part of nature, but the birth of cul­ture, it is the true oppo­site of it. Agri­cul­ture enabled us to become what we are today. They enabled us to devel­op the beau­ti­ful and enchant­i­ng aspects of life - to cre­ate mean­ing and val­ue, ethics and activ­i­ties beyond hunt­ing and gath­er­ing, from art to music, from phi­los­o­phy to sci­ence. It opened the way to the divi­sion of labour, which allowed every­one to search for his or her own indi­vid­ual mean­ing in life. So – while near­ly every human on earth was busy with labour on the field, three, four or five per­cent filled up our his­to­ry books. A rela­tion­ship that has been revers­ing glob­al­ly at an accel­er­at­ing pace for the past century.

Since agri­cul­ture became more and more struc­tural­ly cou­pled with indus­try, espe­cial­ly the oil- and arma­ments indus­tries, agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion has com­plete­ly changed not only in prac­tice and scale, but also in its ener­gy con­sump­tion pat­terns. From the Neolith­ic Rev­o­lu­tion to the Green Rev­o­lu­tion, the only sources of ener­gy for food pro­duc­tion were human labour and direct sun­light, which was then increas­ing­ly sup­ple­ment­ed using elec­tric­i­ty and, above all, fos­sil fuels, espe­cial­ly oil and gas.

In agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion in the last 150 years, we have made struc­tur­al changes which are at the root of many of our prob­lems. Before that time, we used to feed one and a half peo­ple with one hectare. Now it’s almost sev­en. While the world’s pop­u­la­tion has quadru­pled, we have increased yields six-fold, but only dou­bled the agri­cul­tur­al land. Nev­er­the­less, it is now equiv­a­lent to the area of South Amer­i­ca, and the trend is ris­ing sharply. This was pos­si­ble with a fos­sil ener­gy input increase of + 8,500%.

1920 1080 Vertical Farm Institute
Start Typing