For anyone who cares about the sustainability of our food system and agriculture, I highly recommend Jared Diamond’s new book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Diamond got a Pulitzer Prize a few years ago for Guns, Germs, and Steel — which I found mind-blowing and also recommend to anyone who is interested in the Big Picture when it comes to food. In Collapse, Diamond asks the question:
Why do some societies collapse and some endure?
In order to answer the question, he looks at past civilizations, both ones that collapsed (Easter Island, Anasazi, Classic Maya, Norse Greenland) and ones that endured (Inuit, New Guinea, Japan). He looks at a number of different contributing factors, but those of us who study sustainable agriculture will be particularly interested in his strong emphasis on use of resources, especially for food. The availability of wild foods and the ability to cultivate domesticated foods on the same land century after century are huge factors. For people like me who are fascinated by native foodways, the book is also full of details about traditional diets.
I am only halfway through the book, and Diamond is about to look at modern examples of collapse vs. sustainability, including Haiti vs. Dominican Republic, Rwanda, and Australia. He’ll conclude with what we can learn from the past successes and failures of human beings to live within their means. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say…