The Food of Civilization
The main point, indeed the entire purpose of every civilization throughout all of human history is to ensure a full belly for its participants. This essential need for all human life is the primary and fundamental driving force for the creation of everything that we know as civilization. Roads, cities, villages and towns, highways, freeways, airports, strip malls, business centers, industry, fabrication, mining and forestry — it has all been built and constructed so that humans could have full bellies and enough to eat — and the assurances that come tomorrow, it will be the same.
Everything we understand as civilization, and even life itself, stems from this basic requirement. Our vast, modern infrastructure is built upon this essential need. Highways and interstate freeways connect our scattered abodes of civilization together so that food can be transported everywhere. Farmland is cleared from forests and prairie, marshlands are drained so that more food can be grown. Cities and towns spring up around these locations so that everything produced can be processed and food production can be efficiently serviced. Waterways are diverted, dams built, aqueducts and canals dug so that water will be available to both city and farm. Railways, airports and shipping ports are constructed for the purpose of gaining even more efficiency in the transportation of essential food.
From this, all businesses worldwide, virtually EVERYTHING you have ever known your entire life, all of them owe their entire existence and even their fundamental purposes to the production, distribution and consumption of food, without which, none of this civilization or any of these businesses would even exist. Even the weapons of war, and the factories that churn out these devices of murder are a integral part of this essential need.
This is why civilizations were and still are created. Cities, villages, towns, hamlets, everywhere people are gathered together to live, it is all predicated upon the need for a full belly. Wars are fought over the control of land, resources, water, people, minerals and oil. The ‘politics’ of war (ideology) even extend from the need for food and a full belly. Even religion is an extension of this basic need, fashioning itself after a moral ideology that only exists because of the creation of civilization and the need for a full belly.
It is the need for food that has driven all the innovation, invention, technology, exploration and resource extraction throughout all of human history. Only when this basic need was adequately met (it has never yet been fully met), was invention and innovation turned to other pressing human matters, enabling everything else you now see and experience.
Take a mental journey with me for a few moments. Imagine yourself “deposited” in the middle of the forest or desert, apart from any civilization or human habitation. You’re all alone, there is nobody else around. On you is your clothing, but you have neither food nor water. Your first thought, even your first fear, is going to be what are you going to eat? This, apart from shelter, will very quickly drive you to movement (do something), such as start looking around and hiking towards what you hope will help you meet this essential need.
All other concerns will quickly fade away as your belly grows tight from hunger and thirst. Finding water, you will drink it, but water alone will not keep you alive. You will get up and move again, or try where you are for edible plants, fish, bark, roots, nuts, bugs — anything that you can eat to appease the pain in your belly.
If you are successful, you will find what you need. If not, you will move again until you do, or die trying.
That, in a nutshell, is the story of civilization.
Humans gathered where they could either find the food they needed, or with invention, produce it themselves (agriculture). If not, they moved on, or died trying. Everything else has stemmed from that.
Our vast infrastructure is simply the extension of once having found enough food to eat, we then created for ourselves everything else, roads, highways, hotels, restaurants, bowling alleys, theme parks and gas stations. It was the overproduction (abundance) of food the permitted all of this to happen. Wherever there was a lack of food, none of this infrastructure was created — with the obvious exceptions of imported foods.
Many, many regions of the world cannot grow enough of their own food, yet have extensive infrastructure, relying very heavily upon food imports to sustain it all. If those imports should stop, then their infrastructure would do them little good.
Of course, this makes no sense, because food production should be (and actually is) the primary reason for a civilization to exist in the first place. Nations that do not produce enough of their own food simply should. But they have bought into the notion bit by bit over the preceding decades that imports of food stuffs can always be found whenever needed. During this time, because of imports, their populations blossomed, making the need for imports even more critical for their survival. Regional economics (the price of food) permitted all of this, because food production elsewhere is still cheaper then producing it locally. Oil energy makes this all possible, the transportation of food by ships, trains and trucks, and if anything should happen to any of that, including oil price hikes, then food prices and food availability becomes questionable.
It will take the reminder of not having enough food for a full belly for the world itself to wake up to these simple facts, ie., a “wilderness experience”. In the third world, it is already a fact of life and well understood, but not here. Throughout the modern ‘developed’ world, we really never much think about why civilization exists, or why all this infrastructure we take for granted exists, or why it’s actually all even “there” in the first place. We assume that it is just the logical outcome of the growth of our society, which it is, but its reasons and purpose for its existence is what we fail to identify. The reality for much of the world is already here, there is a food crisis and it’s getting worse.
Climate change is now making this all insecure. A civilization that bases its entire production on certain growing regions can be deeply impacted by the changing climate. This is now happening, and it will threaten world security, national stability and the ability of the world to ‘feed itself’ on imported foods. Right now, the average distance of food grown from farm to table is 1500 miles (within America). For some countries, it is much further then that, encompassing thousands of miles. We could rightly say that these countries would nearly cease to exist if their food imports were stopped, or even worse, if we simply couldn’t even grow it anymore in these far flung locations. The impacts of climate change are now having these effects, lowering yields and production. If this were to be compounded with an energy crisis (oil), then things could get even worse. And this is what is happening now, with oil production having already peaked and nations now jockeying for position on the remaining reserves.
My recent article on the Alberta Tar Sands is actually about food and the oil energy needed to keep all those wheels turning to meet this basic human need. It seems we are quite willing to destroy and entire ecosystem for temporarily meeting our needs and demands. This is of course a slow suicide, self-induced and quite preventable, but we’re simply unwilling to do that or to look ahead and examine the real facts and effects of our actions.
Our oceans are now vastly depleted and heavily over-fished, with little left. And what remains, according to this report, should not be eaten under any circumstances. Radiation is now found throughout the Pacific, so if you want to increase the toxicity levels in your body, chow down.
It is our utter and near-complete failure to construct our civilization upon regional and local economics and resources that has now placed the entire world in jeopardy. This is the the mantra of the “grow local” movement and there are many of its kind. Basing an entire heavily interconnected (and dependent) civilization on the far flung resources now required for our daily existence (oil, water, soil and climate), then building the vast infrastructure to sustain it all, is national suicide on a scale that boggles your mind.
In addition, this growth of civilization is what led to the over-exploitation of the world’s resources. Jevon’s Paradox teaches us all that as we gain efficiency and capacity, instead of preserving any savings we might now have, we instead use them up as quickly as they are created, creating even more demand. The population explosion is the result, with even more demands upon global resources and food production. We are now entering into a very critical stage with too many people and too few resources left. What do we do?
Governments wage war usually. This helps, but only a little, killing too few people (I’m playing the devils advocate here) to lower population enough, but instead, gaining new control and ownership of critical resources. Plenty will die in this ongoing game of “chicken”, which usually results in armies clashing, blood-letting and the victor going home with the spoils, an age-old drama of human “development”.
But it’s all about the food. Always was, always will be. At its most basic level, human conflicts stem from our inability to secure our future. We strive to ensure that we are safe, properly fed, housed, clothed and safe from invasion (invaders who are also ultimately about finding enough to eat for their future).
War is always the result of our ‘conflicts’ with each other, which we convince ourselves are really about things like ideology (politics or religion) or some such thing. But what we’re really doing is fighting over the resources and then blaming ideology for why we fight.
Yes, it is all pretty damned stupid, and it doesn’t have to be this way. But that is the way that it is, and there is little anybody can do about it. The distribution of wealth, the flow of resources from one region or nation to another has both helped and caused many of these senseless conflicts. It is very unlikely that will change. Even in a perfect world, if everyone had plenty to eat (and I mean everyone, globally), we’d still find reasons to fight and fling things at each other. The reasons should be self-evident. We actually like to do these things. Look at American culture for examples, we are heavily vested in the death culture. Everything from Hollywood to entire cities delegated to the building of weapons. So it is extremely unlikely that we’re going to somehow stop our violent tendencies if we somehow managed to efficiently distribute food and resources around the world. We’d find something to fight about, and since it’s always good for business, then that would simply be reason enough.
Yes, we’re insane, I think many of my blog articles point that out. We are the only species on the planet with the capacity to do ‘good’ (from a human-centric viewpoint) and to do ‘evil’. One does not manage to outweigh the other, unfortunately. Sometimes, after long contemplation, it is surprising to me that we are still here, but none of us probably need to wait long before losing our surprise. We are now into critical levels of overshoot and overproduction, over-exploitation and very high levels of toxic pollution, with numerous wars being fought around the world (more now then at previous times in history), jockeying for control of resources and nations. It’s as if we can never learn, and it’s probable that we cannot. Only an incredibly resilient Earth has permitted this utter foolishness of mankind, again and again, countless of times as we come close to extinguishing ourselves from this planet. But this cannot last forever, as it is now extremely unlikely that we can survive much more of our own stupidity.
The reasons this is now true are we have entered into a technological age where a single mistake can be an extinction level event. Nano-technology for example, could become uncontrollable, altering critical parts of our environment making life unsustainable in a matter of months. It’s not as science fiction as you might imagine. Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) have already proven to having devastating effects upon crop production, wildlife, insects and soils.
It gets worse. Some of our pollutants are carcinogenic, building up in tissue and plants to death inducing levels, or of such nature, such as depleted uranium, that toxicity levels will nearly outlast the life of our Sun. Other ‘inventions’ could extinguish us even quicker, including human-induced climate change (yes, really). Our efforts to terraform our own Earth is the fault in all of these issues. Some of this was necessary, much of it wasn’t, but was done because “it’s just business”. Removing mountain tops, or dumping toxic pollution into rivers and oceans, importing invasive species or spewing chemicals into the atmosphere, all are part of our disregard and disrespect for the planet we call ‘home’.
Money (and madness) has always managed to triumph over reason or common sense. On rare occasions, we pull back and examine our insanity, and sometimes, even more rarely, make adjustments. Right now, there is a great deal of ‘disbelief’ (ignorant arrogance) on how bad things are getting, but that level of stupidity only seems to exist in America and a few other modern countries (places where the media fully controls the minds of millions). Trying to counteract this blindness is exceedingly difficult, but many are trying. Even so, it won’t change much, as it is already much too late for that. All that can happen now is to prepare a few more people for what will inevitably come our way as we reap the whirlwinds that we have started.
On a related note, those of you that have been planning on “bugging out” to the woods / wildernesses or canal ditches outside of your homes are going to be making a gigantic mistake. The “survivalists camps” sure to be found in the woods (for a short while) will quickly devolve into a food fight death zones (or turn into raiding hordes on the locals). It’s surprising how many “survivalists” do not yet realize this. These tiny enclaves of ‘civilization’ will become predatory even more quickly then those of you that stayed home. Why? Imagine armed, hungry, cold and exposed (hypothermia) draining vital calories faster and faster away from your body. You’ve run out of food, there is no game to be found and what else you can scrounge up has already been eaten (there is a reason why we have depleted levels of wildlife, they don’t have enough food / habitat left either). The camp next to you still has food. What do you do? Whore out your wife / girlfriend or simply fight for what you need to stay alive? How long before she willingly gives herself due to hunger pains?
A battlezone will be the result, with the victors then eating each other. This is what always happens when there is not enough to eat. Leadership collapses, survivors fight over each other and then if necessary, dine on each other. The calories you will need to keep you healthy and alive are not as available as many think (living off the land) and could only support a tiny few people in any case.
Those of you planning on raiding your way to “survival” are just as mistaken. Many of us are heavily prepared for exactly this event and strongly suggest EVERYONE do the same. Outsiders will not be permitted (anything, even their existence) if they come raiding. Make your preparations now, at home or somewhere where you can actually feed yourself and take care of yourself. Do not expect anyone else to do this for you. It is not their responsibility, it is yours (and always was, even right now).
Civilization, all civilization (towns, villages, cities, campsites) collapse VERY quickly when there is nothing to eat. It’s too damned bad that we stupidly built our civilizations upon things like oil imports and transportation, but this is true even on a micro-scale (your campsite in the woods) and in your own neighborhoods. If you cannot supply yourselves with enough to eat, all bets are off, near instantaneously. Only when there is a hope that food will be coming does this manage to avoid war (and sometimes this doesn’t work either, as warlords arise, taking charge of the food aid).
It’s ALWAYS about food and always will be. All of it. All of civilization, all of human habitation and existence. It’s about having enough to eat, a full belly and the assurances that you will have this again tomorrow, and the day after that and the day after that.
The only thing you can actually do then is to ensure that you are smart enough, wise enough to not buy into the version that times of plenty will always be yours for the “taking” or that you will be taken care of by someone else. This is pure FOOLISHNESS and a dangerous delusion. The rest, as they say, is already “history”, and it will happen again.