In this important study, Richard Manning narrates a fascinating revisionist history of agriculture, from the domestication of plants and animals ten thousand years ago to today's corporate megafarms. Instead of a bucolic Ur-myth, Manning portrays an enterprise that was from its inception expansionist, and that did not so much accompany colonialism as drive it. Drawing on the work of anthropologists, biologists, archaeologists, and historians, as well as on his own extensive research, Manning traces a commodification of grain that has reached its apex in contemporary agribusiness, and that has helped build some of the most familiar—and dysfunctional—features of today's political and economic landscape.
In the process, Manning shows here, agriculture not only overran native peoples and species but also pushed past the limits of land itself—and finally into the water, where we now farm fish. At the same time, it served up—for the masses of poor people it produced—a high-carb, sugar-laden, monotonous diet, and in doing so undermined the mental and physical fitness, sensory alertness, and egalitarianism that characterized our species in the 290,000 years before agriculture, when we were, Manning believes, at our most human.
It would be fair to say, as the author bravely asserts, that agriculture has actually domesticated—enslaved—us. Thus he offers thoughts in how we might recontour our path, personally and collectively, to resurrect what is most sustaining to both our own nature and the planet's.