On the state of agriculture

This op-ed piece in the Daily Telegraph today re-examines writings of demographer and economist Thomas Maltus (1766-1834) and their relevance (and continuing accuracy) nowadays:

“Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio,” he observed. But “subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio.” … We are, quite simply, much better at reproducing ourselves than feeding ourselves.

Malthus concluded from this inexorable divergence between population and food supply that there must be “a strong and constantly operating check on population”.


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Taking care of our means of nourishment, the ecosystem in which we all live, is also a necessary component in maintaining our current (and ever-growing) population. In light of a recent reading of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I wonder if a solution to feeding ourselves might not be a return to sustainable agriculture.

I am by no means an expert, but am increasingly interested in this little portion of economic/environmental health. I do, however, accept that the soil will run out of nutrients unless they are replenished, and that chemical/mechanical means for doing so are not the solution. Biochemical/biomechanical means, such as good ol’ crop rotation, or the brand of mixed agriculture employed by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, whom Michael Pollan interviewed for Omnivore’s Dilemma, can not only maintain but also improve soil quality, as evidenced by the Salatin family’s success repairing nearly non-arable land, the result of 150 years of damage, in a matter of a few decades (Pollan 205-206).

Even the current U.S. Farm Bill (as proposed) has seen fit to include incentives for sustainable farming practices, and some are calling for support of these practices to be a high priority, so I can’t be all that far off.

In a somewhat related note, Sex Calumny‘s current posts include a discussion of foods commonly considered aphrodisiacs.

Works Cited
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin, 2006.

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