“Empires Of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations” is by Boston’s Andrew Rimas and Evan D.G. Fraser,
Strolling through vast historical landscapes, often in a mood of colorful inquiry, Fraser and Rimas explore the ways food has been produced over centuries. Nature’s whims –droughts and flooding and famine-and a sometimes-fatal blindness to the bigger agricultural picture have afflicted what they call “food empires” from the Middle Ages on through currently-strapped California. Whether discussing l0th century monks brewing beer, Italians collecting African wheat-or the clear-cutting of forests, troubling the soil while planting waves of grain, the authors combine a keen appreciation for the resourcefulness of agriculturalists over the ages, while also fixing stern eyes on the horizon of possible, even probable, disaster. It took l9 people, usually slaves, in Rome, to feed one urban citizen. Deforested lands, intensive grain cultivation, soil exhaustion, lengthy trading routes lead to “landscape vulnerability”-and an ecosystem that ‘flips’ in misfortune . Nowadays, the problematic methods darkening the picture include monocultures (one crop-rather than balanced-portfolios,) alarming pesticides and genetically modified crops Fraser and Rimas explore contemporary food production dilemmas and solutions. They reveal the idealistic upside of Fair Trade practiced by Starbucks, but also reveal the downside of its limited success. These momentous stories full of fascinating characters are sprinkled with poetic language.
“The leafhopper, scourge of the Japanese, is making a comeback and is likely to be the recurring villain of the upcoming seasons. It is naturally imperious to the defensive toxins spewed by the new Chinese rice. When the crop is planted, the leafhopper smiles, twirls its moustache, and wraps a bib around its spiny throat.” PAGE 278