Why agriculture as we know it is doomed to fail

The time is coming when all that we hate will be all that can save us. No, not mutants. Foodie trendsters. By always seeking out novelty, they may pursue the only real model for long term food sustainability.

Mass produced, homogenous food is not, necessarily, a bad thing. One product, usually corn, being mass produced and processed into a lot of outwardly different foods isn't picturesque, and isn't a very healthy diet, but is a lot better than going hungry. The problem is, we're not the only ones that we're mass-producing food for. In the first years of a new crop, when mass production is getting on its feet and ironing out the kinks, the crop is preyed upon by its normal range of predators. Once mass production is up and running, the food it's processing stays exactly the same. New predators stumble upon it, and old ones expand their populations to fit the new food supply. The predators change, the new food does not, and now the food supply is under attack.

The most famous example of such an attack is the Irish potato famine. The potato had been touted as the solution to widespread hunger in Europe in the 1700s, and disseminated everywhere; usually by cutting up old potatoes, cloning the same plant over and over again. Through the late 1700s and into the early 1830s failures of crops became more and more frequent. In the mid-1840s, however, one particularly effective disease took out a half to three quarters of harvests over a period of years. While many factors contributed to the widespread hardship of The Great Famine, the failure of a staple food after years of expanded use lead to the death of over a million people.

Lest anyone think that the 1840s were too long ago, the same thing happened in the 1960s, with bananas - also grown by taking cuttings of successful plants. This lead to hardship across the world and slightly less delicious bananas in developed countries. And if you think we learned our lesson then, a current fungus is again threatening banana crops and forcing scientists to look for yet another strain of bananas, which will undoubtedly meet the same fate in another thirty years. In America, a pressing concern is the Hessian fly, which threatens our amber waves of grain and has scientists proposing doubling up resistance genes in today's wheat fields in hopes of staving off the invader.

There's no way around it. Anything we eat becomes a banquet for anything that can get to it before we do. The more efficient we get, the more we're serving up. That's where snobbery, trendsetting and a devotion to obscurity comes in. We ruin what we love, and so trendy foodies are a godsend - they never love anything for too long.

What results is a sort of consumer-driven system of crop rotation. Agriculture can be forced onwards, away from too much mass production and reliance on only a few crops. Pushing for different kinds of food, different strains of old favorites, going vegan, switching over to only goats milk, trying to find only locally sourced food; this is the kind of tiresome, detail-oriented, and never-ending work that food-oriented trendsters do for only a sense of their own superiority. Once it goes mainstream, they're on to the next, while the general population reaps the benefits of biodiversity. It has to be worth it to be lectured on food safety by a guy in a fedora.

Via Agrobiodiversity Platform, Sustainable Table, Crop Life, and Westley Johnson.