The Origins of Food Production

J, Diamond. (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. Chapter 4, 5, 6, and 8

So for this week blog for Plants and People Biology class we were to read Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. I talked about in my last blog but it was chapter 7 and I did’t have a problem getting into the book that time but this week it was a bit harder maybe cause I had this horrible cold, but I found that National Geographic made a documentary about it, So I watch some and that when I got more interested into the book and I picked it up and started to read it, and it got a lot more in-depth, but watch the documentary help understand where in the world the areas Jared was talking about.

So in Chapter 4 and its called Farmer Power and its starts with Jared telling a story about when he was a teenager working on a farm in summer in Montana for a man named Fred Hirschy from Switzerland. We met a Native American from the tribe Blackfoot named Levi, the first feeling we get from him that he is polite, gentle, responsible, sober, and well spoken, but this image get shattered when Levi shows up on Sunday morning drunk and cursing and what he cursed stood out in Jared mind “Damn you, Fred Hirschy and damn the ship that brought you from Switzerland!”. So in the USA Jared and other white school-children had been taught in school it was heroic conquest of the American wild west, in Canada when I went to school it was a different story it could of been the new time, I learn it wasn’t has heroic as the states made it out to be. So we get into the topic “How did the farmers win out over the famous warriors?”, So to answer this question we have to go back 7 million years to the start.

So 7 million years ago, all human fed themselves by hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants, that was the way of life back then, it was only in the last 11,000 years we start to feed ourselves by farming and herding wild animals, so how did we go about this? So in chapter 5 History’s haves and have-nots we start to answer this question. So farming and herding didn’t happen over night, and it didn’t happen everywhere at the same time either. Some areas still now to this day there isn’t any farming even with all the new technology out there. Some places don’t have the right climates, either being to cold or to dry with no water sources to irrigate. So how did people thousand years ago make a go at this. The earliest known area where initial domestication of wheat was in the Fertile Crescent around 8500 B.C. soon after that crops appears to start to move to other areas like Greece, Germany, Israel, western Iran and Turkey. For herding animals it was in different areas like India, western Eurasian.

So the raise of food production where, when and how did develop globally? In the picture below is from the book and its a picture of the centers of origin of food production.

Since this book was publish they have discover more areas of the origin of food production. The 5 areas that origin domesticated animals are Southwest Asia (sheep, goat), China (pig,silkworm), Mesoamerica (turkey), Andes and Amazonia (llama, guinea pig) and Sahel (guinea fowl). So it started in a few areas and now almost everywhere.

In chapter 6 To farm or Not to farm, why did the hunter-gatherers choose to adopt farming. There had to be a reason but what it that reason and why did they wait until 8500 B.C to do so? Hunter-gatherers where a mobile group cause they had to go where the food was and move with the different season, with farming you had to stay in one area so you can watch your crop and have food storage. Also hunter-gatherer only had children only every 4 years cause a mother of a hunter-gatherer can only carry one child and still be able to gather while a farmer mother where having children every 2 years that half the time of the hunter-gatherer. While a hunter-gatherer can only carry what they can eat and farmer have food storage, and the farmer get more product from animal like milk and fertilize compare to the hunter-gatherer only get the meat and the skins for clothes they don’t get any of the by products of the animals. So slowly the farming got adopted by the hunter-gatherer and all around the world.

In chapter 8 Apples or Indians Jared talks about there 200,000 wild plants species only a few thousand are eaten by humans, and only few hundred crops have been domesticated for crops. Not all of these crops have enough supplements in our diet to support the rise of civilization. Only about a dozen that we call blockbuster and they are the cereals wheat, corn, rice, barley, and sorghum; the pulse soybean; the root or tubers potato, manioc and sweet potato; the sugar sources sugarcane and sugar beet: and the fruit banana. Cereal crops now a days account for more then half of calories consumed worldwide by humans. So why did we only domesticated a few hundred crops, and our failure of domesticate of any new crops even with modern technology tells us that ancient people really did explored virtually all useful wild plants and domesticated all of the ones worth domesticating.

So the question “Apples or Indians”, so apples where first domesticated in Eurasia but there was many wild apples in North America. So why didn’t the Native Americans domesticate the for there use. We will never know the true answer but we can for sure take educated guesses, one popular guess would be the apple would of been a great crop for the natives but the natives would have to settle in one spot and cultivated them, but that wasn’t the traditional way of life for the hunter-gatherers. And Native American are very traditional race of humans.

I found the book to be very interesting when I finally got into the book. Tho a lot of my classmates found it dry. It helps to know the background of the book and where everything is located so you can picture the scene that Jared Diamond paints for you.






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