Sunday, June 12, 2011

Food Undervalued in the First World

Food waste is an inevitable result of food being too cheap in the first world. Consumption of food as a branch of the entertainment industry is a major culprit. As the EROEI on food production increases from the ludicrous 10% to 15% it is now under "oil subsidy" conditions to the 150% we can expect in a sustainable system (manual and quadruped labour), and returns to its rightful position of 60% to 70% of human economic activity instead of the ridiculous 5% it stands at now, with the rest of human endeavour producing mainly worthless crap. In our great-grandparents generation, they used to skim the grease off the washing-up water to give to the pigs! Now thats what I call frugal!
 I speak as a person who produces virtually all my own food with manual labour, and produces a surplus to sell to pay the inevitable rates and taxes. Sadly no horse or bullock-team- yet!
Interestingly, in China, despite consuming 40% of the worlds coal in industrial production, they have continued their agricultural production with manual and quadruped labour.
  It is not for no good reason that the horse superceded the bullock and that in turn superceded manual power. It has a lot to do with complexity of systems. If we manage to have an orderly transition to sustainability I see no reason why a sufficient degree of complexity should not remain such as would be necessary to efficiently utilise horse-traction.

There is such a thing as economy of scale. A mixed farming system requires typically one horse per 40 acres, however, for many farm tasks, such as lea-ploughing (ploughing out grass inta arable) three are usually necessary. Hence a total of 120 acres becomes a unit of farm for a horse team. This is way more than one family can farm without labourers, and skilled ones at that. I definitely see the future in terms of small proprietory units rather than "master and servant" type organization, therefore I would see horse owning as a community good and the horse-master as a proprietor in his own right within the village community.

Horses were the zenith of pre-fossil-fueled agriculture and not for no good reason. They represent the most effective way of producing a small disposable income (roughly one third of farm production) that allows society to have some level of cultural sophistication rather than the drudgery of relentless manual labour to produce a mere subsistence. Their use does require a high level of skill and organization in an integrated system. There is no "off-switch" like a tractor! Of course they are culturally iconic too, and become a focus and source of wonderment for small children- like the steam locomotive was of the industrial age!

Unfortunately, It seems more likely that we see a disorderly collapse into near zero complexity and this opportunity will be lost. Probably what remaining good draught horses there are will be killed and eaten along with all other useful animals, crop seeds eaten or destroyed or lost.

I am fully aware there are other systems of food production such as "forest farming". "terraquaculture" and I am sure many more. No one of these is "better" in all circumstances. It is an issue of appropriateness to the land, to the climate, to the culture of the people involved, and to the level of complexity that can be maintained.

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