Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dunn, Rob (2017): Never Out of Season - How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future

What is it about?

The book on the other hand provides a historical account of how our food supply has developed since the start of agriculture until today (more efficiency, less variety) and on the other hand sounds the alarm concerning how the current overly engineered and focused food supply is also highly risky.

The risks stems from a high degree of reliance on just a handful of crops (and within those, just one or two varieties with highest yields), because a problem with a particular crop such as rice or corn (e.g. a pest or a plant disease) could significantly hurt the food system in its entirety.

The book contains a number of alarming examples - such as the potato famine in Ireland in the 19th century - in which cases serious problems or even deaths due to hunger resulted when one major food source was attacked by a pestilence such as the late blight disease in the case of the Irish potato famine.

Was it good?

The book is a good balance between historical case narrative (with which it opens, too), review of current biological knowledge and informed prospects, and sounding of alarm.

A book like this may quite easily cross the line between "reasoned worry" and "alarmism", but this book stays within the reasoned category.

The historical narratives, for me, constitute the best contents of the book. For instance, the protection of potato varieties for future planting purposes in an agricultural institution during the siege of Leningrad in the 1940s was highly fascinating to read -- some of the personnel practically died of hunger while protecting perfectly edible potatoes and other plants because they wanted to preserve those for future people to plant.

The main take-away for me?

Well, the main message of the book has to be the main take-away; that we are creating increasing risks by building our food supply around ever fewer food plants -- we are placing our eggs increasingly in one basket.

Who should read the book?

The book on Never Out of Season

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