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by Ruth DeFries
MacArthur Fellow DeFries emphasizes that progress in human history depended mostly on success in feeding ourselves. For thousands of years, hunter-gatherers ate well. The largely grain diet consumed after the arrival of agriculture 10,000 years ago was unhealthy, but its vast increase in quantity produced a population explosion, cities and civilizations. … The Big Ratchet occurred during the second half of the 20th century when, thanks to pesticides, industrial farming, massive fertilizer use and genetic improvements, worldwide production of corn and rice nearly tripled and wheat more than doubled. Food is more abundant than ever, but other problems have emerged. “As long as civilization exists,” writes the author, “we will be grappling with how to hijack nature to feed ourselves.”
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