An interview with Louise Fresco on “Hamburgers in Paradise”

Fresco JacketIn Louise Fresco’s new book, Hamburgers in Paradise, the term “Paradise”, in her own words, is “a metaphor that refers to the landscapes on our planet, the collective Garden of Eden which, according to some views, we have irreversibly destroyed through large scale food production.” It is a view shared by many in a world simultaneously plagued by food shortages and GMO fears. In such a climate, is there room for optimism? Fresco looks at our food situation in all its complexity, taking the stance that there is no one perfect way to produce or consume food, and that balance and trade-offs between different goals are central to any long term solution. You can see her TED talk here, and the English subtitled version to a documentary she made about the food industry here. Recently Fresco took some time to answer some questions about her book.

What’s new in this book?

LF: Human history has been one of continuous scarcity. The abundance of food that has emerged for the majority of the world population in the last decades is so unique that we have not yet learnt to deal with it. We are still scared that there will not be enough, and that we will destroy our environment. Scarcity is our default mode, and that of our bodies, hence our difficulties to balance our diets and to reduce our ecological footprint. Abundance is a triumph of science and trade; it allows us to shed our fears of shortages. But the book argues that we require new ways of thinking, to reign in our needs (for example of meat) while producing food sustainably for all, with new methods (for example through recycling or using algae). The book demonstrates in detail that there is not one perfect way to produce and consume food, but that we always have to balance the trade-offs between different goals, such as large scale production (i.e. low food prices) and biodiversity. What is best depends on our goals and our insight in unintended side effects (we may like to see free roaming chickens but they may be more prone to disease that way).

Can you explain the title Hamburgers in Paradise?

LF: The title refers to a thought experiment: if Eve were alive today, what food would she offer Adam as a temptation? Paradise as a metaphor also refers to the landscapes on our planet, the collective Garden of Eden which, according to some views, we have irreversibly destroyed through large scale food production. These semi-conscious images of a pre-Industrial and idealized past are still guiding many of our reactions to modernization. The hamburger, of course, is the iconic food that symbolizes the rise of the modern middle class, from suburban America to places like Moscow or Mumbai, as well as the critical counterforces: slow food, vegetarian and organic products. The hamburger illustrates also the adaptation to new demands: fat and salt contents have been lowered, information on calories and nutritional values are published, wrappings are made of recycled materials and advertising to children is limited. In the most recent twist of history, the hamburger becomes popular once again in upper class restaurants, dipped in liquid Nitrogen, or in a vegetarian reincarnation.

Food is the source of much confusion today, we hear so many, contradictory stories about what we must or mustn’t eat and why. What is the reason for this confusion?

LF: Food and agriculture are the basis human survival. Food conjures up strong feelings, based on individual memories, strict convictions and long traditions, especially in times of rapid modernization. Many people, even in rural areas, are hardly aware of how food is really produced and how it lands on their plates. Nearly all of us rely on others, often far away, to feed us. Ignorance and dependency make us feel vulnerable and worried about food.

But we can also turn this around: behind every meal there is a story, one that is nearly always fascinating and often complex, but always worth telling. Food connects us with the past and the future.

Is there room for optimism?

LF: With current knowledge, we can feed nine or ten billion people quite easily. This doesn’t mean that there is no world food problem. Even if enough food can be produced this is not easy and more production does not mean food reaches people automatically. The current gap between actual and attainable yields is still enormous. At the same time, agricultural research and innovation continue to be needed to tackle specific problems of animal and plant diseases, poor soils and climate variation. The application of existing knowledge is hampered by poor infrastructure, unavailability of irrigation or fertilizer, dysfunctional markets and policy.

Food shortage is more a matter of distribution than just production. Hunger is caused by poverty, so creating employment is essential. The great improvements in agricultural production since the 1970s have benefitted the urban poor more than the rural poor. These improvements involve higher yields, through better agricultural techniques such as irrigation, leading to lower food prices that benefit those who buy food (those living in cities), while farmers selling foods are at a disadvantage. Today more than 850 million people go hungry and perhaps as many as 2 billion may lack balanced nutrition. Most of the hungry live in areas of civil war or frequent natural disasters, so peace and resettlement are priorities.

There seems to be much concern about Genetically Modified Organisms, is this concern justified?

LF: This is a very complex issue about which it is impossible to generalize and about which there are many misunderstandings. For example, if cows are fed genetically modified soy bean, their milk does not become genetically modified, even if some people fear this. The modified genes and cells do not survive the gut. What the effects and risks are depends very much on what crop or animal, what genes are used for what purpose and where. Certain problems, for example diseases in banana, can only be tackled with biotechnology, a large toolkit which does not necessarily result in GMOs. There are two types of risk, for human and animal health. While we need to continue to monitor the situation, there are no indications that GM crops lead to additional food related risks in human beings or animals. So far, there are no indications of environment effects (such as insect mortality or genes “escaping “), but ecosystems are complex and difficult to monitor. Finally, there is also the issue of intellectual property rights: while a fair reward is needed for the companies developing the biotechnology or GMOs, we must also make sure that farmers and scientists and breeders elsewhere can keep access to varieties or breeds. Here the U.S. and EU legislation and traditions do not coincide.

What about chemical inputs such as fertilizer. Are we not destroying the land?

LF: Plants and animals need food just as we do. These nutrients come nearly exclusively from the soil (and through water, transported from soils elsewhere). Only very few soils can sustain production for long periods and their nutrient reserve needs to be built up through other sources of nutrients. Whilst manure from animals can be used for this, this does not solve the problem, it just means that animals have to graze somewhere from where they take up the nutrients. Almost without exception agriculture requires fertilizer to be sustainable. Fertilizer has a bad name mainly because it has been overused in the past with detrimental effects on surface water, but in itself, if wisely used, it is a blessing. More land is depleted through lack of fertilizer than is affected through its use.

Is fast food the source of all evils?

LF: Fast food is part of a complex process of transformation of society: greater mobility, work pressures, urbanization, diversification through trade, smaller and singe households, greater affluence of young, ubiquitous equipment like microwaves and fridges people all lead to out of home eating and pre-packed meals. As with all foods, it is not the individual item that is “bad” but the pattern. Eating fast food from time to time is acceptable in an otherwise healthy lifestyle. However, fast food often contains too many calories and we should be concerned if there are no other options, In so-called food deserts, neighbourhoods devoid of shops selling vegetables, fast food is often the recourse for single parents.

What type of agriculture is most sustainable?

LF: There is no blueprint for an agricultural model that fits all situations. Agriculture is the art of the location-specific and always depends on soils, climate, geography, culture and economics. Agriculture is forever changing, adapting to new consumer demands and new technology. However, using resources as efficiently as possible is essential to avoid wasting labour, water, land, fertilizer, seeds or animals as well as reducing post harvest losses in the entire value chain. Efficiency is often misunderstood as large-scale and anonymous, but it applies at all scales. No farmer can afford to waste resources, nor can we as humanity. The World will need 50% more calories in 2030.

Would the world be better off if all meat would be prohibited?

LF: No, meat is necessary for certain groups such as pregnant and lactating women, children, the elderly and sick and of course the malnourished. Meat is not only a source of proteins but also of essential nutrients such as iron and certain vitamins (B12). Humans evolved as omnivores; vegetarians, even in India, have always been a small minority. Also, there are areas in the world where nothing else can be produced but grazing land and animals. The growth in demand for meat and fish is expected to increase faster than the growth in population, especially in Asia and Africa.

However, there are major problems associated with meat production: environmental (water, emissions, production and transportation of feed) veterinary public health, human health (diseases associated with high red meat intake and overuse of antibiotics) as well as animal welfare. These can all be solved with adequate research and regulation. Reducing meat consumption through substitution of animal proteins in healthy individuals in affluent societies is part of that.

Louise O. Fresco is president of Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands. The author of several books, she is a member of the Council of Advisors for the World Food Prize and has worked extensively in developing countries for many years. She lives in Amsterdam.

Q&A with Ian Morris, author of Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve

Princeton University Press recently had the opportunity to talk with Ian Morris about his new book, Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve.

Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels

In your book you look at the evolution of human values over tens of thousands of years. Can you briefly say why and how values change? Isn’t morality universal and unchanging?

The answer to the last part of this question is easy: yes and no. I say yes because in one sense, morality certainly is universal and unchanging. Our human values are the outcome of millions of years of evolution. Animals that were born with genes that predisposed them to value fairness, love, honor, decency, and a host of related virtues tended to flourish, while animals that did not value fairness, etc., tended not to flourish. As a result, a disposition toward these prosocial attitudes spread through the gene pool, and almost all humans share these same core values. The reason I also say no, though, is because the ways people have interpreted fairness, etc., have varied wildly through time. Few historians dispute this; but fewer still have seen that what causes values to change is not the deep thoughts of philosophers but the most basic force of all–energy. As humanity has moved from foraging through farming to fossil-fuel use, we have found that different levels of energy capture call for different kinds of social organization, and that these different kinds of organization favor very different interpretations of human values. To foragers, fairness often means that everyone should receive equal shares of food, respect, and other good things, but to people in farming society, fairness often means that people should receive very different shares, because they are felt to deserve different shares. Men deserve more than women, the rich deserve more than the poor, the free deserve more than the enslaved, and so on through too many categories to count. Foragers and farmers feel the ways they do not because the former are all saints and the latter all sinners, but because it would be almost impossible to run a foraging society like a feudal monarchy and almost impossible to run a farming society as a band of equals. Foragers who lean toward equality and farmers who lean toward hierarchy itend to outperform and replace foragers and farmers who do not. In our own age of fossil fuels, values have continued to mutate. We tend to believe that fairness means that everyone should receive somewhat equal–but not too equal–shares of food, respect, and other good things. Anthropologists who spend time in foraging or farming societies often feel as if they have stepped into alien worlds, where values are upside-down; and people from most periods in the past would have felt exactly the same way about us.

In our current Fossil Fuel age of values, you argue that violence and inequality have diminished greatly from past periods. That seems very counter-intuitive. Can you elaborate?

A lot of people today are nostalgic for a simpler, vanished, preindustrial world, and there are ways in which they are right to be so; but not if they value peace, prosperity, or (on the whole) equality. Across the last fifty years, social scientists have accumulated data that allow us to measure wealth, inequality, and rates of violence in the past. The results are surprising–so much so that they can seem, as you suggest, counterintuitive. Foraging societies tended to be quite equal in wealth, if only because almost everyone was desperately poor (by one calculation, the average income was the equivalent of about $1.10 per day). They also tended to be very violent (by many calculations, more than 10 percent of foragers died violently). Farming societies tended to be less violent than foraging societies (5 percent rates of violent death were probably not uncommon) and not quite so poor (average incomes above $2.00 per day were common); but they were also massively unequal, regularly having tiny elites that owned thousands of times more than the ordinary peasant Fossil fuel societies, by contrast, are the safest and richest the world has ever seen, and are also more equal than all but the simplest foraging groups. Globally, the average person earns $25 per day and stands a 0.7 percent chance of dying violently, and in some countries progressive taxation has pushed income inequality down close to levels not seen since the simplest foraging societies (even if it is now again on the rise). In every era before AD 1800, life expectancy at birth averaged less than 25 years; now it is 63 years. Despite all the things we might not like about our own age, it would have seemed like a magical kingdom to people in the past.

What are some of the ways our values might change as we move away from a reliance on fossil fuels?

No one knows what the future will bring, but there are plenty of signs that we are rapidly moving beyond fossil fuels. I argue in this book that changes in the amount of energy humans harvest from the world pushes them into new kinds of organizations which in turn favor different interpretations of core human values; if this is right, we might expect the 21st century to see the biggest and profoundest transformation in values in history. The industrial revolution released a flood of energy in the 19th and 20th centuries, which favored societies that evolved toward democracy, rule of law, peace, freedom, and gender equality; the big question is whether the 21st century will see these trends going even further, or whether it will see them going into reverse. The answer, I suggest, is that it all depends. There are signs that in the short term–roughly the next generation–we will see increasing inequality and increasing acceptance that such inequality is right, along with increasing instability and violence. In the medium term–the next two or three generations–we may see the values of the fossil-fuel age go into overdrive; but in the longer term–say the next century or so–the transformations may become so massive that it no longer makes much sense to speak of human values at all, because what it means to be a human being might change more in the next 100 years than it has done in the previous 100,000.

bookjacket Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels:
How Human Values Evolve

Updated edition
Ian Morris


Throwback Thursday #TBT: Gladys Reichard’s Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism (1963)

Throwback Thursday: Week 1

Reichard, Navaho Religion
Welcome, one and all, to our first-ever installment of Throwback Thursday – or #TBT, as the kids say. This week’s #TBT goes to Gladys Reichard’s Mythos Series classic, Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism (1963).

In this in-depth exploration of the symbols found in Navaho legend and ritual, Gladys Reichard discusses the attitude of the tribe members toward their place in the universe, their obligation toward humankind and their gods, and their conception of the supernatural, as well as how the Navaho achieve a harmony within their world through symbolic ceremonial practice. We’re happy to see this popular text revived through the Princeton Legacy Library, and we hope you are, too. And now, for a little shameless self-promotion:

“This book has been a classic in its field since it was first issued in 1950, and it still stands as uniquely authoritative and intriguingly instructive. . . . [It is] a monument of revelation and insight bridging anthropology, religion, sociology, and history.”–Publishers Weekly

Until next Thursday!

Congratulations to Joseph Masco, author of The Nuclear Borderlands and Winner of the 2014 J.I. Staley Prize

MascoCongratulations to Dr. Joseph Masco, who has been awarded the 2014  J.I. Staley Prize from the School of Advanced Research for his book, The Nuclear Project: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico

The J.I. Staley Prize is presented to a living author for a book that “exemplifies outstanding scholarship and writing in anthropology. The award recognizes innovative works that go beyond traditional frontiers and dominant schools of thought in anthropology and add new dimensions to our understanding of the human species. It honors books that cross subdisciplinary boundaries within anthropology and reach out in new and expanded interdisciplinary directions.”

The prize, which carries a cash award of $10,000, is presented at an award ceremony hosted by the School for Advanced Research during the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association.

Dr. Masco is a Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, teaching courses on a wide range of subjects, from national security and culture to political ecology and technology. He received a B.A. in the Comparative History of Ideas from the University of Washington (1986), and holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, San Diego (1991, 1999).

New Anthropology Catalog

Be among the first to browse and download our new anthropology catalog!

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Of particular interest is Margaret Lock’s The Alzheimer Conundrum: Entanglements of Dementia and Aging. Because of rapidly aging populations, the number of people worldwide experiencing dementia is increasing and the projections are grim. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars invested in medical research, no effective treatment has been discovered for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. The Alzheimer Conundrum exposes the predicaments embedded in current efforts to slow down or halt Alzheimer’s disease through early detection of presymptomatic biological changes in healthy individuals.

Also be sure to note Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind by Nikolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached. The brain sciences are influencing our understanding of human behavior as never before, from neuropsychiatry and neuroeconomics to neurotheology and neuroaesthetics. Many now believe that the brain is what makes us human, and it seems that neuroscientists are poised to become the new experts in the management of human conduct. Neuro describes the key developments—theoretical, technological, economic, and biopolitical—that have enabled the neurosciences to gain such traction outside the laboratory. It explores the ways neurobiological conceptions of personhood are influencing everything from child rearing to criminal justice, and are transforming the ways we “know ourselves” as human beings. In this emerging neuro-ontology, we are not “determined” by our neurobiology: on the contrary, it appears that we can and should seek to improve ourselves by understanding and acting on our brains.

And don’t miss out on When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health, edited by João Biehl & Adriana Petryna. When People Come First critically assesses the expanding field of global health. It brings together an international and interdisciplinary group of scholars to address the medical, social, political, and economic dimensions of the global health enterprise through vivid case studies and bold conceptual work. The book demonstrates the crucial role of ethnography as an empirical lantern in global health, arguing for a more comprehensive, people-centered approach.

Even more foremost titles in anthropology can be found in the catalog. You may also sign up with ease to be notified of forthcoming titles at Your e-mail address will remain confidential!

If you’re heading to the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting in Chicago, IL November 20th through the 23rd, come visit us at booth 307, and follow #AAA2013 on Twitter for updates and information on our new and forthcoming titles throughout the meeting. See you there!

Thomas Blom Hansen a Finalist for the 2013 Herskovits Award

Thomas Blom Hansen Melancholia of Freedom: Social Life in an Indian Township in South Africa
Finalist for the 2013 Melville J. Herskovits Award, African Studies Association

The African Studies Association presents the Herskovits Award to the author of the most important scholarly work in African studies published in English during the preceding year. The winner of the Herskovits Award is announced each year at the ASA Annual Meeting, where he or she receives an honorarium of $500.  The ceremony will take place in 2013 on November 23rd in Baltimore, MD.

For more information about the award, click here.

Melancholia of Freedom In this book, Thomas Blom Hansen offers an in-depth analysis of the uncertainties, dreams, and anxieties that have accompanied postapartheid freedoms in Chatsworth, a formerly Indian township in Durban. Exploring five decades of township life, Hansen tells the stories of ordinary Indians whose lives were racialized and framed by the township, and how these residents domesticated and inhabited this urban space and its institutions, during apartheid and after.

Hansen demonstrates the complex and ambivalent nature of ordinary township life. While the ideology of apartheid was widely rejected, its practical institutions, from urban planning to houses, schools, and religious spaces, were embraced in order to remake the community. Hansen describes how the racial segmentation of South African society still informs daily life, notions of race, personhood, morality, and religious ethics. He also demonstrates the force of global religious imaginings that promise a universal and inclusive community amid uncertain lives and futures in the postapartheid nation-state.

Thomas Blom Hansen is professor of anthropology and the Reliance-Dhirubhai Ambani Professor of South Asian Studies at Stanford University, where he also directs the Center for South Asia. His books include The Saffron Wave and Wages of Violence.

Natasha Dow Schüll recieves the 2013 Sharon Stephens First Book Prize for “Addiction by Design”

Natasha Dow Schüll – Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas
Winner of the 2013 Sharon Stephens First Book Prize, American Ethnological Society

“The Sharon Stephens Book Prize is awarded bi-annually for a junior scholar’s first book. The prize ($1000) goes to a work that speaks to contemporary social issues with relevance beyond the discipline and beyond the academy. Ethnographies and critical works in contemporary theory — single-authored or multi-authored but not edited collections — are eligible.”

From the congratulatory e-mail to Natasha Dow Schull from AES: “The selection committee- Marisol de la Candena, Daniel Goldstein, and Daromir Rudnyckyj, found [the book] ‘deeply researched, very well written, conceptually sound, and absolutely compelling.’” The award will be presented at the AES business meeting at AAA in Chicago this November.

Recent decades hAddiction By Designave seen a dramatic shift away from social forms of gambling played around roulette wheels and card tables to solitary gambling at electronic terminals. Addiction by Design takes readers into the intriguing world of machine gambling, an increasingly popular and absorbing form of play that blurs the line between human and machine, compulsion and control, risk and reward.

Drawing on fifteen years of field research in Las Vegas, anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll shows how the mechanical rhythm of electronic gambling pulls players into a trancelike state they call the “machine zone,” in which daily worries, social demands, and even bodily awareness fade away. Once in the zone, gambling addicts play not to win but simply to keep playing, for as long as possible–even at the cost of physical and economic exhaustion. In continuous machine play, gamblers seek to lose themselves while the gambling industry seeks profit. Schüll describes the strategic calculations behind game algorithms and machine ergonomics, casino architecture and “ambience management,” player tracking and cash access systems–all designed to meet the market’s desire for maximum “time on device.” Her account moves from casino floors into gamblers’ everyday lives, from gambling industry conventions and Gamblers Anonymous meetings to regulatory debates over whether addiction to gambling machines stems from the consumer, the product, or the interplay between the two.

Addiction by Design is a compelling inquiry into the intensifying traffic between people and machines of chance, offering clues to some of the broader anxieties and predicaments of contemporary life.

Natasha Dow Schüll is associate professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.



Two for Tuesday – Muslim Brotherhood & Egypt after Mubarak

Announcing two timely books rich in detail and insight that you will want to read to keep up with world events. We invite you to read chapters online from each book.

j9948The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement
by Carrie Rosefsky Wickham.   
We invite you to read chapter 1 online:

The Muslim Brotherhood has achieved a level of influence nearly unimaginable before the Arab Spring. The Brotherhood was the resounding victor in Egypt’s 2011-2012 parliamentary elections, and six months later, a leader of the group was elected president. Yet the implications of the Brotherhood’s rising power for the future of democratic governance, peace, and stability in the region is open to dispute. Drawing on more than one hundred in-depth interviews as well as Arabic language sources not previously accessed by Western researchers, Carrie Rosefsky Wickham traces the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt from its founding in 1928 to the fall of Mubarak and the watershed elections of 2011-2012.

Carrie Rosefsky Wickham is associate professor of political science at Emory University. She is the author of Mobilizing Islam: Religion, Activism, and Political Change in Egypt.

j9996rNow in paperback with a new introduction by the author
Egypt after Mubarak:
Liberalism, Islam, and Democracy in the Arab World
by Bruce K. Rutherford
We invite you to read chapter 1 online:

Which way will Egypt go now that Husni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime has been swept from power? Will it become an Islamic theocracy similar to Iran? Will it embrace Western-style liberalism and democracy? Egypt after Mubarak reveals that Egypt’s secularists and Islamists may yet navigate a middle path that results in a uniquely Islamic form of liberalism and, perhaps, democracy. Bruce Rutherford draws on in-depth interviews with Egyptian judges, lawyers, Islamic activists, politicians, and businesspeople. He utilizes major court rulings, political documents of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the writings of Egypt’s leading contemporary Islamic thinkers. Rutherford demonstrates that, in post-Mubarak Egypt, progress toward liberalism and democracy is likely to be slow.

Bruce K. Rutherford is associate professor of political science at Colgate University.