Depictions of paradise can be found throughout the centuries, portrayed as an impossible, unchanging ecosystem in perpetual motion that provides an abundance of food, water, and shade to sustain humans and animals in perfect harmony with no effort required. In Hamburgers in Paradise, Louise O. Fresco argues that the idea of paradise as an impossibly stable, diverse, and productive ecosystem has had a profound effect on our thinking about nature, farming, and food, and remains a powerful influence even today. Despite secularization, paradise is a frame of reference for what we think and do in relation to food.
Today at 2:30, Fresco will be presenting her book to Kenneth Quinn, the World Food Prize ambassador, at the 2015 Borlaug Dialogue, hosted by The World Food Prize. You can view the live stream online, and you can join the conversation online using #WorldFoodPrize.
A few facts from the book that may surprise you:
- In most Western European countries, life expectancy tripled in the period 1750-2000, when food began to be available in large quantities.
- The history of tens of thousands of years of food scarcity explains our preference for foods high in calories, proteins, and other essential nutrients.
- All religions attribute moral and psychological properties to food. For example, the kingfisher has been seen as a symbol of abundance and prosperity, and so it was not to be eaten. In many religions fasting, or the resistance of temptation for food, is seen as the highest virtue.
- In the U.S., the tasteless bun of a hamburger is not the norm because Americans don’t know how to bake bread, but because a certain consistency is needed to bring out the juiciness of the meat. The bun is wrapping, plate, and napkin first and a source of carbohydrates to balance out the protein of the meat second.
- The earliest archaeological evidence of farming comes from 9,500 years ago.
- Dependence on food introduced from elsewhere is an ancient phenomenon, reflected in the names used and the confusion surrounding them. For example, in Italian corn is called “grano turco” or “Turkish grain,” the word “Turkey” signifying oriental or exotic and not its actual origin since corn comes from Central America.
- Without the influence of humans, neither wheat, corn, apples, nor lettuce would ever have evolved from their wild ancestors.
- 30% of the surface of the earth is used as farmland or pasture.
- Bread can be a symbol of plenty, but it can also be a symbol of want. There are countless examples in literature of the proverbial poor thief who steals a loaf for his family. Victor Hugo used this trope to great effect in Les Misérables.
- Bread was so important in Ancient Rome that the killing of a baker was punished three times as severely as the killing of an ordinary citizen.
- Archaeological remains of sieves suggest that cheese may have been made in the Alps more than 5,000 years ago.
- In the Netherlands no more than 4.5% of people are vegetarians, in Germany perhaps 9%, and in Italy 10%.