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Giving thanks for our daily bread

There is a nice article in the Daily Telegraph today talking of how humans, be they religious, pagan or unbeliever alike have celebrated the festival of the harvest, in this time of Keats’ “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. And as we remember the other day after the death of “Green Revolution” scientist Norman Borlaug, the harvest has been something that we not only take for granted these days, but have even reached the point where, in recent years, our political leaders have thought fit to actually pay farmers not to grow stuff. The idea of set-aside subsidies was, if I recall rightly, one of those many terrible ideas of Roosevelt in the Great Depression.

Some idea of how far we have travelled comes up in this nugget of information from David Carpenter’s account of early Medieval Britain, The Struggle for Mastery. On page 36, we come across this:

“On the estates of the Bishop of Winchester yields of wheat remained around eight to twelve bushels per acre (a bushel is 36 litres), where on modern farms they are in the seventies.”

Such a massive increase has a lot to do with why, despite the population increase since the 12th Century, Britain had a sufficient surplus of food production to embark on an Industrial Revolution several centuries later. For in the time of William the Conqueror and for some time thereafter, mass famine was a grim reality of life.

So I will be celebrating the harvest this year and salute the scientists, farmers and yes, the commodities speculators of Chicago and elsewhere for making our daily bread as plentiful as it is. Here’s to them. Now, shall I go for wheat beer or the barley variety later this evening?

8 comments to Giving thanks for our daily bread

  • A timely reminder from Johnathan, about who is chiefly responsible for Man’s take-off. Not the priests: not the socialists: not the “fair shares for all” brigade.

  • RRS

    The comment about U.S. ” agricultural policy,” could be amplified and updated.

    The New Deal actually fined farmers for growing interdicted amounts of grains for their own use, not just paying for not growing.

    There are more than vestiges remaining in the marketing associations (e.g., CA. fruits & nuts – the organic kind, not the people) which are vested with the coercive power of governmental enforcement to limit available supplies and control “kinds,” in the name of price stability and market “quality.”

    It ain’t over yet. Collectivism lives, and is manipulated for those pigs who are more equal than other pigs.

  • Gordon

    A quote frm Keynes

    I believe the future lies with

    1. State trading for commodities;
    2. International cartels for necessary manufactures; and
    3. Quantitive import restrictions for nonessential manufactures.

  • JerryM

    Also thank the increase in CO2, i.e. plant food.

  • It is worth also, reflecting on how truly, unfathomably deepply evil and wicked some human beings must be, in their roots, to either

    (a) complain about there being enough food for [lots of people and at the very least more than ever before] or to

    (b) do an FDR-new-deal-thingy, or to

    (c) rubbish the people and firms that made the Green Revolution an achievable and practical possibility in the first place.

    Try as I may, I cannot figure out how to find what has to be the obvious way into the minds of chappies like Paul Ehrlich, or George Moonbat, or the Deep Greens, assuming they are fully human and think and feel what human beings do. Or JM Keynes for that matter. (Apart from his cheerfully frankly stated and acted-out positions on things like liberalism, liberty and individual human action.)

  • veryretired

    One of the more dismal, and in some ways dangerous, failures of our educational foolishness is the lack of any basic historical context provided to the students.

    I doubt that one in a hundred has any clear idea, or even vague notion, of how precarious and deadly life before the modern era truly was.

    The student may realize that things were more primitive, i.e., no electronics, or cars and planes, but may even have been led to the utterly contra-factual belief that life was healthier in earlier times because of their simpler lifestyles.

    The modern strain of anti-technology and “industry is bad for you” environmentalism teaches a form of the “Noble Savage” myth, transferred over to subsistence farming and non-chemical agriculture as stand-ins for the previous “unspoiled” cultures of stone age tribes.

    There is an excellent documentary of the Little Ice Age floating around the History Chanel which talks about the grimness of life in Europe between 1200 and 1800, including the massive crop failures and frequent famines in which thousands died of starvation and related illnesses every single year.

    There is an apocryphal story from the Cold War period that the premier of the former Soviet Union and his wife were in the US for a state visit. While the leaders talked, the US and SU first ladies toured the capital, and visited various schools, monuments, and generally saw the sights.

    The repeated comment of the SU first lady was “Oh, we have better than that in Moscow.”

    Toward the end of the tour, the US wife took her counterpart to a store of one of the large grocery store chains. When they walked in, the SU wife brusquely walked into the produce aisle and stopped dead. She looked around, asked her translator to decipher the prices and other signs, and then toured the rest of the store in silence.

    The meat counter brought tears to her eyes, and in the dairy aisle she tok the arm of the translator as they walked past the dozens of types of cheese, cartons of eggs, and hundreds of containers of milk.

    There was no more boasting about Moscow.

    Coming from a midwestern state in the US, with a strong family tradition of both grain farming and cattle raising, until my grandfather moved to the city during the Depression, it has always fascinated me that anyone could rhapsodize about any system which could not even provide basic food supplies to its citizens, but, then, I am just a hick from fly-over country, and don’t understand all the subtleties of those who would defend, and even recommend, such a inhuman travesty to their fellow countrymen.

    We are a great, historical aberration. In just a few centuries, we have taken ordinary people from horse drawn plows and hand swung scythes to farming techniques which allow less than 2% of the population to feed the other 98%, and then send still more around the world.

    This is the legacy of the Jeffersonian hero, the free, yeoman farmer and craftsman, standing on his own ground, and open to new ideas and techniques to improve his production.

    Dr Borlaug died a few days ago, and he was rightly hailed around the world for his contributions to nutrition and food production. Standing behind him were the many thousands of independent farmers and merchants who brought his ideas and innovations to the world.

  • Paul Marks

    On the death of Dr Borlaug:

    The BBC managed to make some sort of leftist point out of it (as they do almost everything).

    In the Radio Four show on deaths in the week they played some Willie Guthrie song (“This land is your land, this land is mine land….” in which case the land belongs to nobody and sensible farming is impossible) and went on about who Dr Borlaug was brought up in the 1930’s and ….. (whatever).

  • Paul Marks

    I have no idea what Borlaug’s politics were – perhaps he was the ardent leftist the BBC implied (I do not know).

    However, I rather doubt he was in favour of collective land ownership – or whatever bit of B.S. the B.B.C. was spinning.