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Wednesday
Jan202010

The Victory of Chemistry Over Agriculture (1953)

To many people of the year 2010 the 1953 book, The Road to Abundance, is a heretical, nightmarish vision of the future. Chemicals and factory farming are seen as the logical next step in the evolution of food production for mankind. 

Jacob Rosin, co-writing with Max Eastman, describes the eventual "victory of chemistry over agriculture," and mankind's "bondage to the planet." The ultimate goal of Rosin's ambition was to be "more efficient than nature." In his advocacy of a completely synthetic diet Rosin called into question both the definition and the benefit of "natural foods."

 

It is therefore high time to remove the cloak of holiness from natural foods, and see them as what they are: a poorly assorted mixture of chemicals containing a large amount of indigestible materials, and a certain proportion of materials injurious to our health. This mixture has been, unfortunately, indispensable for our nutrition, since we have been unable up to now to obtain the chemicals required by our organism in a form entirely digestible and devoid of poison.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, each time I read a book like The Road to Abundance I can't help but imagine what the grocery stores of 2010 would look like had different marketing forces prevailed. One can picture yuppies and hipsters walking the aisles of a grocery store in some alternate universe, content in knowing that their unnatural, Certified Inorganic™ food was scientifically proven to maximize this and detoxify that. SuperPills: The All-Synthetic Food Emporium!

 

Previously on Paleo-Future: 

 

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Reader Comments (8)

I like to eat chemicals!

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Schluss

I eat chemists for breakfast!

January 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTimeFlies

As unfashionable as it may be today, in the age of "Whole Foods", the authors have a point. All this fear of pesticides and "chemicals" (as if that meant anything, given that everything is chemicals, really), while not entirely unjustified, ignores the fact that "natural" foods may not in fact be good for us either. With the possible exception of seed-bearing fruits, plants and animals do not "want" to be eaten. This means that evolution will have provided them with toxic defenses. The biochemist Brice Ames (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Ames) has done many mutagenic studies on completely "natural" products and found that many of them are mutagenic. We just haven't noticed before because everyone has to eat food of some sort, Probably the healthiest food would be designed synthetic food, even if that wouldn't necessarily be very appealing.

January 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Badger

If I recall correctly, Bruce Sterling's science-fiction novel "Islands in the Net" had health-food enthusiasts who refused to eat anything but synthetic food for this reason.

January 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt McIrvin

Well, this assumes that one could make foodstuffs that were totally synthetic. Have there ever been any efforts at totally synthetic food, and if so, have any such products entered the market? Somehow I'm thinking the answer is no....

January 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLucario

Such claims are preposterous. I'm sure if people got fed with synthetic food as envisioned by those proponents they would all die of deficiency symptoms very soon. Let's face it, even today we have merely an insufficient knowledge about what the human body needs (vitamin doses are a good example) and even today's biochemistry can't synthesize something as complex as say an apple with its thousands of phytochemicals, which are health-promoting, even though biochemists can't explain the necessary processes behind that.

Thus I would choose an apple over e.g. "synthetic meat" (read: artificial tumors out of culture dishes) everytime.

January 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiam

Liam, when you call them artificial tumors grown in culture dishes, I'd rather eat a real cow too.

January 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCory Gross

@Liam
you realize that your 'artificial tumors out of culture dishes' are still made of normal cells? i.e. are the same thing, just without the rest of the animal?

January 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEMC

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