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Engineering food. Engineering food: making it more predictable in availability. Engineer the plants Neolithic Revolution (5000 - 10,000 years ago) Green Revolution (1940’s to 1960’s and still underway) Engineer the inputs Herbicides Pesticides. Domestication of plants.

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engineering food making it more predictable in availability
Engineering food: making it more predictable in availability
  • Engineer the plants
    • Neolithic Revolution (5000 - 10,000 years ago)
    • Green Revolution (1940’s to 1960’s and still underway)
  • Engineer the inputs
    • Herbicides
    • Pesticides
decentering the fertile crescent
Decentering the Fertile Crescent
  • Multiple hearths where crops domesticated
  • No one single origin of domestication
  • Many cultures experimenting simultaneously
neolithic revolution
Neolithic Revolution
  • Worldwide human population explosion, from an estimated 4-6 million people to 60-70 million by 4,000 B.C.
  • Reorganization of human social and cultural life

Most domesticated plants and animals we use today were established in first few thousand years of plant domestication..


Domestication is defined as when a plant becomes dependent upon humans for its occurrence. Without humans, the crop cannot continue to reproduce in the landscape.

global expansion of europe and changes in agriculture
Global expansion of Europe and changes in agriculture
  • Led to global diffusion of domesticated crops and animals. A massive ecological and biogeographical exchange
    • Cultivated in China as far back as 2500 BC. Pomelo and mandarin orange crossed to form orange
    • Orange progenitors brought from Arabic cultures to Europe
    • Spaniards introduced the sweet orange to the American continent and South America in the mid-1500s.
  • A concept with recent origin
  • 1960’s: many countries have either gone through (Stage 4) or are going through (Stage 3) demographic transition
  • Population growth increasing
  • First concerns about global population and carrying capacity of the planet expressed
population debates in the 1960s and 1970 s
Population debates in the 1960s and 1970’s
  • Compulsory birth regulation ... (through) the addition of temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food. Doses of the antidote would be carefully rationed by the government to produce the desired family size” (scenario imagined by Paul Ehrlich in his book The Population Bomb)
population debates
Population debates
  • Ehrlich was advocating a Neo-Malthusian perspective on population growth
    • Carrying capacity will be inexorably exceeded by human population
    • Exponential population growth versus linear resource growth
    • Cultural influences on nativity, women’s reproductive rights, and other influences on population growth downweighted in favor of determinist biological view
population debates1
Population debates

“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. “

Thomas Malthus (1798) “Essay on the Principle of Population

population debates2
Population debates
  • Cornucopian arguments
    • More people provides more brains to solve problems
    • Technology will solve issues of resource scarcity
    • Julian Simon, a cornucopian “doomslayer” and contemporary of Ehrlich’s
simon ehrlich wager
Simon–Ehrlich wager
  • Simon had Ehrlich choose five commodity metals. Copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten were chosen and Simon bet that their prices would decrease, while Ehrlich bet they would increase.
  • Ehrlich lost the bet, as all five commodities that were bet on declined in price from 1980 through 1990, the wager period.
population debates3
Population debates
  • Overpopulation or overconsumption?
    • There are plenty of resources available:
    • Some people, classes, and places consume too much; others too little
    • Environmental degradation results from unequal distribution of resources