Tuesday, August 25, 2015

World War Food

During WWII, my father was billeted on a Large Slow Target built in Youngstown, OH. From there, they sailed down to the Ohio River, to the Mississippi, past New Orleans, through the Gulf of Mexico, the Panama Canal and from there to Pearl Harbor. The fact that they could do this at all is quite astonishing.

We Americans tend to think of ourselves as exceptional, which is hyperbole, but what is without a doubt exceptional about us is our geography. No other nation, no other continental region, has a riverine transport system even remotely equivalent to the Mississippi River Basin.

None. Couple this with some of the richest soils in the world, a relatively benign and stable climate, and you have an effective food power second to none. We bucket head Americans literally fell ass backwards into a really good deal.

The US Department of Agriculture was established in 1862 under Abraham Lincoln. Think of that.

Here the Union was fighting a war, and yet still had the time and resources to engage in, not one but two, Apollo Moon Launch programs of the time: the Transcontinental Railroad, and the great geophysical inventory of the soils and seeds of the US farming communities.

The US of A, already a formidable food power as early the 1820s, set about modernizing its agrarian practices to achieve maximum efficiency for the farmer. Lincoln appointed Isaac Newton (the other one) to the position of commissioner. Newton was renowned for innovative farm practices, and immediately set about on a program of analyzing soils, grains, fruits, plants, vegetables and animals best suited for each region.
(Newton also initiated the program of food prospectors, which to this day scour the globe for useful plants).

The agriculture data compiled was of such an astoundingly fine granularity (down near to what grew best where within a detail of mere yards) that the libraries and museums comprise some of the most extensive and thorough collection of information ever acquired. It was literally the Internet of its day, and had a more profound impact Western civilization than can be imagined.

Today, agriculture accounts for perhaps 4-5% of US GDP, but during the latter half of the 19th century, and much of the 20th, our status as a food power, was unchallenged.

WWI (not the first war where intentional food scarcity was used, but certainly the first big war) can be considered the first big food war. Germany, the most advanced nation on Earth at the time, relied upon foreign imports for nearly half of its food. Great Britain, the most powerful nation of Earth, relied upon imports for 2/3rds of its food.

Food shortages curtailed the war, especially for Germany. There is evidence to suggest American food won the war for the Allies - not the intervention of American armed forces.

This is still very true today. It's true that in our weird ear of industrial agriculture, oil and gas are used to grow food, but the real point of oil and gas is to expedite and assist in food production.

Food power is the only real power.

No comments:

Post a Comment