Anyone with a weakness for biscuits will be interested to know that the complications caused by the application of Meursing numbers to Chapter 19 (pastry and biscuit products) are a thing of the past. Once a place of pilgrimage for importers of third country biscuits, this chapter was originally stuffed with product groups of biscuits ranked by dairy, sugar and flour content. Like a dazzled rabbit in car headlights, UK Brexit negotiators editing the biscuit chapter blew a fuse and deleted the whole lot. Refer to the Common European Tariff to see what you might have missed.

Datacrumb 2

Farmed birds need to be robust to survive the rigours of modern agriculture; this is reflected in veterinary inspection standards. Spare a thought, then, for the lovers of caged birds, such as canaries. Veterinary regulations for travel between trading blocs require the birds to be swabbed in the vent and on the tonsils. Since swabbing a canary’s tonsils will kill the bird, they are no longer traded between the EU and third countries, such as the UK.

City life 1.0

The foundations of any society must needs be its harmony with, for want of a better term, nature. There is simply no way we can live outside nature, so we have to recognise that we are part of it and live accordingly. This is easier to say than to do, so my apologies for not having ready answers to the torrent of issues such a line of thought unleashes.

The inescapable paradox is that our cities are built to normalise anthropocentric lifestyles. Nobody is to blame for such a situation, it has just happened this way and would probably do the same again if we were to reinvent industrial society. In simple terms we lack the skill set needed to give the natural world a proper hearing and it is a moot point to suggest that we just need time to do so. We have had an incentive to learn for millennia and have spent that time dipping into finite planetary resources in the process.

The earliest settled cities devised elaborate systems for governing both city and hinterland, documenting their transactions with painstaking detail. Literacy was restricted to the ruling class, but every citizen had to be environmentally savvy if the metropolis was to survive, let alone prosper. History bears witness to the long term success of Sumerian cities such as Girsu or Ur, where archaeologists talk of habitation during millennia, an achievement that is unlikely to be matched by the modern industrial economy. Stumbling from environmental crisis to ecological impasse, the industrial economy has played fast and loose with nature, not to mention urban food chains, the subject of this blog.

More pressing than to understand the fate of early agrarian societies is to understand what they did correctly for centuries. There is good reason to suppose that they had sustainable sanitation of a sort that Sir Alfred Howard envisaged while working on the Indore project. A renewable, natural cycle producing humus within a month would go a long way to explaining the soil’s fertility in the world’s longest-surviving agrarian societies.

Taking sides with bacon

Until the latter years of the twentieth century, bacon followed a parallel path to the rest of the pig sector, taking its share of knocks on the way. Processors could sell as many loins of bacon as they could get their hands on, but they were held back by a balancing act, otherwise known as balancing the carcase.

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Fire power

In his book Against The Grain, James C Scott discusses the use of fire as a tool to manage the environment. Through clearing rain forest with fire, prehistoric hominids discovered that the burnt areas recovered rapidly, becoming more attractive to the species that were hunted for food. Attracted by tender green shoots and lush grass, grazing herbivores were followed by their carnivorous predators, much to the satisfaction of the hunter gatherers.

By creating productive oases of harvestable food, the hominids no longer needed to travel so far to find food. The pressing need to move on and start looking for fresh sources of food started to lose its urgency. But Scott has a more intriguing discovery to relate.

The closest relative to hominids is the chimpanzee, which has a significant difference, despite sharing almost all its genetic traits with humans. The chimp’s digestive system is elaborate and robust, allowing it to digest cellulose and tough vegetation. This heavy duty digestive function is absent in homo sapiens, Scott argues, because the use of fire for cooking food makes it easier to digest. It is as though homo sapiens has externalised the digestive functions by cooking on fires.

Having made the transition to a lighter, swifter digestive system, humanity is not going to reverse the process any time soon. Humanity is committed to maintaining a pattern of routine burning in the rain forest, just to carry on eating. We are now dependent on the restraints that we took on willingly millennia previously and are irrevocably committed to cooking and eating food, ranging over shorter distances than before. The domestication that came with fire changed humanity’s future development.