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The New Planetary Diet
Damn you Paolo Bacigalupi
One of the ways to remain easily Stoic is to read quite enough good science fiction so that you can anticipate the ways and means the world might degenerate at some point in the future. Most of our popular science fiction even portrays the dystopian and post-apocalyptic in ways that have become rather pedestrian. Do we really need another zombie movie or space opera? Well, yes because sometimes you have a desire for diversion. Why not? Every once in a while, I have the nerve to try out something new but rarely have I found something so excruciatingly vivid as the work of Paolo Bacigalupi. Specifically:
The Windup Girl
The Water Knife
Nobody within shouting distance of common sense believes that the future will look anything like the Jetsons. It is for the matter of flying cars that I happily encourage the epithet ‘OK Boomer’. Bacigalupi picks up a piece of concrete from a broken curb on a ghetto street and throws it into the optimistic eye. When I first read The Windup Girl I specifically recall that there had never been such an accurately written scenario about the effects of how multinational corporations would likely deal with global hunger. These days the ways we think about the paranoid moralist propaganda that seeps across social media, COVID body counts and the dangerous capabilities of our elite billionaires - it’s just a stone’s throw from how Bacigalupi talks about the budgets of the Calorie Men.
Imagine a world where stuff stops growing after a global blight. No spinach, no acai, no coffee, no corn, soy, rice, millet or wheat. Imagine the CIA, Walmart and Verizon take over the process of feeding all of mankind by monitoring policing every human’s caloric intake. This is just where PB gets started.
The poor are always with us and I while I grant a lot of credibility to Neill Blomkamp, when it comes to my neck of the woods Bacigalupi has got us nailed. Of The Water Knife, I wrote:
PB seems to have mastered an understanding of the desperate nature of humanity faced with its own folly, brutality and deception. Reading the Water Knife, you almost forget that it's science fiction because the human element is so strong, so smelly, so vivid, so gut wrenching. What makes his work so distinct from what we typically read is that he never forgets that this harsh reality drastically affects children as well as adult fictional characters. It borders on Dickensian. He's in the head of a girl fearing for her life in the worst of all situations, a girl so abused that she doesn't recognize what love is, as if it were a stupid thing her dead father used to do before he died so many years ago.
The Water Knife is the story of extreme opportunism and the brutal ethics of machinations of water wars escalated to violent conflict in the American Southwest. States are barely restrained in a Machiavellian contest for acquiring and enforcing water rights in the Colorado River watershed. It's Texas vs Nevada vs Arizona in a winner take all contest, looming in the background is mighty California. It's a story of the destitute and the dominating, a foolproof plan that goes horribly wrong; a apocalyptic tale of people on the edge.
If we forget sometimes that science fiction serves humanity by painting portraits of humans in drastically altered realities and illustrates what we remain, then PB's Water Knife stands well in his portfolio to remind us once again.
Meat is for Morons
I say to hell with the sentiment that meat is evil. It took me half a day to learn more about beef than I ever knew thanks to my close friend The Rancher. I learned in rapid fashion just tagging their ears but that makes me odd out of the sophisticated bunch as Eurof Uppington tells us:
Future generations will likely look back on factory farming as one of humanity’s greatest crimes. The science is clear: humans must eat less meat. Climate impact is the urgent task of all of us, and each cattle feedlot and industrial piggery is an environmental disaster. In the cruelty-free plant-based world, morality and climate conscience are the great motivators.
Alt-meat isn’t new, a fact often forgotten. Long before Drake, the first celebrity backer of alt-meat was Linda McCartney. The idea is one of her great legacies, and she should get more credit from the industry. Her eponymous brand, made from extruded soy, along with the mycoprotein fungus-based Quorn, was a staple of TV ads in the UK in the 1990s. The vegetarian and vegan movements she helped inspire are enthusiastic forces behind the rise of alt-meat.
And while presenting some evidence that the market ain’t going for it and generally recognizing that it’s complicated to re-engineer the meat food chain, he concludes:
Should we give up on the dreams of alt-meat? No. Our cruel industrial farming system must die. We have to fix the climate and eat less meat. But the consensus that alt-meat is the solution for our ills is likely coming to an end. Other ideas are coming over the horizon. In particular, the promise of regenerative agriculture for climate and a better food system is huge, and largely unexploited by climate and food investors.
If there was ever a series of self-incriminating paragraphs, these should stand the test of time. So I have saved the entire missive in Evernote, my augmented long term memory. (here if it wasn’t up there) Nevertheless, we see the secondary incentives to enable a global hegemony on the contents of our diet in order to ‘save the planet’. I cannot express how riven through with risk is such an ocean-boiling enterprise. What makes anyone think those posed to exploit the probabilities of disrupting millennia of human knowledge of herding and slaughter are going to be half as ethical as Facebook has been at disrupting the publishing industry? Shouldn’t the very idea of an ‘Impossible Burger’ give us any clue?
Is Your Dog a Dog?
It should be obvious to anyone who has actually stood in a corral that there is an inherent connection between man and animal, but only because man makes it. Our contemporary fascination with the digital has unmade it, but in a particular way. Certainly you have noticed in your city how people have adopted their ‘fur babies’ and invited them into coffee shops in ways that were unheard of 20 years ago. These same people are astonished that dogs want to work, not as personal pet or spirit animals but as exterminators and herders.
Yeah. Over 3 million views because we need Subaru to help communicate what we used to communicate among ourselves. You know, before everything had a warning label stitched to it, but I digress. Off to New York City where we find an amateur effort for the love of dogs:
But the serious business of ratting happens at every chicken farm in America, and everywhere else. Rats are always with us. At this particular moment in history, we don’t have to eat them.
I’d bore you with one more video which is the counter-example, but I’d rather describe it to you simply. An old man hears a noise in his kitchen and doesn’t know what it is. His dog goes nuts. The man fears for the safety of his dog and makes several efforts to shoo the dog out of the kitchen instead of letting the dog do its job. The man finds that it is a bat and grabs it. The bat promptly bites the man. Rabies? Who knows? Who knows indeed.
To the extent that we have citified our dogs and censored our own minds we are incompetent to even understand the planet, much less be competent stewards of the small patches we occupy. Sorting garbage and taking short showers are not going to make the difference. But we’ll have plenty opportunities to learn the hard way and Bacigalupi points to possible bad ends. While I pay particular attention to matters of the mind’s diet, I’m not the only one who notices what a difference a meal makes. It has been a while since I read the latest Michael Pollan, but I continue to see him and Michael Shellenberger as two people whose work we ignore at our own peril.
In the meantime, while we complain about mask mandates and the price of gas, the potential shortages of fertilizers and grains as casualties of the war in Europe now will bear lessons we may recall from this point forward. As the great energy crisis of 1973-74 marked all of us at that time, we may be forced to pay attention to nitrogen futures like we now pay attention to the price of oil.
Yet we still watch horror films that are scientifically impossible. We have as much chance of fixing the planet by eating less meat as we do of an actual plague of zombies. I don’t think vegans will be vindicated, but their horror stories make for a pleasant form of fright night films, so I suspect they will live on in our credulous imaginations like Count Dracula. Their qualms about meat may seem quite ethical for those who never venture to farms or ranches whose work is discounted as murderous, but we will not be saved by smart shopping. We will be squeezed by a caloric margin call from an unseen direction. Best to develop a broad diet. When I am thinking about our literal bourgeois tastes, I am always reminded of Japanese fiction in which the unspeakable poor find themselves eating millet instead of rice. The very concept of eating millet being the sine qua non of a social pariah. I do wonder what it tastes like, but I certainly will not be reduced to being an insectivore as some have suggested we planetary saviors must eventually. Even chickens don’t eat locusts.
Ahead of the margin call, we are bombarded with propaganda. It doesn’t matter that the propaganda is ridiculous, it matters that the agitators can afford to sustain the bombardment. They may not wear you and I down, but they have managed to get shelf space at Walmart with food products as obscene as almond milk, and you know how difficult it is to get Walmart to do things. I am reminded of this every holiday season as it grows more difficult to obtain egg nog. I suppose we all might do ourselves a favor ahead of this slow calamity and wonk a bit harder on food, but damn it’s hard to fight a lifetime of appetites.
I’ll keep you up to date periodically. Today’s special is tuna fish salad with your standard can of Starkist.
9oz chunk light tuna in water
2 medium boiled eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1.25 tablespoons sweet relish
1 finely chopped celery stalk
1/2 dozen capers, 1 tsp juice
1/2 lemon squeezed in
sprinkles of dill weed, rosemary & pepper
Toast wheat bread and microwave melt a slice of swiss cheese or pepper jack. Cover the cheesy side with a dab of mustard and half a dozen leaves of fresh spinach. Two heaping tablespoons of the tuna mix on the other slice, mash them together and cut the sandwich your favorite way. Serve with table grapes.