CHAPTER 6 – TWO GREAT FOOD REVOLUTIONS
• The changes in food provision that have occurred since WWII are the most important in human
history. They are referred to as the ‘second great food revolution’.
• The first revolution gave us agriculture and animal husbandry. The change occurred slowly over
• The second revolution, which began in 1945 and continues to the present, combines the mechanical,
chemical, and biotech revolutions, which together enable global capitalism to increasingly enter and
control the food system.
o Capitalism – an economic system in which privately owned and controlled autonomous units
of production hire wage workers to produce commodities for the sake of maximizing profits in
o Agriculture becoming capitalist.
o U.S. provisioning system is at the centre, with corn its largest and most important crop.
o U.S. most dominant and capitalist power in the system, at the core of the global food system
Gathering and Hunting (2 million BCE to 15,000 BCE)
• ‘Work’ was mainly satisfying the basic human needs to eat and drink.
• 1.5 million years ago, homo erectus, one of modern humankind’s ancestors, began to slowly move
outward from their African homes. Remained in the tropics and semi-tropics lived in groups of 25 to
50. When food ran out, the group would move on. Had few needs other than food.
o Marx and Engels stated that the most interesting point about this early period is the
general absence of any surplus over and above subsistence (survival) and thus the absence
of class relations that an ongoing surplus makes possible. For once there is a surplus, a
dominant class may take control of most of it, and thereby take control of socio-economic life.
Class relations – social relations entered into by people who share similar
relations to means of productions.
• Hunting typically precedes gathering and hunting played a more important role in human evolution,
where men hunted and women gathered. However, more food was supplied by gathering than
hunting, and sometimes men gathered and women hunted. It is likely that gathering was more
influential. A more accurate term, then, would be gathering and hunting.
The First Great Food Revolution (15,000 BCE to 5000 BCE)
• Domestication involves the taming and shaping of the wild itself, presumably to better serve human
needs (most important development).
• As the domestication of plants and animals spread and developed, food productivity gradually
increased, generating a relatively stable and growing surplus. This surplus opened the door to
changes in social and economic structures.
o First, it helped more people to be freed from the work of food production and focus on art,
politics, religion or war.
o Second, it enabled the population to grow in relatively permanent settlements that could
trade food and crafts with other settlements and thus develop a degree of specialization.
Pop. never exceeded 4 million.
Between 10,000 BCE and 500 BCE, the domestication increased the pop from 4
to 100 million.
o Third, food surpluses presented the possibility of class stratification. In other wards, by
systemically taking over most social surplus, one class would come to be dominant.
Stratification – any differences among people that give rise to a hierarchy of
distinct strata. A looser term than class.
o Fourth, state function could begin to emerge, as the dominant class generated a key
decision-making group that would make and enforce laws, collect taxes, promulgate
religion, and make war. • These 4 changes are fundamental to the evolution of human societies to this day. Farm productivity is
high enough that less than 3% of the pop work in farming sectors. Percentage is continuously
• In the ancient world, a major reason for the decline of civilizations was the degradation of soil caused
by lack of knowledge of how to replenish the soil’s fertility, by deforestation, or sometimes by
salination (the buildup of salts in the soil due to irrigation).
• Today civilization is threatened not only by soil degradation, but also by global warming, generalized
pollution, and the depletion of non-renewable resources, most notably fossil fuels and fresh water, but
also many other resources such as helium, phosphorous, and copper.
The Second Great Food Revaluation: Capitalism Takes Over Food Production
• Capitalism first developed in England as early as the 17 -18 centuries.
• Capitalism and Agriculture
• The most basic aim of capitalism is to accumulate the greatest profit in the least time. It is done by
maximizing the spread between the production cost and the selling price of a commodity, by
expanding the market for the profitable commodity as quickly as possible, and by increasing the
speed at which a unit of capital turns over. Maximizing profit overrides all other goals. Profits really
depend on making getting workers to give their max effort for minimum pay.
o Profit – the difference between a capitalist’s costs to produce a commodity and its selling
• Marx called the difference between value created by workers and the value they receive back as
wages exploitation, such that the higher the rate of exploitation, the greater the profits.
o Exploitation – in a capitalist society, the difference between the value that a working
class produces and the value that it receives as wage or salary.
• Circuits of capital or Turnover time – the movement of capital: original money, to investment, to
final profit is one turnover of the circuit. Other things being equal, the faster the turnover of capital, the
greater the profits.
• Time is money; the goal is the fastest turnover, and hence the greatest profit.
• Capitalism’s emphasis on profit means human health, environmental health, and social justice are
ignored unless they affect profit or unless laws require that these be considered.
• Externalities – social, environmental, and economic costs or benefits that are not reflected in the
market prices of products.
• Capitalism is the main problem, not globalization or industrialization.
• Globalization emphasizes the spatial aspect, arguing that too much control is wielded at a global level
rather than at the state, regional, or local level.
• Industrialization emphasizes the large factory-like units of production that are coming to dominate in
the global food system.
• Capitalism emphasizes the profit motive that underlies both the exploitation of workers up and down
the food chain and efforts to continuously speed up the food chain.
• It also helps us to understand why long-range social and environmental costs are often ignored in
favour of short-term profits. Therefore rain forests being replaced by monocultures may be more
profitable but long-term costs of climate change, health problems, species loss, and land degradation
make the profits negligible.
• In short, we need prices that take into account long-run human and environmental flourishing and that
are not based narrowly on short-term production costs and selling prices.
• A proto-capitlaist agriculture first developed in Britain in the 17 and 18 centuries.
• The world domination by capitalist agriculture means not only that it is the predominant form of
agriculture globally but also that is tends to shape other forms of agriculture more than it is shaped by
• Thus global agriculture is dominated by capitalist corporate farming – controlled by large corporations
– which in turn shapes all other modes of farming that still exist to some extent in the world: capitalist
collective farming, capitalist state farming, capitalist family farming, capitalist co-operatives, capitalist
slavery, and capitalist feudalism (and various permutations and combinations of these).
• Agriculture can be considered to consist of ‘commodity chains’ that start with crop production and end
up as cotton shirts, cigars, ethanol, roast beef, or waste. Agriculture in North America
• Class – a concept for differentiating between groups of people based on property relations, as when
masters own slaves, lords own the land, and capitalists own the means of production.
• In the US and Canada, family farmers pushed Aboriginal peoples off the land and into reservation