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Beyond Beer and Refrigerators!

Hello again Chef Fan’s!!! I have started another class and this one is called Concepts in Natural Systems. I am enjoying this class a lot so far as it is a a little bit of a history class. We are just about two weeks into the class now and I have the first assignment read for everyone to read. Enjoy…

  1. How do you define an agricultural or a food system? Locate one example to illustrate your ideas.
    • Are these systems benign (do no harm) or dangerous?

A food system can be defined into two different categories, Conventional and Alternative. The Conventional food system is what we see today with big agribusiness calling all the shots to try and squeeze as much profit out of the food system as it can. This is where we find large industrial farming and companies like Monsanto. While the Alternative systems are the “new food movements” like: Sustainable, Local, Organic, etc. In an Alternative system we see groups and communities coming together to create farmers markets and even food co-ops. Each system has its pros and its cons but in order to make the judgment call of if the system is benign or dangerous we must look closer at each system.

Looking at the Conventional system first there are any number of recent news articles and movies like Food Inc. that go to point out all of the bad and negative things big agribusiness is doing. Let’s take a moment and look at some of the positive aspects that this system has had on our culture. Firstly, food is cheap and affordable for almost everyone. As much as we may not like it, the system works. It is not a perfect system and there is definitely room for improvement, but at its core the system works. You can say what you will about the evils of big agribusiness and the horrors of GMOs but they are still able to provide a “cheap” source of food that can grow in almost any condition, with higher yields and better resilience to pests. This system also uses a stunning array of transportation and logistical networks to ship and transport its products around the world. Does all of this mean that the Conventional food systems are benign? No, at least not completely. As movies like Food Inc. point out GMOs and the mass amount of chemicals needed to fight off the problems of creating monocultures on industrial feedlots have a vast array of side-effects and dangers.

On the other side of the fence, where the grass is always greener, we see some wonderful benefits to the Alternative food systems. The community involvement required to support local, organic, and cooperative food systems is a fantastic sight to see. When the system works it creates jobs for the community, and helps the community as a whole to prosper and grow. However because these Alternative food systems are most of the time more expensive to set up and maintain the items that the system produces are more expensive. This means that for many people the food produced is sold at prices they cannot afford, and this could be considered a large disadvantage of this system. Another issue with the Alternative system is the question of scale. One of the biggest challenges faced by these systems is how to feed larger groups of people. The communities that have implemented these systems are relatively small when compared with the global population as a whole. However each year has seen growth in both the popularity and consumer demand for the Alternative food systems and this could be all that is needed to create a new cooperating food system.

Imagine for a moment that the best aspects of each type of food system where combined together to create a cooperating food system. The vast transportation, logistical, and marketing networks of Conventional food systems paired with the power of sustaining and encouraging community growth from Alternative food systems could create a stronger global community. In order for a new system like this to come about it would require that big agribusiness works in cooperation with local farmers. Sadly until steps are taken to unite the two styles of food systems so that they work with each other instead of against each other, our food systems will continue to be a struggle between organic healthy food items and mass consumer production.


  1. Describe the following factors that influence and shape natural systems, agriculture, food, and cuisine and provide simple examples to illustrate them.
    • Geography and climate- Each of these plays a key factor in determining what can grow in an area. People who live in a desert region are going to have a hard time growing crops because of lack of arable land and water; whereas a farmer who lives in place with highly arable land is going to be able to grown and produce a wide range of crops and livestock. The climate is also going to play a part in what can or cannot be grown in and area. Take the wine growing belts around the globe as an example. “Most wine regions are in the 30-50 N and 30-50 S bands and this is because the climate types in these areas are the best at supporting wine grape growth.” (World Wine Growing Regions) Granted each of the different countries and regions in these wine belts are going to have a different climate and geography but this is what gives each grape its unique characteristics and taste components.
    • Religion, wealth, and social status- Almost every religion in history has put some sort of limitation on what its believers can eat. This may be the act of not eating meat of Good Friday, or it could be as extreme as the Jain religion which says that its believers should not eat root vegetables as it might inadvertently kill grub worms and other sub-terrestrial creatures. (Introduction to Jain Religion – Jainism). A person’s wealth and social status has always played a part what they can eat. In older times only the wealthy could afford things like spices, while luxury items of today like lobster were considered prison food because they looked like bugs. When it comes to things like social status the idea today isn’t much different from the past because people of social status still want to be seen eating at the most expensive places. This could be seen as a way of showing off or flaunting the wealth or power that inevitably comes from having this higher social status.
    • War and conquest- The paths of war and conquest have arguably had the biggest impact on the food-ways and food systems of the world. Across history anytime a people have warred there has been a forcible exchange of culture.  Most wars are fought over lands and the resources that the lands hold. Look at the conquest of the Arabs and the influences they had on the Spanish/Mediterranean diet. (Saracens Raids in the Mediterranean and the Christian Recovery (800-1100 AD)) With the introduction of herbs like basil, saffron, coriander, jasmine, and mint; along with spices such as ginger, aniseed, tamarind, cloves, and cinnamon the Arabs combined exotic imported plants with those that were native to the Mediterranean climate of Spain. Herbs and spices where not the only thing that the Arab’s passed onto the newly conquered people. Cultural and community dining aspects like sharing from a communal dish as can be seen with Paella, also come from Arab society. These everyday aspects of Spanish life all came about because of the Arab nation’s conquest of Spain.
    • Trade and technology- Trade is one of the biggest influences to our food systems, and technology is what has helped shape and mold global trade into what it has become today. People have been trading items since before written language, maybe not to the scale that we are capable of today, but as long as there have been people willing to ship items across continents there has been someone willing to buy it. Trade routes have been well documented across history with some notable ones being The Silk Road and the Spice Trade to and from India, but arguably the biggest and most influential trade route was The Columbian Exchange. When Columbus “discovered” the Americas it not only introduced the world to foods and items it had never seen before but it also created a new global market for trade and food movement.
    • Natural disaster- Few things like the power of our earth can create and destroy our food systems like a natural disaster. Vermont in just the last few years has experienced flooding which has destroyed crops and devastated communities and businesses. Events like volcanic eruptions and tsunamis rip through communities causing millions in damages and destroying everything in their paths. However, at the same time these natural disasters destroy they can also bring life. Volcanic lava fields can be some of the most fertile soil to grow food in, and for years people in Egypt have depended on the annual flooding of the Nile River for the few crops they are able to grow.
  1. From Native People to European Arrival to Today
    • When and how did humans alter New England and Vermont’s landscape?- We could go all the way back and talk about the very first people to ever inhabit this area of North America, or we could be talking about the first explorers who ventured across the ocean and discovered this land. While all of these things may have had a small impact on New England and Vermont the biggest human impacts are not seen until the arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower. This is not to say that these early people did not impact the landscape but it was nothing compared to large scale deforestation and development that took place when Europeans started to migrate to New England. Vast tracks of land were cleared to make room for farmland and the number of villages and communities popping up all over the New England Colonies. When trees where not cut down to make room for grazing and farm lands the trees themselves were farmed. Learning to tap into the sap of maple trees provided another export to the Old World and also help shaped the landscape. We are still forming the landscape of Vermont and New England around ourselves today with the instillation and upkeep of ski trails and lifts not to mention the impact that highway and road construction has had on the shape of the countryside.
    • Create a brief timeline of landscape change from pre-human arrival to today.
      • 8000 B.C. – First American Indians arrive in what is now the New England region, migrating from the West; they largely consist of Algonquin people.
      • 1000 B.C.E. -Norse mariners explore parts of the New England coast.
      • 1497 C.E. – John Cabot lands on the New England mainland and claims it for the king of England.
      • 1524- Giovanni da Verrazano sails along the New England coast, naming Rhode Island.
      • 1550 – European fur traders begin to filter into and hunt/ trap in the region.
      • 1602 – Bartholomew Gosnold and colonists arrive in New England, name Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, and set up a colony that lasts only 22 days
      • 1620 – Plymouth Colony founded by the Mayflower pilgrims.
      • 1636 – Harvard College is founded in Boston, and is still the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.
      • 1692 – Witch trials are held in Salem, Massachusetts.
      • 1773 – The Boston Tea Party occurs, and the British place Massachusetts under military rule.
      • 1775 – First shots of the Revolutionary War are fired at Lexington and Concord, forcing a British withdrawal.
      • 1777 – Vermont declares independence from Great Britain as a republic.
      • 1786-1787 – Shays’ Rebellion leads to breakdown of order in Massachusetts, and gives ammunition to supporters of a new Constitution.
      • 1787 – First American cotton mill is founded in Beverly, Massachusetts. Textile mills become a key New England industry.
      • 1830-1840 – Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau become prominent intellectual voices.
      • 1848- railroad builders came upon the skeleton of a whale on dry land in a 10,000-year-old layer of clay in Charlotte VT, south of Burlington VT.
      • 1850-1900 – Irish and Italian immigrants transform the demographics of the region, particularly in Boston, Massachusetts.
      • 2004 – Facebook is launched, initially limited to active students of Harvard University

Literature Review:

            When it came to answering the first question I went looking for articles on both types of food systems. I came across two articles one called “Food System Must Be Recreated through Cooperation” and the other called “Grace Communications Foundation.” Both of the articles provided a different perspective on some of the benefits and problems that each system has. The first article also presents ideas about how to go about creating a new cooperative food system which is an interesting idea that I personally think is an idea path we should look into more.

Food Inc. is a film that I feel helps point out the negative impacts that Conventional food systems have. As almost everyone who will be taking this class has seen the movie at some point or another while at NECI the ideas and issues presented should not be new to them.

Introduction to Jain Religion was my source to represent the sometimes extreme lengths that religion will go to, to tell its people what to eat.  I do understand that this is not my religion and just because I do not understand this religion does not mean that the beliefs illustrated are any less valid. When it comes to pointing out the different beliefs that effect a person’s diet I can’t think of a better example.

The maps presented on Exploring the Med provide a great resource for examining the movement and conquest of ancient peoples. On the Saracens Raids in the Mediterranean and the Christian Recovery (800-1100 AD) map we can see how the Arabs moved across most of Northern Africa and Spain and it is with this movement that we see the Arab influence in the eating habits of these conquered lands.

When it came time to create a timeline of events for New England I went out looking for a timeline or a list of historical events. I came across a list of many different events from the Timeline of New England History. The website had more tones of information on important events and even some not so important events like the creation of Facebook. This proved to be an excellent recourse to help me complete the timeline with events that I feel are important to the shaping of New England.

I used geographical and climate information present on the Wine Protocols Etiquette website to be an example of how both of these factors can play a part in the development of food systems.



Works Cited:

Food Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media, River Road Entertainment, 2008. DVD.

“Food System Must Be Recreated through Cooperation.” Agri-View. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2013.

“Grace Communications Foundation.” Local & Regional Food Systems. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2013.

“Introduction to Jain Religion – Jainism.” JainUniversity.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2013.

“Saracens Raids in the Mediterranean and the Christian Recovery (800-1100 AD).” Explore the Med. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2013.

“Timeline of New England History.” Timeline of New England History. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Jan. 2013.

“World Wine Growing Regions.” Wine Protocols Etiquette. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2013.



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