Advantages and Disadvantages of Agriculture

‘All right, […] let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of agriculture.

Advantage: Controllable food supply. You might have droughts or floods, but if you’re growing the crops and breeding them to be hardier, you have a better chance of not starving.

Disadvantage: In order to keep feeding people as the population grows you have to radically change the environment of the planet.

Advantage: Especially if you grow grain, you can create a food surplus, which makes cities possible and also the specialization of labour. Like, in the days before agriculture, everybody’s job was foraging, and it took about a thousand calories of work to create a thousand calories of food, and it was impossible to create large population centres.

But, if you have a surplus, agriculture can support people not directly involved in the production of food. Like, for instance, tradespeople, who can devote their lives to better farming equipment, which in turn makes it easier to produce more food more efficiently, which in time makes it possible for a corporation to turn a profit on this ninety-nine cent double cheeseburger. […]

Some would say that large and complex agricultural communities that can support cities and eventually inexpensive meat sandwiches are not necessarily beneficial to the planet or even to its human inhabitants. […]

Advantage: Agriculture can be practised all over the world, although in some cases it takes extensive manipulation of the environment, […] irrigation, controlled flooding, terracing, that kind of thing.

Disadvantage: Farming is hard. So hard, in fact, that one is tempted to claim ownership over other humans and then have them till the land on your behalf, which is the kind of non-ideal social order that tends to be associated with agricultural communities.’

– Green. J. (2012, January 26) The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1

Benefits of Hunter-gathering

‘So fifteen thousand years ago, humans were foragers and hunters. Foraging meant gathering fruits, nuts, also wild grains and grasses; hunting allowed for a more protein-rich diet, so long as you could find something with meat to kill.

By far the best hunting gig in the pre-historic world, incidentally, was fishing, which is one of the reasons that if you look at history of people populating the planet, we tended to run for the shore and then stay there. Marine life was A) abundant, and B) relatively unlikely to eat you.

While we tend to think that the life of foragers were nasty, brutish and short, fossil evidence suggests that they actually had it pretty good: their bones and teeth are healthier than those of agriculturalists. And anthropologists who’ve studied the remaining forager peoples have noted that they actually spend a lot fewer hours working than the rest of us, and they spend more time on art, music, and storytelling. Also, if you believe the classic of anthropology, Nisa, they also have a lot more time for [sex].[1][2] […]

It’s worth noting that cultivation of crops seems to have risen independently over the course of millennia in a number of places – from Africa to China to the Americas – using crops that naturally grew nearby: rice in Southeast Asia, maize in in Mexico, potatoes in the Andes, wheat in the Fertile Crescent, yams in West Africa.

People around the world began to abandon their foraging for agriculture. And since so many communities made this choice independently, it must have been a good choice, right? Even though it meant less music and [sex].’

– Green. J. (2012, January 26) The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1

[1] Shostak. M. (2002) “Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman”.

[2] John Green refers to sexual intercourse here as ‘skoodilypooping’, further stating “What? I call it skoodilypooping. I’m not gonna apologize.” The authors unanimously oppose the use of this icky euphemism and have therefore removed the term; in doing so, the authors have replaced it with the common epithet ‘sex’.