Food poses a number of paradoxes in modern life. On one hand it’s a very basic need; on the other many of us spend hours preparing and enjoying it. Significant nutrition can be had from even the simplest dishes, yet major corporations channel millions of dollars into research and development. Western farmers generate mountains of excess produce, while millions go to bed hungry every night.
Food can be a simple pleasure, such as the satisfaction of growing vegetables in one’s own garden, or it can be a matter of such importance that it drives people to go to great lengths to shape their surroundings in an effort to improve the efficiency of its production.
All around the world, the impact of the human need for food production can be seen, often with spectacular consequences.
Irrigation is a process which has been constantly developed by mankind over thousands of years. From the Nile basin to the jagged hills of Southern Spain, the practice of effectively channelling precious water has brought life to many a barren landscape.
Modern techniques are now bringing life to some of the most naturally sterile environments; perfect circles of crops now line the edges of deserts from around the globe.
The Incan Terraces
For the native farmers of Peru, living at altitude had its disadvantages. In the face of this adversity, however, the Inca made some of the world’s most significant developments in agricultural practice, with enduring effects on their land’s appearance.
The magnificent terraces – or andenes – prevent the run-off of water and maximise the amount of surface available for planting, making the absolute most of the resources available. Due to a lack of working animals, the vast majority were carved by hand, a fact that makes their regularity and enduring integrity all the more impressive. The stunning aesthetic which they produce is a lucky bonus.
Although rice is among the world’s most widely-grown crops, the image of the rice paddy has become closely associated with South East Asia. For many people, the image of farmers planting, tending or harvesting their waterlogged crop is characteristic of Vietnam, Laos or China.
While the seemingly endless paddies make for evocative imagery, it’s important to remember the labour which goes into their maintenance and management.
The numerous rows of the bushy green tea fields of Darjeeling echo the curves of the Andean terraces, despite being almost literally on the other side of the world. Meticulously cared for and lovingly reared, the plants are particularly prized for the delicate flavour of the tea they produce.
Despite lying in the shadow of the mighty Himalayas, the order and precision of these fields is an enduring testament to mankind’s ability to tame rugged territory. And all in the name of a nice cup of tea.
The lengths we go to as a species to ensure our ability to eat are varied and dramatically different, but if there’s one thing that unites us all it’s our willingness to go to great lengths to put food on the table.