Read

There are days when I come to this table with a head full of ideas, other mornings when my mind is totally blank. It doesn’t matter one way or the other, since the final product always turns out to be something different.

I think the thrill for me is I don’t stress about it for a single second—It’s a challenge, and I love challenges.  I’ve learnt that writing, like life, is a process, rather than an endpoint. So I sit here at the start, relishing what’s to come, and then the final job of pruning, grafting, and polishing the fruit. Hopefully something you’ll get your teeth into.

By this stage, my text has a name: it’s called Read. If you’re visiting for the first time, it might encourage you to read on. If you come here often, you’ll know I’m about to shift the subject, using a little smoke and mirrors. Fact is, more and more people come here, so this month will have the highest number of visits, close to thirteen hundred. So far, as Homer Simpson would say.

A couple of years ago, a freshman was handed  a reading list at the U.K.’s Cambridge University. The student looked at it, then up at his professor, and groaned.
“You mean we have to read books?”
Unfortunately, the answer’s yes, because there’s no more effective way of condensing and transmitting knowledge. Data? You can watch TV. Or YouTube. Information? You’ll find it there too, along with disinformation. Knowledge? No. And without knowledge, how will you ever find wisdom?

I’ve thought long and hard about this, because like you I’m living in a world of incredible changes. My life has shifted from slide rules to smartphones, from fountain pens to Facebook. We’ve seen the internet’s geeky beginning as a defense tool back in 1970’s turn into a global communication and commerce powerhouse. The last five things I’ve purchased have either been bought or found online.

And the reading shift now is as monumental as in the times of Gutenberg and Caxton. If you’re a fan of word association (football), then if I say read you say write. The written word has also exploded on the web, and ever since the invention of cortacola, the Spanish term for cutting and pasting, so has plagiarism. It’s just so tempting.

Now everyone can publish, and triage is something done after, not before. It has publishing houses and literary agents twisting in the howling gale. It’s a hard rain.

The New Stone. Not since the Neolithic period has a change this profound happened in the way humans eat.

A similar  paradigm shift is happening in the water, a veritable sea change. In this case the paradigm took even longer to shift, around ten thousand years. That was when the hunter-gatherer was replaced by the farmer, and human beings have never looked back. Aquaculture has just done the same to wild fisheries, pipping the post at sixty million tonnes per year.

Virtually all the salmon, tilapia, turbot, and trout you eat are now farmed, along with all of the shellfish. Do you like prawns? Farmed. In Thailand, Nicaragua, or Brazil. Exotic foods from far-away places. If the distance increases, no one worries about provenance.

Pangasius, the Vietnamese giant catfish, is farmed down in the Mekong Delta. The creature has made its way onto every table in the Western World. Yesterday, I was speaking with an eighty-year-old who bought some fillets in the supermarket. He took them home and ate them, then curiosity overtook him—he browsed the net and discovered the fish was cultivated in Vietnam.

In the United States, Canada, and northern Europe, the whole discussion around aquaculture is pretty complicated. The issue isn’t so much eating cultivated fish products, it’s growing them. Many people don’t like to see the structures, be they fish cages or mussel lines in the water, or geoduck tubes on the beach.

Those same people are happy to walk through farming countryside, even if in parts it smells of shit, and is decorated with grain silos and animal pens. The social paradox is explained in three words: ten thousand years. All of us have a farmer or a fisherman in our ancestry, and many of us have generations of both. But we don’t necessarily have a hunter-gatherer in our genealogy, unless we go back two hundred generations or more. By then, things get pretty diluted.

But in the West, rarely has there been an aquafarmer in the family. No tradition, no social acceptance. Whereas in southeast Asia, aquafarming has been in families for two thousand years.

The (aquatic) elephant in the room: Vietnamese catfish produced in the Mekong Delta to the tune of over three hundred metric tons per hectare per year.

And there’s a huge world challenge for the next forty years: with an expected extra three billion mouths to feed by 2050, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates we need a further thirty million metric tons of aquatic products per year. If you crunch the numbers, that’s twenty-two pounds of fish a year for every new human, which sounds about right to me.

Now you might think this isn’t a Western problem, since that population growth will take place in developing countries. Not so. The U.S. and Europe presently import around eighty percent of the seafood they eat. Of course a large part is cultivated, and both the jobs and the production revenue are a negative trade-off. We export the jobs and the environmental issues, we import the fish.

But what happens as China, and southeast Asia, who are responsible for ninety percent of world aquaculture, become simultaneously richer and more populated? The domestic consumer will take up more fish, leaving less for export markets. With wild fisheries flatlining or contracting, where will the United States source its fish? And at what price?

Europe has similar worries, and we all seem to be moving ever so slowly on this, stifled by overregulation and a silly notion that what has been, will be. Gone is the Roman empire, gone are the days of The India Road, gone are the tea clippers, the compact disk and the printing press. For ever.

Que será será, not Lo que fue, será.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.

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One Response to “Read”

  1. Maxine Says:

    Reading “The Book ” after your lecture
    Wish were possible to have lecture on the aquafarming and gleen more information on this most important aspect of the global situation re feeding the world.
    Thank you for opening a door to peep through

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