Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book Review: The Windup Girl

So, I pick up this science fiction novel, The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi and I am really blown away by the characters, the setting and just the great writing.  I could go on about some of the themes of GMO animals versus "real" animals or the underlying themes of what it means to be genetically modified with the current constraints on science but this is a food blog.

For those interested in food issues, there are three underlying assumptions of this universe that provides for provocative pondering...and additional purple prose from pundits.

1. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are here to stay.
2. Calories are a basic unit of work and will be incorporated into our daily lives.
3. Localism turned to a global scale will bring interesting effects.

GMO is becoming a big thing. When I was doing a science radio show in the 90's, the producer and I would have arguments over this very thing. I am largely okay with GMO until it starts crossing lines in the Kingdoms. Adding fish genes to tomatoes would never happen in the wild and so the husbanding of this erzatz product, and it is only a product, seems ridiculous. If it is a more gentle coaxing then I tend to be okay.

The other point is that banning something tends not to work. Telling kids not to have sex doesn't work, so you should just go right into harm reduction mode. Think of it as a road to co-option. If you agree but only on these terms, then maybe we have a chance at ensuring a safer and more sane approach to messing around with our foods. Right now, the corporations will only be looking at ways of improving their bottom line without regard to such things as biodiversity, flavour, nutrition, and ancillary issues. If it sells and gets produced for cheaper then it works.

Calories have already started to make their way into our mindsets but generally as a negative thought, as in, reducing your calories to a minimum. Now, if you think of it a different way, as in how many calories did you create or use today, then the system starts to flip itself on its head. If a calorie became the unit of currency due to food shortages then certain jobs become more important namely agricultural, food production, and biochemical engineers. Also, your body becomes important when you die as a calorie source that should find its way back into the food system.

Not all of this is in the book but my mind turned to what an economic system based on calories would look like. I assumed many bad effects because I had recently finished reading The Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins, which is the same job as one of the protagonists in the novel.

The third foodie thought that came while reading this book was around a profound effect that could be had by making localism a norm and rule rather than a nice thing to do for the local farmers. If some place like Colombia said that it would no longer provide the world with coffee but that it would only produce enough for itself and convert the remaining plantations to food to grow calories for its own population, think of the impact.

It is not to far fetched as the climate changes and affects the coffee yield, it may be in their best interest to change to crops to something more sustainable and relevant to them. Given that food crops are now being affected adversely by the creation of the equivalent of stock markets that reward speculation that drives up real world prices. The producers cannot afford their own food as is the case for quinoa. I am only linking one example but if you start looking into that example and looking at the complex effects, I am sure that you will get what I am going on about.

Anyways, the book isn't about food but these three throw away ideas that don't even drive the novel are incredible by themselves. It just goes to show how deep and curious this almost like our world is. Read any of his stuff. So far, I am really impressed by the imagination and the writing itself. Worth a read.

No comments:

Post a Comment