The history of food hints at its future by historyman


									   The history of food hints at its future
                                                                                                       While some have suggested that
    Jennifer Marohasy reviews                                                                    the recent failed wheat crop is a sign of
    Australian Agriculture: Its                                                                  inappropriate intensive European agri-
                                                                                                 cultural techniques and climate change,
     History and Challenges                                                                      Australian Agriculture documents the tre-
                                                                                                 mendous increases in wheat yields over
            by Ted Henzell
                                                                                                 the last 100 years—particularly the last
       (CSIRO Publishing, 2007,                                                                  20 years—as a result of innovations such
             308 pages)                                                                          as high-yielding varieties, rotation with
                                                                                                 canola and improved management with

          griculture began in Australia with                                                     nutrition and diseases.
          the arrival of the first European                                                            Henzell also documents the extent
          settlers in 1788. In the early years,                                                  to which yield per hectare has increased
 wheat was grown in coastal New South                                                            dramatically in cotton, driven by a signif-
                                                        There are also stories for those in-
 Wales, with the flour produced rationed                                                         icant investment in research and develop-
                                                  terested in wine, including material on
 along with a fixed quantity of beef, sugar                                                      ment and the adoption of new genetically
                                                  some of the colourful characters who
 and tea. Many early settlers considered                                                         modified varieties. In contrast, produc-
                                                  pioneered wine-making in our hot cli-
 fruit and vegetables a health hazard—in-                                                        tivity in the sugar industry has suffered
                                                  mate before the advent of mechanical
 deed, a Dr Johnson suggested that cu-                                                           from the banning of organochlorine pes-
                                                  refrigeration. Interestingly, the Forster
 cumber should be well sliced, dressed                                                           ticides and growing the crop as a mono-
                                                  brothers in Melbourne were using refrig-
 with pepper and vinegar and then prop-                                                          culture. Not only does Henzell illustrate
                                                  eration to make their lager beer 50 years
 erly thrown out, as it was good for noth-                                                       how Australia’s fruit and vegetable indus-
                                                  before South Australian wine producers
 ing.                                                                                            tries have used quarantine policy to limit
                                                  realised how important refrigeration was
      Over the last two hundred years                                                            competition from imports, but he also
                                                  for the production of light white wines.
 much has changed—including not only                                                             shows the extent to which those policies
                                                  Furthermore, fortified wines are remark-
 where and how our food is grown but                                                             have hampered opportunities to develop
                                                  ably tolerant of hot oxidant conditions
 what we like to eat. This history is de-                                                        export markets.
                                                  during fermentation, which perhaps ex-
 tailed, commodity by commodity, in a                                                                  The most powerful message to draw
                                                  plains why they accounted for about 85
 new book by Ted Henzell with the de-                                                            from Henzell’s book is not only that each
                                                  per cent of Australian wine sales during
 ceptively bland title Australian Agricul-                                                       commodity has a unique history, but that
                                                  the 1930s and 1940s.
 ture: Its History and Challenges.                                                               each commodity will only survive as an
                                                        Henzell puts the modern animal lib-
      Henzell’s book contains much of                                                            Australian industry into the twenty-first
                                                  eration campaign in some context, when
 interest for food buffs on the history of                                                       century if it manages to stay internation-
                                                  he describes just how many cattle died
 different products and their methods of                                                         ally competitive—in particular, through
                                                  on the early sailing ships on their way to
 production. It is surprising to learn that                                                      the development and implementation of
                                                  Botany Bay. Nearly all the early introduc-
 it was Chinese migrants who grew most                                                           new and innovative technologies, from
                                                  tions were financed by the government,
 of the vegetables for Sydney at the turn of                                                     the planting of the crop through to the
                                                  as live importation was such a costly and
 the twentieth century and that they prac-                                                       sale of the final product. And consider-
                                                  risky business. Only 227 beasts survived
 tised one of the most sustainable organic                                                       ing how recent an addition many ‘staple’
                                                  of the 364 boarded in the first 10 years of
 farming systems in the world—the use of                                                         foods such as tomatoes are to Australian
 nightsoil (human manure). This perhaps                                                          kitchens, we may be eating very different
                                                        In the chapter on sheep and wool,
 explains why recipe books back then rec-                                                        foods in many different ways by the end
                                                  Henzell explains that with the industrial
 ommended that carrots be boiled for two                                                         of this century.
                                                  revolution underpinning the development
 hours!                                           of the wool industry, there was an excess of                                     I PA
                                                  mutton. So, in the 1840s, when there was
                                                  a sharp fall in demand for stocking new
 Jennifer Marohasy is a Senior Fellow             stations, about a million head of sheep a
 at the Institute of Public Affairs.              year were boiled down for tallow.

JANUARY 2008                                                          63                                            R E V I E W

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