Speaking of the latest issue of Harper’s, it also contains a great piece by frequent Grist contributor Bill McKibben called “The Cuba Diet.” (It’s reprinted in full on this blog.) Dang, the dude can write.

The piece begins as a sort of anthropological meander through Cuba’s agricultural system. Turns out, when the Soviet Union fell, Cuba’s heavily-subsidized, mechanized, chemical-soaked farm system collapsed. It was a huge and sudden economic change probably without precedent in the modern world. Since Castro wouldn’t/couldn’t open up trade, the whole country basically had to shift to a small-scale, localized, de facto organic farming system, almost overnight. Now they’ve got their crop load more or less where it was, with almost no use of petroleum-heavy pesticides or huge farm machinery. Pretty interesting.

McKibben pivots very subtly from this story to a meditation on our current agricultural system. It’s worth reading the whole thing. Here’s a tasty bit:

Not everyone is happy with the set of possibilities that the multinational corporate world provides. People are beginning to feel around for other choices. The world isn’t going to look like Cuba — Cuba won’t look like Cuba once Cubans have some say in the matter. But it may not necessarily look like Nebraska either. “The choices are about values”, Pretty said. Which is true, at least for us, at least for the moment. And when the choices are about values, we generally pick the easiest and cheapest way, the one that requires thinking the least. Inertia is our value above all others. Inertia was the one option the Cubans didn’t have; they needed that meal a day back, and given that Castro was unwilling to let loose the reins, they had a limited number of choices about how to get it.

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