The War on Waste

France recently declared war on food waste to combat hunger and global warming. This post by the World Economic Forum describes the program and its goals:

Food releases planet-warming gases as it decomposes in landfills. The food the world wastes accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than any country except for China and the United States.

“What is really important is the vision and importance of (food sustainability) in these governments’ agendas and policies,” Irene Mia, global editorial director at the EIU, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Until we address the immorality of plastic packaging, it is disingenuous to pat ourselves on the back. Click To Tweet

Laudable goals, no doubt, but I was struck by the fact that the picture used in the post showed meat wrapped in polystyrene, a fossil fuel-derived plastic that is damaging our planet on many levels. Until we address the immorality of product packaging, it is disingenuous to pat ourselves on the back.

The Great Cat Massacre

Cover of "The Great Cat Massacre"There are many reasons to enjoy studying history. Mostly I love to find parallels between contemporary society and past societies that we perceive as primitive. It requires considerable hubris to devalue the past; something that many of us have in abundance.

While reading The Great Cat Massacre the other day, I came across a description of life in 18th century France that, while tangential to the lesson of the essay, cold-cocked me with its 21st century relevance. The essay describes the daily existence of a printer journeyman, and the quality of life he experiences in Paris.

Noting that historians tend to “treat the era of artisanal manufacturing as an idyllic period before the onset of industrialization” (page 79), we are presented with these statistics:

During the second half of the seventeenth century, the large printing houses, backed by the government, eliminated most of the smaller shops, and an oligarchy of masters seized control of the industry. At the same time, the situation of the journeymen deteriorated. Although estimates vary and statistics cannot be trusted, it seems that their number remained stable: approximately 335 in 1666, 339 in 1701, and 340 in 1721. Meanwhile the number of masters declined by more than half, from eighty-three to thirty-six, the limit fixed by an edict of 1686. That meant fewer shops with larger work forces, as one can see from statistics on the density of presses: in 1644 Paris had seventy-five printing shops with a total of 180 presses; in 1701 it had fifty-one shops with 195 presses. This trend made it virtually impossible for journeymen to rise into the ranks of the masters. About the only way for a worker to get ahead in the craft was to marry a master’s widow, for masterships had become hereditary privileges, passed on from husband to wife and from father to son.

So, a half-century before the Deluge, we have an excellent example of the aristocracy restricting the working class in order to maximize profit, maintain a cheap, under-utilized labor force, and stifle upward mobility. You probably can see where I’m going with this…