The War on Bugs by Will Allen
Don’t let the title of Will Allen’s book, The War on Bugs, fool you. Before I picked it up, I thought it would be a book specifically about bugs and what types of horrible pesticides have been sold to farmers to destroy them. My assumptions were partially true, but thankfully instead of merely repeating what we all know about the dangers of noxious chemicals, Allen puts pesticide use into a 160 year historical context, showing how early chemical fertilizers gave rise to pesticides, and pesticides gave rise to genetically modified foods and animal hormone treatment. He discusses how the anti-personnel chemicals, developed during war-time research, have become the chemicals that are still on the food we eat, and how pharmaceutical and even oil companies have a huge stake in the continuation of pesticide use (as if we environmentalists needed another reason to hate the oil industry).
Rather than re-telling this story from the consumer standpoint with which I’m sure all of the readers of this blog are familiar, Allen tells this story from a farmer’s perspective. He makes it clear that the real tragedy in the story is that no one has the economic interests of small and medium sized farmers in mind. The government, advertisers, and large-scale farms have all sided with the chemical companies, and have been driving a nurturing and natural ethic out of the agricultural industry. Sure, advertisers used war rhetoric to advocate pest extermination, but the subtext of this book is that the real war going on is between organic and chemical factions, and unless consumers and farmers realize that chemicals and nature don’t mix, our society will have some serious, fatal consequences to deal with.
Stop fighting the War on Bugs with nasty chemicals! Check out this video by the author, Will Allen: http://ow.ly/22RQL
— chelseagreen (@chelseagreen) June 24, 2010
One of the great things about Allen’s book is his extensive documentation of over a century and a half of advertising graphics that have been printed in farm journals and elsewhere, in order to lull American farmers into feeling comfortable with spraying enormous amounts of toxins on the land. I can imagine this combination of Americana-type prints and narrative style being very popular with those who are both American History buffs and environmentalists.
There is only one qualification I might make about this book, however:
My Father’s family comes from Missouri, which he (among others) endearingly refers to as “the show me state”. If you plan on giving this book to a sibling, friend, or parent who is unconvinced that chemicals are bad for you (hah. You have a “unique” person on your hands.), or if you come from Missouri yourself, this book may not be what you’re looking for. It’s heavier on the narrative and a little skimpy on the citations.
However, if you want to hear the story of a man who has had the unique position of having grown up on a pesticide-using farm, who then served in the Marine Corps studying war chemicals and treatment, and then who became a successful organic farmer, surprise! I found a book for you.
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