The harvest festival of Sukkot has passed and the feasting holidays of Thanksgiving and Chanukah approach. Let’s thank our farming and herding ancestors for helping make our civilization possible. And let’s thank our current farmers and ranchers for helping keep it so.
Yes, 10,000-odd years ago in the Fertile Crescent, our forebears began seriously tending plants, taming animals and storing surplus food, and concentrating so many calories in one place that they could feed 10 to 100 times more people per acre than hunter-gatherers could.
When the Hebrews appeared about 6,500 years later, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah were born on a planet that supported about 40 million people, and dined on grass-fed, pasture-raised meats, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots and nuts, and few or no grains, legumes, dairy products or salt, and no refined sugar or processed oils.
Today, we call this “The Caveman Diet.”
Combining farming and herding with hunting and gathering, humans multiplied and congregated in villages, towns and cities; supported artisans, commerce, bureaucracies and standing armies; and built empires (all without fossil-fuel inputs and industrialized methods).
In Israelite times, Egypt was the Western world’s greatest power, and among their fertility and abundance idolatrous deities, Egyptians worshipped Anuket, goddess of the Nile, whose dependable floods irrigated the crops and livestock that fed the empire.
The Hebrews worshipped, saying that if we fear G-d, and follow G-d’s commands, He may keep us alive and give rain in its season, so we may gather grain, wine and oil, grow grass for cattle, eat and be satisfied.
If we do not, G-d will shut up the heavens and we’ll perish (Deut. 6:24 and 11:13-17). You may have heard this in the Shema.