Writers have long faced the apocalypse. The Epic of Gilgamesh, written approximately four thousand years ago, imagines Earth flooded by angry gods. Flash forward a few centuries, and Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells bring us their own visions of the end of the world. In more recent years, novelists like Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, and Octavia Butler have carried on the tradition. Each of these writers shares the idea that the end will come quickly, sparked by an event that tumbles the pillars of civilization like dominoes. It takes little to understand why visions of sudden apocalypse—as opposed to a long, drawn-out one—are popular: a quick and dirty end to everything absolves us from having had anything to do with it. If we never saw the apocalypse coming, how could it have been our fault?
T.S. Eliot offers a different outlook. In 1925, the poet wrote in “The Hollow Men” that the world will end “not with a bang but a whimper.” It’s this idea of a slow death in which everyone is culpable that captures most accurately Roy Scranton’s thoughts on the end of civilization as we know it. The author, an Army veteran who holds a PhD in English from Princeton University, has written much about two of humanity’s biggest existential threats: climate change and war. In 2015’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, Scranton combined memoir and science writing to express what it was like to return home from war-torn Iraq only to watch the world succumb to hazards even larger than Al Qaeda: hurricanes imperiling coastal cities; economic and political conflicts giving way to riots; plagues, droughts, and famine causing suffering in every corner of the planet. Global warming, writes Scranton, is at the heart of all of this, and we have long passed the point of being able to stop it. Two years later, he authored his debut novel, War Porn, which is told through the different perspectives of American and Iraqi soldiers and civilians and throws into question what it means to be ally or enemy, victor or victim.
“Food systems primary goal should be to nourish human beings. And yet, the current industrial food system, with its proﬁt-maximising ethos, is not achieving that goal despite producing food in excess. On the contrary, this system is the main driver of malnutrition on the planet, as well as environmental degradation. Nonetheless, food systems also play a double role as Nature’s steward.
Deciding which role we want food systems to play will very much depend on the idea we have about food. What is food for humans? The dominant narrative of the industrial food system undeniably considers food as a tradeable commodity whose value is mostly determined by its price. This narrative was crafted and disseminated initially by academics, who largely favoured one option (commodiﬁcation of food) over the others (food as commons or public good). In this research, the author aims to understand how academia has explored the value-based considerations of food as commodity and private good (hegemonic narratives) compared to considerations of food as commons and public good (alternative narratives).
Bringing together people who disagree isn’t always easy but it leads to a deeper understanding of seemingly conflicting conclusions. As a team, the researchers weaved their different theories into a cohesive story that makes more sense and accounts for complexity. “It’s rarely the case that one person is wrong and the other is right,” says Scerri. “Insights from different models can help to shed light on the answers we look for…Perhaps we can say that nothing is really entirely new in science, it’s all about incremental steps and changing perspectives.”