The Elements of Evolution (85) Cultural Crops

Cultural Crops

The specific crops cultivated during the Neolithic shaped sense of community. Wheat was common in the Near East and north China.

In southeast Asia, south China, and Japan rice became the predominant grain. Rice was domesticated in China ~9,000 years ago.

Before mechanization, growing rice took twice as many hours as wheat. To deploy labor efficiently, especially at times of planting and harvesting, rice-growing societies developed cooperative labor exchanges. Neighbors staggered their farms’ schedules to assist each other during these crucial periods.

A collective outlook took root in rice-growing cultures. That sense of cooperative interdependence lingers to the present day, with the Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean people as exemplary.

Cultures which relied upon wheat and other crops which could be independently grown led to a sense of individualism. This is most apparent in the Fertile Crescent, which birthed a variety of flinty peoples.

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Plants and animals were not the only organisms domesticated. Our love of leavened breads and fermented beverages led to favoring certain yeast. As the same yeast – Saccharomyces cerevisiae – is employed, it makes one wonder who did the domesticating.

We automatically think of domestication as something we do to other species, but it makes just as much sense to think of it as something done to us, a clever evolutionary strategy by other organisms for advancing their own interests. ~ American journalist Michael Pollan