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Christopher Otter - Diet for a Large Planet

Thursday, Feb 1, 2018, 7 PM

Christopher Otter

Associate Professor of History, Ohio State University, Columbus

Diet for a Large Planet. The World Food System, Human Health and Ecological Overshoot

Chair: Dr. Mischa Gabowitsch, Potsdam

The idea that human consumption patterns have exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity – the concept of ecological overshoot – is central to all understandings of the Anthropocene. This talk explores the origins of ecological overshoot through a case study of the growth and development of the world food system since the eighteenth century. It focuses particularly on Britain, whose early industrialization was founded upon the economic premise that the world could be divided into manufacturing and agrarian zones, producing long-distance food chains linking commodity frontiers to an urbanized core. This model, which largely ignored its ecological consequences, became the foundation for many later projects of development. The talk pays particular attention to meat, wheat, and sugar, and examines the complex and ambivalent bodily effects of a diet rich in these foodstuffs. Most centrally, it traces the ecological consequences of a dietary footprint which greatly exceeded local carrying capacity, and it links these historical developments to our contemporary world food crisis.

Christopher Otter is Associate Professor of Modern European History at the Ohio State University and a specialist in modern British history, with particular focus on the history of science, technology and public health, environmental history and the history of food. His first book, The Victorian Eye: A Political History of Light and Vision in Britain, 1800-1910, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2008. He has published articles in numerous journals, including the Journal of British Studies, Cultural Geographies, Food and History, and History of Technology, and is currently writing a new book entitled: Diet for a Large Planet: Food, World-Ecology, and the Making of Industrial Britain.