Category Archives: On Agriculture & the Environment

Running Thoughts: the Sourdough Edition

Photo courtesy of Francis Storr via

I would call this post ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,’ but Haruki Murakami already wrote that book and if you’ve read anything by him at all you’ll know mere mortals hardly compare.  Yet I do think about things while running, thank goodness, because otherwise laziness would surely prevail.  The meditative place some runners can reach eludes me.  Continue reading



Filed under Academia, Food and Cooking, History, On Agriculture & the Environment

That was a year; this is another (in Hamilton)

I took a vacation over New Years, and in British Columbia I set my sights on flora.  There’s a lot of moss.  I was enamoured by the hardy winter crops in rows on folks’ front lawns, gardens that have bunkered down for winter but hold onto some fierce kinda life force.  Continue reading


Filed under Academia, Dans Ontario, On Agriculture & the Environment, On Human Connections, Politicking, Travel

The chicken in the popular imagination

Chickens at Green Vietnam

I was perplexed by a friend’s seemingly irrational hatred of chickens.  His explanation weaved itself through an afternoon of conversation.

Over coffee and hash browns (with nary a chicken in sight), the conversation turned to writing.  I’m going to write a post about chickens, I said.  He laughed and said something about absurd blog topics, which sounded distinctly like a challenge.  So, chicken thoughts. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Food and Cooking, History, Life in Vietnam, On Agriculture & the Environment, On Human Connections, Politicking

So what you’re saying is, you study the history of…cheese…?

I often struggle to explain what it is I study.  Most terms don’t capture it adequately, it being something rather interdisciplinary, thematic, and transnational.  Cheese, I tell people, if I want to get a smirk out of them.  Labour, agriculture, and the natural world, if I want to be a little more accurate.  The industrialization of the Ontario dairy industry, if I want to sound obnoxious.  Capitalism and the exploitation of nature and people, if I want to sound incendiary. Continue reading


Filed under Academia, History, On Agriculture & the Environment

This is what I do to procrastinate (part 1)….

Work continues on the biotech article, and as is usually the case with research, the more I learn, the more I realize the people and their stories descend into a twisted myriad of connections I can’t possibly hope to capture in systematically-ordered prose.  So instead of writing my article I am thinking about theories of historical change.  Is change dialectical in nature, meaning when an initial state (whether it be abstract, as Hegel suggested, or a particular mode of production, as did Marx) is met with an alternative, their inconsistencies force a new synthesis, a new state of being?  Perhaps, but right now it seems too simplistic and, especially in the case of biotechnology, ignores the role of non-human nature.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under History, Life in Vietnam, On Agriculture & the Environment, Politicking

Romance and biotechnology

“Yet capitalism is nothing if not vitally expansionist.”

-Jack Kloppenburg, on capital’s pursuit of the commodification of seed, First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology

If you don’t look too closely, if you blur the proverbial edges, it’s easy to settle into the comfortable notion that Vietnamese agriculture is the pastoral ideal: the ‘slow’ life, rice paddies that sway with the breeze, the market vendor whose little bundles of herbage elicit ooohs and aaahs from tourists itching to revel in something ‘quaint.’  I can romanticize it too.  Do you see any farmers in that field of maize, concerned about whether or not their new high-yielding seeds will allow them to hold onto their land for another year?

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Life in Vietnam, On Agriculture & the Environment, Politicking


Right now I’m missing wild leeks and garlic scapes and the pungency of all that potential pesto.  In May it seems a crime not to be making it by the jarful and spooning it into my mouth so half of it’s gone before pasta’s had a chance to hit the water.  I’m going to get another tattoo, this time garlic scapes curling up my arm.  It’s taken me seven years to reach this conclusion, but I think it’s the right time.  It’s a chance at a feeling of a little bit of permanence in a life that is in the end, fleeting.  It’s an historical artifact.  It’s a story, and people like me, who are bad at small talk, need stories we can draw on when we have no desire to hear what that person with the loosened tie and tired eyes does between the hours of 9 to 5 and what movies they’ve seen lately and their thoughts on the recent turn in the weather.

Leave a comment

Filed under Food and Cooking, On Agriculture & the Environment, On Human Connections

Greenery and hinterland

“We fool ourselves if we think we can choose between them [the country and the city], for the green lake and the orange cloud are creatures of the same landscape.”

-William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West

I hadn’t any real goal in mind when I took off for a drive yesterday afternoon, but it was well worth it.  It took 1.5 hours to drive from Hanoi to somewhere resembling uninterrupted green space.  After following a single road through a litany of small peri-urban towns, I noticed a curve ahead that climbed a modest hill, another sign that one is leaving Hanoi.  It led up a road on a ridge above the surrounding area where I stopped for a couple minutes, stretched my legs, and took in the expanse of green.  It’s not possible to explain just how green the northern Vietnamese countryside is.  The photos (especially from my crappy cell phone camera) don’t do it any justice.  The greenness is marvellously suffocating.  Part of my joy at this sight might just have been the contrast with Hanoi, which is an impressively dense city despite their attempts to incorporate green space.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Life in Vietnam, On Agriculture & the Environment