Count Your Chickens

by Friederike Biron

Above (Issue I/2019)

Since humankind began the Anthropocene era – the epoch in which human activity started to impact the earth – our history has always had an economic aspect. That is why historian Jason W. Moore and economist and activist Raj Patel would rather rename this era “Capitalocene” because, they suggest, it is not humankind that has caused the apocalyptic changes currently impacting our planet, but a profit-oriented approach to the earth and what it offers.

The authors make this clear in their book, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things. What we leave behind, after we‘re all wiped out, won’t just add up to mountains of plastic and radioactivity, it will also include an absurd amount of chicken bones.

Chickens bred for optimum edibility are the most commonly eaten meat in the world. In only 20 weeks, an egg becomes a 16 kilogram bird. The authors describe the Chicken McNugget as an iconic symbol of this modern age because within it the seven things that the book’s title refers to, and with which human beings have transformed the world, come together. That is: nature, money, work, welfare, nutrition, energy and life.

Each chapter traces the path of these items since European colonisation in the 15th century.

The authors use detailed information, impressive facts and make speedy connections – sometimes a little too hastily perhaps – to show how economic and environmental crises go together. But they don’t just describe the world as it is, they also offer some suggestions on how to change things for the better – for example, through “reparation ecology”. That doesn’t mean a quick departure from the capitalist system, they write, it is more about a history of revolution and of the unexpected. 

A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things. By Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore. University of California Press, 2017. German version: Rowohlt, 2018.

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