Can we understand a region’s culture by looking at the main cereal crop of five thousands years ago? This is a little thought experiment. This has no basis in science or fact and is merely a little story I am telling today… I very much welcome reflections and comments.
- Asia – rice
- Northern Europe – oats and apples
- Mediterranean – wheat and olives
What is a culture of rice farming?
In most regions of Asia, the food source of the last thousand years has been rice. Rice is a plant that requires backbreaking constant work to produce a crop. If a farmer and his family works 10 hour days, he gets a full crop. If he works 5 hour days, he gets much less. If he does not work each day, he gets no crop.
First the farmer and his family must build walls to allow an area to be flooded. River water must be channeled into the paddys. The farmers replant the rice plants multiple times to ensure that each has the space it needs. All of this work is done with feet underwater and back bent at 90 degrees.
Rice = The harder you work, the better your crop.
What is a culture of oats and apples?
In the north of Europe, the food sources have been orchards, oats and barley. These require a daily effort, but only in maintaining some order in the fields and orchards. If you work 2 hours a day, you get a full crop. If you work more, you don’t get any extra benefit. If you don’t work, you don’t lose everything, but your crop will suffer.
Oats = It is important to work, but there is nothing to be gained by over -working.
What is a culture of wheat and olives?
In the areas around the mediterranean, the crops are wheat and olives. A farmer plants wheat and then returns 5 months later to harvest his crop. There is nothing he can do to improve the yield. There is no gain to be had by working once the wheat is planted. If the rains come and the sun shines, you get a crop.
Wheat = There is little a human farmer can do to increase the yield except hope for sun and rain.
Is this an interesting analysis of Culture?
Our cultures of today: habits, style of eating, urban architecture, songs, languages, buildings arise out of cultures that were built around these core activities of food production.
A more serious analysis of Culture… (very much worth a read)
One of the best resources on cultural understanding is the framework of Geert Hofstede. He identified power distance, individualism vs collectivism, masculinity vs femininity, uncertainty avoidance, time horizon and indulgence vs restraint as components that differ, and are important to understand if you are dealing with people from another culture.