Krulwich on the new normal

Undated photo of Mrs. Marshall Field. Bain News Service via Library of Congress

Robert Krulwich, of NPR’s Radiolab and “sciencey” blog, recently posted about the intersection of human perception and dwindling natural resources (like the fish we eat, or bees that pollinate our crops).

The post features a striking graphic that depicts in both 1900 and 2000 the biomass of Atlantic fish species that humans have favored as foodstuffs. It’s a simple but compelling demonstration of how our everyday experience can fail us so miserably. In 1900, “Fish were everywhere. Then, just a hundred years, later — except for a little patch near Labrador — they’re gone, or drastically diminished. This is, of course, a macro picture. These bigger, popular fish are mostly not extinct. There are just way, way fewer of them, and while this happens in a blink of an eye in our animation, from the human point of view, the decline took four human generations.”

Then, expanding on the theme of cultural norms of consumption, he compares a (partial) menu from a grand, annual Chicago feast attended by the nation’s mightiest in 1886 — including Former President Ulysses S. Grant and Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Field — with the menu from a 2012 State Dinner at the White House. The menus really are telling. As Krulwich writes, “In 1886, we gorged. In 2012, we nibble. These very different dinners describe very different moods which, in turn, reflect very different worlds. Is a balance being struck here? Do we somehow know we can’t afford to have it all, so that what was “fabulous” in 1886 has been reformulated to a more appropriate, more modest “fabulous” today?”

As food for thought, it’s definitely a piece worth checking out.


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