Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010

In Memoriam - Dr. Douglas W. Shrader

Dr. Douglas W. Shrader
May 22, 1953 to July 27, 2010

SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Douglas W. Shrader, who led the department as Chair from 1986-2008, passed away on July 20, 2010. While one cannot but mourn the loss of a gifted teacher, fine scholar, devoted colleague, reliable friend, loving father and husband, reflection on the life of Dr. Douglas W. Shrader leads one to celebration as much as it does to sadness. It leads to celebration because, as much as is lost with the passing of Dr. Shrader, it is what we have gained from his life that causes us to mourn.

Douglas W. Shrader received his B.A. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1974, his M.A. (1975) and PhD (1979) in Philosophy from University of Illinois Chicago. Fresh from graduate school he was hired as an Assistant Professor at Oneonta in fall 1979. Six years later, he was elected chair of the Philosophy Department. He became a full Professor in 1992. He served as Dean of Arts and Humanities (1991-1993), was awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in teaching (1991) and the Oneonta Alumni Commendation for Academic Excellence (1995). In 1999, Professor Shrader became one of the youngest faculty members to be awarded the SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professorship. Dr. Shrader’s remarkable success was a measure of his talent as a teacher, his extraordinary hard work, and his life long dedication to the principle that doing something meant doing it as well as it could be done. For someone with Dr. Shrader’s abilities that was typically very well done indeed.

Trained in Philosophy of Science and Metaphysics, Dr. Shrader expanded his horizons by pursuing an extensive program of post-doctoral study in Asian Philosophy. He worked with colleagues to expand the scope of the department to include Asian philosophy and created his signature course, Philosophy of Life and Death.

Believing that that the life of a professor should extend beyond the boundaries of the academy lead Dr. Shrader to work with his good friend and colleague, Dr. Ashok Malhotra, to establish the Yoga and Meditation Society for the Scientific Study of Spirituality. Along with Dr. Malhotra, Dr. Shrader interviewed more than 20 scholars for the Yoga Society whose videos are being shown on the Public Access Channel. He also collaborated with Dr. Malhotra in establishing and promoting the Ninash Foundation, which is building schools for impoverished children in rural villages in India. He was the voice over for the Ninash Foundation video tape that has been shown all over India, Europe and the USA.

Dr. Shrader was a dedicated author and scholar. With Dr. Malhotra, he created Pathways to Philosophy: A Multidisciplinary Introduction, published by Prentice-Hall, which, after 14 years, is still in print. As a scholar he had authored more than a dozen books and numerous other publications and given presentations at the various national and international conferences. No matter what the venue, he was thoughtful, poised, and extraordinarily articulate. His papers often become the topic of conversation in the hallways throughout the remainder of the conference.

Starting in 1996, Dr. Shrader integrated his passion for and commitment to teaching by building the Oneonta Undergraduate Philosophy Conference. This student funded and run conference grew to be recognized as one of the premier undergraduate philosophy conferences in the world. Dr. Shrader edited and published selected conference proceedings featuring the work of promising students alongside essays by established keynote speakers. Titles in this impressive series include Children of Athena, Philosophy and the Public Realm, and Thinking outside the Box.

Dr. Shrader lived his life with dignity, devotion to duty, passion and compassion. In spite of his numerous projects and commitments, he always had time for students, colleagues, friends, and, most importantly, his family. He loved his wife Barbara with a rare, deep, and life-long love. She was his heart’s companion in all he did. Their children, Callie and Sterling, and their grandchild, Alex, were his great joy.

Each Undergraduate Philosophy Conference hosted a final awards dinner. Dr. Shrader would acknowledge the vital support of Barbara Shrader and would celebrate the hard work of each student on the conference committee. He would delight everyone with illuminating vignettes from the previous few days and hand out the awards as if they were precious jewels. However, these awards were symbols of something far more precious than any jewel. They were signs of respect and esteem from colleagues and peers. They were also secret codes of commitment to the principles that thinking does not end in the classroom. That listening and learning are part of the whole of one’s life and that doing well always includes caring deeply about those whom one affects. Doug Shrader’s life epitomized all these principles. We can say farewell to him as he said farewell to the students at each year’s conference. Although he is not physically with us anymore, what was accomplished in his all too brief life is something that has and will continue to transform the lives of each of us for years to come.

Dr. Michael Koch (, (Chair of the Philosophy Dept., SUNY, Oneonta, NY) has set up a memorial page on the Philosophy Dept. website.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Review: "Empires of Food"

Empires of Food: Feast, Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations
By Evan D.G. Fraser and Andrew Rimas
Free Press, 302 pages, $35

Recently, a Briton armed with a metal detector uncovered a trove of more than 50,000 Roman coins, which archeologists believe was an ancient farming community's offering to the gods to ensure a bountiful harvest. Our own agricultural practices have moved past any pleas to the gods to incorporate instead an industrial-scale arsenal of petrochemical fertilizers, pesticides and genetic modification.

Yet, as Evan Fraser and Andrew Rimas persuasively argue in their highly entertaining and thought-provoking new book "Empires of Food: Feast, Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations," the results will be the same: an inevitable collapse of the systems of food production and the society dependent upon them.

The literature re-evaluating our relationship with food has grown so substantial in recent years as to almost constitute its own sub-genre. Such authors as Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food), Karl Weber (Food Inc.), and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) have all added to a burgeoning collection of titles exploring not only our destructive farming and eating habits, but the newly rediscovered practices of urban agriculture.

That many urban dwellers are clamouring to raise their own chickens is just one indication of the reach this literature is having.

In fact, Empires is the authors' second foray into the field. Fraser, an academic geographer who divides his time between the Universities of Guelph and Leeds, previously collaborated with Boston-based journalist and editor Rimas on 2008's Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat and Muscle Shaped the World.

Like this previous book, Empires is an engagingly written history with an urgent message about the fragile unsustainability of our agriculture.

According to the authors, it is only through the massive use of artificial fertilizers, manufactured with finite supplies of natural gas, that we have managed to increase our numbers past six billion people.

Peaking fossil fuel supplies, combined with our abuse and destruction of topsoil, climate change and the depletion of aquifers mean that, sooner than we think, the global larder will be empty -- with all that implies for our ability to maintain current population levels.

Fortunately, this truly sobering message is presented with such clever writing, good humour and compelling storytelling that it prevents the book from descending into grim polemic.

The reader is taken on an informative journey through the systems of production, storage, trade and transportation -- those elements necessary for a food empire.

Each factor is given an historical treatment showing how agricultural innovations that may have at first brought bounty eventually delivered decreasing returns and unintended consequences.

The Mesopotamians of the Fertile Crescent constructed irrigation systems that ended up salting their soils; the Romans aggressively overworked their soils to feed a huge urban population and shore up their contracting military empire; and European kingdoms and monasteries deforested the countryside and depleted their soils before a changing climate, famine and the Black Death carried off almost 45 per cent of the population.

Fraser and Rimas demonstrate that any food empire is dependent on the combination of good soil, abundant water, a co-operative climate and a complex (and often inequitable) mesh of socio-political arrangements.

When such conditions exist, civilizations flourish, populations increase, and the associated complexity of that society also expands.

Yet the pendulum always swings back. The very complexity of food empires eventually heralds their collapse.

In the end, the ill-considered and abused interrelationships between nature and society swiftly unravel, as do the civilizations themselves.

The authors enliven this otherwise depressing argument with the recurring picaresque narrative of Francesco Carletti, a hapless 17th-century entrepreneur who set off on a 15-year global voyage to gather and market the foodstuffs of the Caribbean, South America and Asia.

Through Carletti's eyes, we are introduced to all the foods we now blithely take for granted, including chocolate, tea, potatoes and tomatoes. More significantly, the reader is shown how in subsequent centuries these and other comestibles were transformed into industrial commodities dependent upon ecologically devastating farming practices, genocide and exploitative labour conditions.

Between Carletti's tale and other key historical examples, Fraser and Rimas examine the globalized arrangements that fill our supermarkets with an affordable, appealing and seemingly endless supply of groceries and reveal them for what they are and always have been -- a destructive, cruel and doomed illusion.

The alternative, they propose, is a mix of diverse, small-scale farms serving local customers that are nested in a global trading system. Although the authors admit such things are much easier to suggest than realize, Empires of Food is a valuable contribution to a much-needed dialogue on working towards such a transformation.

By Michael Dudley
Institute of Urban Studies
University of Winnipeg