Guide Practique de la Protection des Cultures
Are insects bugging you when you go outdoors? This makes me wonder, how did previous generations protect their crops from insects? The Guide Practique de la Protection des Cultures, translated as the Practical Guide to Crop Protection, was written in 1933 by Georges Maheux. The author, formerly Entomologist of Québec, reminds us that farmers have been battling all sorts of creatures throughout time, even in the colder regions of North America.
This bulletin is provided, at the time of this writing, via public domain by the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. The 56-page document shows numerous sketches of insects and the types of crops they attack. It is easy to assume that colder places do not have to deal with these issues, but some of these insects look mighty familiar in the southern United States. Going further back in time, fewer of these insects appeared due to fewer visitors and imported products from foreign countries, as the author discusses on page 2 of the bulletin while addressing the section titled"Pourquoi protéger les cultures?" (translation: Why protect the crops?). He specifically refers to apple maggots and European corn borers, insects that were likely imported into Québec.
Home gardeners may be surprised to see the use of chemicals such as sulfur (le soufre) in various forms during these early days, but we must remember the importance of agriculture throughout time. As this publication shows, pests were attacking orchards and crops such as beans and cucumbers in the early 20th century. It is deemed vital to stay on the cutting-edge of agricultural science in order to preserve our foodways, and sometimes, chemicals are necessary for protection, even though there is always a delicate balance between such protection and health. Remember, even organic produce is often protected by "approved" chemicals!
It may seem odd to talk about pests within the context of French culinary history, but if pests continue to ravage crops without protection, then certain food items will disappear. If they are protected, then they can continue to be eaten, and new food items can be prepared utilizing traditional French culinary techniques. As the author noted, millions of dollars in crops were on the line in the 1930's, so you can imagine the vast impact at-risk today. This is part of the reason why historical precedent is important to study. We get to stand on the shoulders of all the farmers and researchers such as Georges Maheux so we can learn from their findings and (literally) continue to eat!