Modern humans have been around for well over 100,000 years. Our ancestors came up with agricultural technology (active ecosystem management for enhanced food production) only about 10,000 years ago, and began changing their world irreversibly. The long‐term feedbacks triggered by adoption of food production on human population dynamics, socio-cultural systems, and local and global ecosystem properties are so potent that they must be addressed in any consideration of the human condition and what we mean by ʹnatural statesʹ. A deep historical perspective and context from ecological science are both essential for thoughtful address of modern concerns about food and agriculture as they relate to a wide range of issues concerning sustainability and human well-being. Such perspectives may call for review of basic assumptions and beliefs about what constitutes sustainable behavior. We will begin with simple but challenging questions (Why did (some) people take up farming? Why at particular times and locations and not others?) and use these to motivate analysis of how the adoption of agriculture changed humans, their domesticated plants and animals, and their economic and political systems. These explorations may have implications for current thinking and priorities about agriculture and farming.