by Marion Nestle

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May 27 2016

Weekend reading: Garrett Broad’s More Than Just Food

Garrett M. Broad.  More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change. University of California Press, 2016.

I particularly wanted to read this book for two reasons, one personal and one professional.

First the personal.  The book’s University of California Press publication was supported by the Anne G. Lipow Endowment Fund for Social Justice and Human Rights, established by Stephen M. Silberstein.   Anne and I were friends from the time our children were babies. Sadly, she died in 2004.  Steve, her husband, set up this endowment in her honor.

On the professional side, More Than Just Food is based on Garrett Broad’s dissertation research.  As he explains,

More Than Just Food offers an ethnographic exploration of community-based food justice activism in urban America, using the network of Community Services Unlimited, Inc. (CSU) as a centering artifact of study.  CSU was initially created as the nonprofit arm of the Southern California chapter of the Black Panther Party and today stands as a leading food justice nonprofit organization in its own community of South Los Angeles, with connections to other food justice groups from across the United States and around the world.

 

To study this group and food justice organizations in general, Broad joined the CSU and participated in its activities in a process he calls “engaged scholarship.”  He has especially interesting things to say about the differences he observed between community-based groups like CSU and outside groups coming into communities that are part of the “nonprofit industrial complex.”

His research was based on theory, the communication ecology perspective, and is academically rigorous.

I argue that food justice activism can be understood as a hybrid praxis, an ever-evolving mix of philosophy and action that takes shape through an ongoing process of co-construction, collaboration, and conflict in food justice work.

With that out of the way, his research led to especially useful insights into food as a tool for community organizing.

The analysis in this book has emphasized how, even as community-based activists make food a centerpiece of their organizing work, they also insist than an isolated focus on food and food alone will not lead them to their ultimate goals.  Instead, guided by a broader social justice vision, food justice organizations offer up food as a uniquely engaging tool that helps build critical consciousness, develop alternative institutions, promote economic development, and cultivate skills for health and well-being among those who have long been subject to injustice in the food system and beyond.

This book is an entirely fitting tribute to Anne Lipow’s memory and I look forward to seeing more in this series.

May 13 2016

Weekend reading: Miraculous Abundance [Permaculture]

Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyer.  Miraculous Abundance: One quarter acre, two French farmers, and enough food to feed the world.  Foreword by Eliot Coleman.  Chelsea Green, 2016.

This book, more about philosophy than a how-to, describes how two inexperienced beginners succeeded in creating a gorgeous, productive, self-sustaining farm on 1000 square meters of land in Normandy—La Ferme du Bec Hellouin.

They did this by using the techniques of permaculture.  This they define as “a box of smart tools that allows the creation of a lifestyle that respects the earth and its inhabitants—a practical method inspired by nature.”  Later, they explain that it is based on an ethic: “Take care of the earth. Take care of the people.  Equitably share resources.”  As I said, philosophy, not how-to.

You have to read the book to figure out what all this means in practice.  It seems to come down to what I thought of as French Intensive methods.  These use raised beds, rich soil, composting, and thoughtful planting of coordinated crops that support each other’s growth and nutritional needs.  Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya—nine seeds—approach works the same way.   The authors drew on the work of John Jeavons, Eliot Coleman, and many other small-scale sustainable farmers from all over the world to develop their version of these methods.

If the color photographs are any indication, the results are magnificent.   The place is so highly productive that it easily supports the two of them.  The mandala garden alone made we want to get on the next plane just to see how it works in controlling weeds.

The moral: you could do this at home.

May 6 2016

Weekend reading: Jennifer Pomeranz’s Food Law

Jennifer L. Pomeranz.  Food Law for Public Health.  Oxford University Press, 2016.

I’m told that food law is the hottest area in legal education right now.  At a time when law schools and lawyers are struggling, food law offers opportunities.  Food issues are so controversial that they constitute a full employment act.

Jennifer Pomeranz is my colleague at NYU.  Her book could not be more timely, and I was delighted to give it a blurb:

If you want to know how laws and regulations affect what you eat, how those laws are made, and why they cause so much controversy, Food Law for Public Health is a terrific place to start.

Apr 29 2016

Organic Life: Eight books about organic food systems

I did an interview last year with Rebecca Straus of Organic Life about books of interest to the magazine’s readers.  I never heard what happened to it but learned from a recent tweet that it is now available online.  So consider this a late catch up.

Marion Nestle’s Favorite Organic Books: Eight reads to get you thinking about where your food is coming from.  Organic Life, September 11, 2015.

Food advocate Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, has long been outspoken in her support of organic farming and opposition to GMO crops. Her books and articles on how science, marketing, and society impact food choices and obesity have influenced everyone from Michelle Obama to Michael Pollen, who named her the second most powerful foodie in America.  Her new book Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning), comes out in October. But even when she’s busy writing, Nestle takes time to review other recent titles on her popular blog, Food Politics. “I’m overwhelmed by the avalanche of outstanding books that I run across or that get sent to me,” she says. But when forced to choose, she settled on these eight as some of the best writing and original research in the bunch, adding, “They deserve much more attention than they’ve received.”

Food, Farms, and Community: Exploring Food Systems by Lisa Chase and Vern Grubinger

“Many people don’t understand what food systems  are, and it’s very hard to explain, so this book is a terrific introduction. The authors take a big-picture approach to explain how our food gets from production to consumption,.They also focus on how we can create food and farming systems that promote the health of people and planet. It’s very readable.”

The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World by Joel K. Bourne, Jr.

“This book takes a look at industrial farming and discusses how food production must change to meet the world’s demands. But if you think the title sounds depressing, you shouldn’t.  The food situation is so much better than it was 20 years ago. There’s so much more organic, local, and seasonal growing. Students are interested in these issues, and that’s inspiring to me. You can make progress without overturning the whole system. My personal measure is that when we started food studies at NYU in 1996, we were the only program like that in the country. Now every university offers food studies and has an organic garden.”

From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone by Paul Thompson

“Ethical dilemmas impact the way we shop for food. Should we buy orancic or local? Should we care how farm animals are raised? For people who aren’t trained in ethics, it’s sometimes hard to think about these things, and this book can help you delve into them.”

Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States by Brian K. Obach

“For me, the discussion of the development of the organic standards is the most interesting part of this book. It explains why it’s so important to maintain strict organic standards, and why there’s such intense conflict about them. In fact, the biggest issue facing the organic industry is confidence in the standards.”

Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean & Southern Flavors Remixed by Bryant Terry

“Terry is an extraordinary cook. He’s really concerned about the health of African Americans, who tend to have much higher levels of chronic disease, so he sets out to demonstrate that it’s possible to cook a healthier, vegan diet using the ingredients of traditional African cuisine, like collards, grits, and okra. I’ve never seen a book like this before.”

Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America by Liz Carlisle

“Carlisle is an incredible author (and Michael Pollan’s protégé). To write the book, she simply went to talk to farmers in Montana to find out what they were doing. It’s very lively. I attended her book tour, and she actually brought the farmers with her – it was clear she was really passionate. Everyone is always talking about how farmers are failing, but this is a success story. It’s inspiring.”

Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression by Janet Poppendieck

“I have special interest in this one – I wrote the foreword. The author is fabulous, and this book is particularly well done. Anyone who wants to really understand the Farm Bill and the fight about food stamps needs to read this book. We’re seeing enormous congressional fighting over SNAP right now, and those same issues were there from the very beginning.”

Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health by Nick Freudenberg

“This book is compelling because it draws out the parallels between food issues and things like cigarettes, guns, and alcohol. Food producers use the same corporate strategies as these other industries to enrich themselves at the expense of public health. I believe advocacy is the only way to beat the system, and Freudenberg writes about ways for organizing against coporate power to create a healthier environment.  organize against corporate power for a healthier, more sustainable environment.”

Apr 22 2016

Weekend reading: Jennifer Clapp’s FOOD, 2nd ed.

Jennifer Clapp.  Food, 2nd ed.  Polity, 2016.

I did a blurb for the first edition of this book, and also for this second edition:

The global food economy may seem remote from daily experience, but Jennifer Clapp explains how it affects every aspect of what we eat and, therefore, our health and welfare.  From the standpoint of globalization, food is no longer merely a source of nourishment or a mark of culture but a fungible commodity in the global food economy.  Food unpacks and clarifies the mind-numbing complexities of today’s global food marketplace, international trade, transnational corporations, and financial markets.  It provides the information and tools advocates can use to redesign the global food economy to promote fair trade, food justice, and food sovereignty.

Apr 8 2016

Weekend reading: Krishnendu Ray’s The Ethnic Restaurateur (Bloomsbury, 2016)

Full disclosure.  I recruited Krishnendu Ray to NYU (for good reason as you can see from this interview in the Washington Post) and he is now my department chair.

With that said, I greatly admire what he’s done in this book, which is to cast a sociological eye on immigrants to the United States who get their start by using what they know of their own food tastes and traditions to open and run restaurants of the “ethnic” variety in today’s terminology.

Ray argues here (and elsewhere) that the contributions of immigrants to modern food culture are largely ignored by academics and critics who view

discussions of taste as marginal to the real lives of marginal peoples. In this conception, poor, hard-working people can teach us about poverty and suffering, hierarchy and symbolic violence, but never about taste…As a consequence, taste loses its contested and dynamic character, and…even its fundamentally sociological nature. As labor and immigrant historians have shown us repeatedly, good food matters to poor people, perhaps even more than it does to the rich and the powerful.

In his book, Ray draws on his readings, experience teaching at the Culinary Institute of America, and on interviews with cooks from China, India, Italy, and elsewhere to examine their motivations, experiences, and attitudes about the food they prepare and serve.  He says

Nothing devalues a cuisine more than proximity to subordinate others.  That explains not only the rise, fall, and rise again of Italian cuisine in America, but also the difficulty of Chinese, Mexican, and Soul food to break away, in dominant American eyes, from the contamination effect of low-class association.  Poor, mobile people are rarely accorded cultural capital.  The circulation of taste through the social architecture of class and race allows for the creation of a subcultural niche, say for the best taco, genuine dim-sum, or most authentic fried chicken, yet rarely assures a position among elite food cultures. [p. 97]

After reading this book, I find myself paying much more attention to the ethnic restaurants in my neighborhood, and thinking about who owns them, who works in them, and why and how they arrived at their menus.  This book will change the way you think about them too.

Here is Krishnendu Ray on WNYC to explain why some cuisines—French in particular—are more expensive than most “ethnic” cuisines.

Mar 25 2016

Weekend reading: Concentration and Power in the Food System

Philip H. Howard. Concentration and Power in the Food System: Who Controls What We Eat?  Bloomsbury, 2016.

I don’t know Philip Howard personally but I have long appreciated his graphic visualizations of the extent of concentration—only a few companies owning fast percentages of the market—in various industries:

This brief book summarizes his work in developing these graphics and makes it clear why he thinks industrial concentration is a problem for American democracy.   Without competition, these companies get away with doing whatever they want.  He gives a few examples:

Walmart, which controls 33 percent of US grocery retailing, is challenged for exploiting its suppliers, taking advantage of taxpayer subsidies, and paying extremely low worker wages…Monsanto, which controls 26 percent of the global commercial seed market, is denounced for its influence on government polocies, spying on farmers it suspects of saving and replanting seeds, and the environmental impacts of herbicides tied to these seeds.  These impacts tend to disproportionately affect the disadvantaged—such as women, young children, recent immigrants, members of minority ethnic groups, and those of lower socioeconomic status—and as a result, reinforce existing inequalities…Like ownership relations, the full extent of these consequences may be hidden from public view.

Howard’s solution?  The food movement!

Joining these movements and supporting the alternatives created by others could therefore be essential to maintaining our ability to feed ourselves in the future.

The book is fun to read (“seed-industrial complex”) and, obviously, well illustrated.  If you want to know how current-day food markets really work, this is the place to start.

Mar 16 2016

My latest edited book: Big Food: Critical perspectives

Simon N. WilliamsMarion Nestle (Editors).  Big Food: Critical perspectives on the global growth of the food and beverage industry.  Routledge, 2016.

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