by Marion Nestle

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Apr 21 2017

Weekend reading: Andy Fisher’s Big Hunger

Andrew Fisher.  Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups.  MIT Press, 2017.

 

This book has a big theme, and I was happy to do a blurb for it:

If you don’t understand why anti-hunger groups hardly ever advocate for higher wages or public health nutrition measures for low-income Americans, see Andy Fisher’s analysis: they owe too much to their food-company donors.  Big Hunger is a call to action, one well worth heeding.

Here’s his interview today in Civil Eats.

Mar 31 2017

Weekend Reading: Fast Food Kids

Amy L. Best.  Fast Food Kids: French Fries, Lunch Lines, and Social Ties.  New York University Press, 2017.

This is an academic sociologist’s account of what and how kids eat in school, and why.  Amy Best, a professor at George Mason University, spent several years quietly observing kids eating at McDonald’s and Chipotle, and in cafeterias in a low- and high-income high school.  She also did countless interviews.

The result is a reality-based analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of school lunch programs, and how school cafeterias are used by kids as public spaces defined, as Best puts it, by racial segregation and educational and income inequalities.  She also has plenty to say about attempts to reform school meals, the role of “hypervigilant” parents, and the draw of fast food.

Of school food, she says:

Unlike family food, school food holds little if any sacred value; nor does it contain the allure of commercial foods…What is clear is that for some kids, school lunch will continue to be regarded with indifference (and in some cases open contempt).  That is the case because the food is school food.  In principle, kids find the relationship to public school objectionable, not the food itself (even though some school food really does warrant genuine complaint).  Boredom with food is also about boredom with school.

She argues for introducing critical food literacy into the school curriculum, meaning critical thinking about current food system issues.  This sounds to me like what Alice Waters has been trying to do–and is doing–through her Edible Schoolyard projects, and also like the work of the Center for Ecoliteracy.  Both call for issues related to school lunch to be part of the school’s educational mission.  Best does not mention either effort in her book, an unfortunate omission in an otherwise thoughtful account of a complicated and important topic.

Mar 24 2017

Weekend reading: Supersizing Urban America

Chin Jou.  Supersizing Urban America: How Inner Cities Got Fast Food with Government Help. University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Image result for supersizing urban america

I first read this book in manuscript form and have been its biggest fan ever since.  It’s terrific that it is now out and can—and should—be read by everyone.

I was delighted to do a back-cover blurb for it:

This page-turner of a book tells a virtually unknown story.  Federal policies to assist small businesses deliberately introduced fast-food outlets into low-income minority areas to the benefit of franchise owners but promoting widespread obesity in these communities.  For anyone interested in the role of government policy in food, health, and race relations, Supersizing Urban America is a must-read.

I met Chin Jou last year when I was at the University of Sydney, where she now teaches.  They are so lucky to have her there.  This is first-rate work–a model of how to make historical research totally relevant to today’s food issues.

Mar 17 2017

Weekend reading: Andy Smith’s latest encyclopedia, “Food in America”

Smith, Andrew F. Food in America: The Past, Present and Future of Food, Farming and the Family Meal. 3 vols. [Volume 1: Food and the Environment; Volume 2: Food and Health and Nutrition; Volume 3: Food and the Economy]. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2017.

Image result for food in america smith abc-clio

The prolific and ever astonishing Andy Smith has done something breathtaking: produced a three-volume encyclopedia on the environmental, health, and economic implications of food–which he wrote in its entirety.

This is classic Andy Smith: well written, well referenced, highly accurate, and covering an enormous territory.  He introduces each volume with an historical chapter and ends them with invaluable appendices giving chronological timelines and providing landmark documents.  These last are wonderful to have in one place, although finding them is a challenge (there is no list at the front).

The work that must have gone into this is beyond comprehension.  I’ve done timelines myself and have some idea of the amount of research needed to produce one.  But he’s got three covering at least 200 years and in one case starting with the Ice Age.

If you collect food encyclopedias, as I do, you will want this one.

Here’s what’s in it:

VOLUME 1: FOOD AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Introduction 1
History 5
Controversies: Going Forward 81
Climate Change 83
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) 100
Fertilizer 114
Fish and Shellfish 126
Food Waste 143
Locavores 157
Organic 168
Pesticides 178
Sustainable Food 193
Water 205
Landmark Documents 219
Chronology of Landmark Events 345
Sources of Further Information 351
Index 361

VOLUME 2: FOOD AND HEALTH AND NUTRITION
Introduction 1
History 5
Controversies: Going Forward 77
Antibiotics 79
Diet 94
Food Additives 107
Food Insecurity 118
Food Labeling 129
Foodborne Illness 145
Obesity 159
Salt 173
Soda 184
Sugar 199
Landmark Documents 213
Chronology of Landmark Events 339
Sources of Further Information 347
Index 355
VOLUME 3: FOOD AND THE ECONOMY
Introduction 1
History 5
Controversies: Going Forward 83
Advertising and Marketing 85
Aquaculture 100
Fast Food 112
Food Corporations 126
Genetically Modified Food 141
Globalization 159
Industrial Farming 171
Labor 181
Meat 195
Megagrocery Chains 207
Landmark Documents 217
Chronology of Landmark Events 331
Sources of Further Information 339
Index 347

 

Mar 3 2017

Weekend Reading: Letters to a Young Farmer

Martha Hodgkins, ed.  Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future.  Princeton Architectural Press, 2017.

This publication is from the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture.  Its executive director, Jill Isenbarger, explains what it is:

Letters to a Young Farmer, written by some of the most influential farmers, writers, leaders, and entrepreneurs of our time, offers advice, observations, gratitude, and a measure of harsh reality.  Farming is a difficult endeavor and an arduous undertaking at best, yet farming remains one of the most important, tangible, and meaningful things one can do to improve human and environmental health and community well-being.  And it is vital to our future.

The book contains 36 letters, all inspiring.  One of them is mine (you can read it here).

Feb 3 2017

Weekend reading: Food Sociology

John Germov & Lauren Williams, eds. A Sociology of Food & Nutrition: The Social Appetite, 4th ed.  Oxford University Press, 2017.


I know about this book mainly because my NYU colleague Marie Bragg and I have a chapter in it, “The politics of government dietary advice: the influence of Big Food.”

The book is meant to introduce readers to the field of food sociology through themes.  It divides chapters by various authors into three sections: the social appetite, the food system, and food culture.

Its aim is

to make the sociological study of food relevant to a multidisciplinary readership, particularly those across health, nutrition, and social science disciplines.  Our further aim is to reach a broad readership so that those interested in food, nutrition, and wider issues of food production, distribution, and consumption can discover the relevance of studying the social context of food.

The chapters plunge into the controversies and come with summaries of the main points, sociological reflections, discussion questions, and ideas for further investigation.

The sociological reflection on Marie’s and my chapter says:

Dietary guidelines and food guides, although apparently “science-based,” are created by individuals who serve on government committees and are subject to the same kinds of influences as any other members of society.  Because the food industry is the sector of society with the strongest stake in the outcome of dietary guidance, government agencies and committee members are strongly lobbied by industry.  Controversy over dietary advice derives from the contradiction between the health-promoting goals of public health and the profit-making goals of food companies.

If you are looking for a quick introduction to food sociology, here’s a place to begin.  The editors are Australian academics so there are plenty of Australian examples.

Jan 27 2017

Weekend browsing: The New Farmer’s Almanac


The Greenhorns, “a grassroots organization working to support and promote new generations of young farmers, ” has just released the third volume in its Farmer’s Almanac series.

Farmer’s Almanac, Vol. III: Commons of Sky, Knowledge, Land, Water.   Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017.

 

I did a blurb for Volume II (2015): A Contemporary Compendium for Agrarians, Interventionists, and Patriots of Place

This Farmer’s Almanac has all of the best features of the classic versions—wonderful drawings and charts–along with a pot pourri of modern philosophical musings on agrarian values.  It’s a browser’s delight!

More information about Volume III is here.

 

For previous volumes, send email to office@thegreenhorns.net.

Jan 20 2017

Weekend reading: Caring about Hunger

George Kent.  Caring about Hunger.  Irene Publishing, 2016

Kent is a former professor of political science at the University of Hawai’i who in his retirement is teaching at the University of Sydney in Australia and Saybrook University in California.  His book is about the causes of hunger and how to overcome them.   He’s been at this for a long time and can boil the causes down to brief summaries.

  • Disjunction: Hunger and poverty persist largely because the people who have the power to solve the problems are not the ones who have the problems.
  • Compassion: On the whole, the people who have the power do not have much compassion for the powerless.
  • Material interests: The powerful serve mainly the powerful, not the powerless, because the powerless cannot do much for the benefit of the powerful.

Much of the book focuses on compassion and what he calls “caring.”

  • Hunger is less likely to occur where people care about one another’s well being.
  • Caring behavior is strengthened when people work and play together.
  • Hunger in any community is likely to be reduced by encouraging people to work and play together, especially in food-related activities.

He gives plenty of examples of how to make all this work.

Utopian?  Yes, but we need to start somewhere.

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