by Marion Nestle

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Jul 3 2015

Weekend reading: Joel Bourne’s The End of Plenty

While celebrating the Fourth of July, why not take time for some thoughtful reading?

Joel K. Bourne, Jr.  The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World.  WW Norton, 2015.

Here’s my blurb for this one:

The End of Plenty takes a thoroughly researched and exceptionally thoughtful and balanced look at the consequences of industrial farming.  Joel Bourne’s courageous conclusion: to feed the world’s burgeoning population, agriculture must change and population increase must stop.  His book should convince every reader of the compelling need to address world food problems through more skillful and sustainable agronomy, but also through education, especially of women, and universal family planning.

Jun 12 2015

Early book preview: Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)

NOTE: FoodPolitics.com is going offline.  Will return June 21

Soda Politics is in press.

It comes out from Oxford University Press on October 1.

Soda Politics KD7_comp

It has a Foreword by Mark Bittman and an Afterward by Neal Baer (my grateful thanks to both).

For information about Soda Politics, go to:

Enjoy!

Jun 5 2015

Weekend reading: Agricultural & Food Controversies

F. Bailey Norwood, Pascal A. Oltenacu, Michelle S. Calvo-Lorenzo, and Sarah Lancaster.  Agricultural & Food Controversies: What Everyone Needs to Know.  Oxford University Press, 2015.

This book purports to take an objective look at “why equally smart and kind people can form vastly different opinions about food.”

Good luck with “objective.”

These authors are professors in agriculture departments in state universities (Oklahoma and Florida) who wish that controversial subjects in food and agriculture could be explored “while paying respect to the character and intellect of both sides.”

But then they take on liberals.

Liberals, they say, “have a negative view of big business, and…comprise the majority of food activists, and you have a story that can explain the rise of many agricultural controversies.”

With this established, they take on issues such as pesticides, fertilizers, carbon footprints, GMOs, farm subsidies, local food, and animal welfare.

Although the authors seem to be struggling to be fair to the positions of “liberal activists,” they tend to judge those positions as overly simplistic.

In the view of this liberal activist (I prefer advocate, however), this book ends up reflecting the authors’ strong ties to—and defense of—industrial agricultural models.

This is a good place to start to understand the non-liberal activist perspective.

May 29 2015

Weekend reading: Food Ethics for Everyone

Paul Thompson.  From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone.  Oxford University Press, 2015.

I was pleased to be asked to blurb this one:

From Field to Fork makes it clear that every food choice has ethical implications and that sorting out these implications from the science and politics of food is anything but simple.   The ethical issues discussed in this book are fascinatingly complex and deserve the serious debates they are sure to stimulate.  If ever a book provided food for thought, it’s this one.

May 26 2015

Q and A: Should we eat vegetables from parched California?

Q.  Marion, have you seen the NY Times article? It is about how what we eat is contributing to the CA drought. Leaves me confused. If we don’t eat these foods, the farmers will go out of business and that state will suffer. Also, it is mostly fruits, nuts and veggies mentioned. Any thoughts???        –Julie Kumar

A.  The story, in case you missed it, is summarized by its headline: “The average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water each week by eating food that was produced there.”

California farmers produce more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. To do that, they use nearly 80 percent of all the water consumed in the state.

New Picture

The Times also says:

Americans consume the most water by eating meat and dairy products, primarily because a lot of water is needed to grow the crops to feed the animals. Not all of this water comes from California; about half is imported in the form of crops, like corn, from the Midwest.

What to say about this?

California has a good climate for growing vegetables year-round.  What it does not have is rain.  Even in non-drought years, the rainy season is short.  California gets virtually no rain in summers when the vegetable-growing Central Valley is at its hottest.

Nevertheless, the powers that be decided long ago that money was to be made diverting water from the Sierras to promote the growth of cities (see, for example, Chinatown and any number of documentary films)—and to irrigate California farmland.

The current drought brings the greed and lack of foresight in these decisions to public attention.  California farmers have now agreed to cuts in their water allotments, but that still leaves proponents of sustainable agriculture with the dilemma described by Julie’s question:

Does it make ethical or moral sense to boycott California vegetables, nuts, and fruits as a means to encourage producers to move their businesses to wetter locations?

In the long term, it might.  I keep thinking of Iowa, which used to be the major producer of specialty crops, but which now produces corn and soybeans under industrial conditions that are ruining municipal water supplies with nitrates from their runoffs.

We need to develop agricultural policies that promote sustainable production methods and take water use, climate change, and other such matters into serious consideration.

In the meantime, you are on your own to figure out your personal method for helping California with its water problems and for encouraging such policies as quickly as possible.

California’s water problems, by the way, are anything but new.   It’s worth digging up the 1949 study by Carey McWilliams, who edited The Nation for 20 years.  His book, no surprise, focuses on the politics.

Cover art

Or if you prefer a more historical approach, there’s this one from University of California Press in 2001.

Cover art

Where I live, it’s suddenly summer and time for putting in tomatoes.

May 22 2015

Weekend reading: Organic Struggle

Brian K. Obach.  Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States.  MIT Press, 2015.

Here’s my blurb:

Brian Obach has written an important book for everyone who produces, buys, or considers buying organically produced foods.  This is a well-researched and utterly riveting history of the issues that unite and divide organic farmers and consumers, firmly grounded in the political context of classic social movements.   If you want to advocate for healthier and more sustainable food systems, you must read this book.

May 15 2015

Weekend reading: Barry Estabrook’s Pig Tales

Barry Estabrook.  Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat.  WW Norton, 2015.

I was happy to be asked to blurb this one.  It’s a great read:

Estabrook tells two powerful stories here.  The first is about the appalling ways in which Big Pig raises animals, pollutes the environment, and uses the political system to avoid and fight regulation.  The second is about how skilled animal husbandry and respect for the intelligence of pigs produces calmer animals, more delicious meat, and a far more satisfying life for farmers and pigs alike.  Pig Tales is beautifully written.  It is also deeply touching.

May 1 2015

Weekend reading: The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Darra Goldstein, editor.  The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.  Oxford University Press, 2015.

Full disclosure: I have two entries in this book, one with Daniel Bowman Simon.

  • Simon DB, Nestle M.  Soda lobbies.  In: Goldstein D.  The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.  Oxford University Press, 2015:681-682.
  • Nestle M.  Soda.  In: Goldstein D.  The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.  Oxford University Press, 2015:623-624.

With that out of the way, I can only think that the editors of this book, Darra Goldstein and Michael Krondl, must have had the best time pulling this together.

The encyclopedia starts with an elegant introduction by Sidney Mintz, author of Sweetness and Power, the one book that tops everyone’s list of must reads in food studies.

The remaining 800 pages or so are devoted to entries by 265 authors on matters as diverse or arcane as dulce de leche, nanbangashi (“southern barbarian sweets”), syllabub, and whoopie pie (look them up).  I especially like the Appendixes: lists of films featuring sugar and chocolate, songs about sugar and candy (often as a metaphor), and museums.

The illustrations are lavish, especially the two sets of gorgeous color inserts.  Subtlety: The Marvelous Sugar Baby, alas, is gone from the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, but it lives on here.  For that alone….

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