by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Books

Aug 10 2018

Weekend reading: Cocoa

Kristy Leissle.  Cocoa.  Polity, 2018.

This book is flat-out about the politics of worldwide cocoa production: who holds power in the marketplace, sets prices, establishes the terms of trade, establishes and enforces standards of quality, and pays workers decently.

As for the sustainability of the cocoa industry, Leissle offers this definition:

sustainable cocoa is compensated well enough that farmers want to continue growing it as their primary employment, within a climatic environment that can support its commercial existence over the long term.  Compensation calculations must include the price paid for cocoa, but also how much it costs to grow—including costs of farming inputs; political social and economic costs associated with land ownership and crop sale; personal energy costs of farming; and opportunity costs of growing something else, such as food for subsistence.

She ends with this thought:

Though incomes for farmers and chocolate makers or company owners are unlike to equalize, we can still emphasize that all types of labor deserve attention and appropriate compensation….From there, the conversation begins.  For cocoa farmers to make a dignified living and for consumers to continue enjoying chocolate, sustainability must involve placing the highest possible value on cocoa at every step, from seed to taste bud.

If you wonder why food is worth talking about, Cocoa is an excellent illustration of how even something used to make candy connects to many of the most important social, economic, and political issues faced by today’s world.

Share |
Aug 3 2018

Weekend reading: I Am Not a Tractor!

Susan L. Marquis.  I Am Not a Tractor!  How Florida Farmworkers Took on the Fast Food Giants and Won.  ILR Press, 2017.

Susan Marquis is the Dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School and an unlikely person to be writing this book.  Her background is in military defense, which she describes as “guns and bombs” (her previous book was Unconventional Warfare: Rebuilding US Special Operations Forces).

As she explains, it was inspired by Barry Estabrook’s article in Gourmet about the harsh treatment of tomato pickers in Florida, later incorporated into his superb book, Tomatoland.  Estabrook blurbs her book (“detailed, academically rigorous, and impossible to put down”).  I agree.

The book tells the story of how the Coalition of Immokalee Workers fought for higher pay and, after much struggle, got it.  Here’s how to find out what it took to get retailers like Walmart and Ahold to agree to pay one cent more per pound—and what a difference that made.

Marquis’ take home lessons:

  • Real change has to come from the workers’ themselves (it can’t be led or forced from the outside)
  • To change systems, you need to understand them
  • To gain allies, you must have a cohesive, consistent, compelling story
  • Leaders must have courage, objectivity, creativity, and persistence
Share |
Jul 27 2018

Weekend reading: Amy Trubek’s Making Modern Meals

Amy Trubek.  Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today.  University of California Press, 2017.

Amy Trubek, an anthropologist (who also trained as a chef) at the University of Vermont, turns her attention to the meaning of cooking in our current era.  Cooking is, as she titles her chapters, at once a chore, occupation, art, craft, and means to achieve health.

She approached these topics as an anthropologist, using participant observations of bakeries and interviews with city and rural participants about their thoughts about cooks and cooking.  She uses this research as a window on contemporary life.

So, what of the dominant narrative that cooking is in decline because home cooks don’t cook…Can we trust this assumption?  Not really….Perhaps the culprit is the organization and structure of modern life.  In multiple discourses (occurring in cookbooks, historical and contemporary media, interviews with cooks, etc.) there exists a pervasive sense of lack and loss as to what we can and should do in our domestic lives.  Almost seventy years ago, Avis DeVoto complained that she did not have time to cook…In this narrative, home cooking is much more episodic than in earlier times because it needs to be, given the expansion of daily demands, and skills and tasks related to meal preparation are given up so that cooking can be fit into modern life [pp. 106-107].

Share |
Tags: ,
Jul 20 2018

Weekend reading: Paul Greenberg’s The Omega Principle

Paul Greenberg.  The Omega Principle: Seafood and the Quest for a Long Life and a Healthier Planet.  Penguin Press, 2018.

This is the third installment of Paul Greenberg’s fish trilogy (the previous two are Four Fish and American Catch, both also well worth the read).

This one sounds like a book about nutrition—a nutrient—but it’s not.  It may have started out that way, as a book about omega-3 fatty acids whose principal dietary source is fish, but Greenberg soon figured out that claims for the miraculous health benefits of omega-3s don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Instead, he uses omega-3s as an organizing framework for discussing how we use and misuse fish for industrial purposes.  To do this, he travels.  He goes to the Mediterranean to examine what happens to anchovies, Peru to see what happens to anchoveta, to the Antarctic to see what happens to krill.

His point?  If we destroy the bottom of the seafood chain to make fishmeal or fertilizer, we destroy the ecology of fish higher up on the food chain.

Greenberg is a lively, entertaining writer who tells great fish tales in pursuit of a serious message: if we want food in our future, we need to eat lower on the food chain.

And the book comes with recipes.  My favorite: Roulades of Antarctic penguin breast.  It begins: “Never make this recipe, please.”

Share |
Tags: ,
Jul 6 2018

Weekend Reading: Food Citizenship (I’m in it)

Ray Goldberg.  Food Citizenship: Food System Advocates in an Era of Distrust. Oxford University Press, 2018.

As should be obvious from this cover, I have a special interest in this book.  For more than 20 years, I’ve been attending an annual meeting of food industry executives, entrepreneurs, and a sprinkling of advocates, government officials, and academics brought together by its author, Ray Goldberg, to try to encourage mutual understanding if not agreement.

When the meeting started, Ray was an agribusiness professor at the Harvard Business School.  After his retirement, the meeting moved to the Kennedy School of Government.  It still continues.

This book consists of Ray’s interviews with dozens of people who have attended this meeting over the years.  Ray interviewed people with an enormous range of involvement in food as well as of opinion about what should be done to improve food systems.

If truth be told, I always felt like a spectator at this meeting, and I am enormously surprised and honored to see that my interview comes first in the book, and that Ray mentions it in his introduction and conclusion.

I think the book is worth reading.  Or, as it happens, watching.

Oxford has posted the videotaped interviews online.  Here’s mine.

May 4 2018

Weekend reading (and cooking): Sam Kass’s Eat a Little Better

Sam Kass was, of course, the Obamas’ personal family chef and Michelle Obama’s policy person in charge of Let’s Move.  This is his first book, part memoir of his culinary background and time with the Obamas in Chicago and Washington (riveting), part food philosophy (even small steps toward eating count for a lot), and part recipes (delicious, easy, and my kind of food).

Also, the photographs of Sam, his family, and the food are gorgeous.  This is one stunningly produced cookbook (thanks to Clarkson Potter Publishers).

My cousin, theater director Robert Moss, took a look at it when staying at my apartment.  He ended his thank-you note with this comment:

P.S.  I loved the Sam Kass book–made me want to cook now!

Me too.

 

Share |
Tags:
Feb 16 2018

Weekend reading for kids: Eat This!

Andrea Curtis.  Eat This!  How Fast-Food Marketing Gets You to Buy Junk (and how to fight back).  Red Deer Press, 2018.

This, amazingly, is a 36-page toolkit for fighting marketing to kids, with endorsements from Mark Bittman and Jamie Oliver, among others.

As I read it, it’s a manual for teaching food literacy to kids—teaching them how to think critically about all the different ways food and beverage companies try to get kids to buy their products or pester their parents to do so.

The “fighting back” part takes up just two pages, but it suggests plenty of projects that kids can do:

Do taste tests of fast food and the same thing home made.  “Which one is more delicious, more expensive, more healthy?  Which creates the least amount of waste?”

Watch your favorite show…Mark down how many times you see product placement.”

“Quick: think of all the fast-food mascots you know by name…Who are the mascots aimed at?”

The illustrations are kid-friendly as is the text.  I’m guessing this could be used easily with kids from age 8 on.

 

Feb 2 2018

Weekend reading: Eating Ethically

Jonathan K. Crane.  Eating Ethically: Religion and Science for a Better Diet.  Columbia University Press, 2017.

Image result for Eating Ethically: Religion and Science for a Better Diet.

I did a blurb for this one:

This entertaining and provocative book draws on biblical and philosophical sources to argue that eating is an act of ethics, and that we would all be happier and healthier if we adhered to the Bible’s dietary advice—eat enough, but not too much.  Anyone interested in food will be fascinated by the stories Jonathan Crane tells here.

Here’s an excerpt, to give you a taste of what it’s about:

I call this kind of discussion eating ethics.  Its ethics are not confined to philosophical schools of consequentialism (where the ends justify the means) or deontology (where an act is moral to the degree it complies with a preconceived duty or principle).  Rather, its ethics lie in the truth that eating is in and of itself an ethical enterprise, no matter how one thinks about it.  Just as eating is an inherently ethical enterprise, food itself is similarly an ethical construct: it is socially defined and defining, as demonstrated by conversation in dietetics…it directly impacts me the eater and the eaten, not to mention the contexts in which this eating occurs, inclusive of humans, other sentient creatures, the environment, and more, as food ethics readily explains.

The book ends with this statement:

For all of these reasons, how and why we eat are two of the most urgent and pressing ethical enterprises of our very existence, and they lie daily in our own hands and mouths.

Share |
Tags: ,
Page 1 of 2812345...Last »