by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Books

Oct 12 2018

Lucky Australians: Sandro Demaio’s The Doctor’s Diet

Sandro Demaio.  The Doctor’s Diet.  Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018.

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I don’t usually say anything about diet books or cookbooks, and this is both, but Demaio is someone I know, the book is worth reading for its food systems approach to eating, and the proceeds go to charity:

Author royalties from the sale of this book will go to th Sandro Demaio Foundation to fund public health and nutrition projects across Australia.

What I like about the book is his straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is commentary on today’s food environment.  Here’s what he says about snacks, for example.

A concept invented in the 20th century by the food industry simply to get us to eat more food and boost sales, snacking isn’t a natural part of a healthy diet,  Snacking between meals is a major source of unwanted sugars, additives and calories for adults and kids alike…Avoiding snacks will improve your appetite for your next meal.

The book is full of tips for navigating the hazards of ubiquitous food marketing and his invitation to “come cook with me” demands a yes.  

The book reminds me a lot of Sam Kass’s terrific Eat a Little Better.

Let’s hope there’s a U.S. edition soon (although he tells me it can be ordered here).

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Sep 28 2018

Weekend reading: Elliot Coleman’s New Organic Grower

Elliot Coleman.  The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.  30th Anniversary Edition.  Chelsea Green, 2018.

The first edition of this book came out in 1989 and it has been an essential tool for organic farmers and home gardeneres ever since.  Coleman’s goal is to make everyone want to farm organically.

“Small farms,” he begins, “are where agricultural advances are nurtured.”  And, he says, “I write only about those things I know.”

Fortunately, he knows a lot.  He knows about soil fertility, pests, weeds, crop rotations, agricultural craftsmanship, land, labor, marketing, and the economics of all of this.

His philosophy?  A pleasure to read.

Humans cannot imagine a world where they are not in charge.  As a biological farmer, I work in partnership with Nature, and I’m a very junior partner.  Given the limited amount of hard knowledge available, I often refer to my management style as “competent ignorance,” and I find that a very apt description.  But my level of trust in the design of the natural world and willingness to be guided by it is discomforting to those who think we should exercise total power over Nature…The reality of today’s world is that the practical success of the many farms managed on biological lines coexists with the striking lack of interest (antagonism actually) from scientific agriculture in exploring why these farms succeed.  The foundation upon which our Maine farm operates—a sense that the systems of the natural world offer elegantly designed patterns worth following—appears to be an indecipherable foreign language to most of agricultural science.

 

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Sep 14 2018

Weekend reading: Food Justice Now!

Johsua Sbicca.  Food Justice Now!  Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle.  University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

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This book is about how to turn the “eat-better” food movement into a movement for social justice.  It directly addresses the complaint that the food movement has no real power.

Sbicca, a sociologist at Colorado State, bases his analysis on three case studies of food justice activism focused on creating reasonably paid work for former prisoners and low-wage workers, many of them of color or immigrants.

He tells the stories of three programs, Planting Justice in Oakland, California; the San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project; and programs run by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770.

In writing this book, he investigates

the tensions between maintaining an “us” in the food movement and a “them” needed to keep the food system running.  This informs the prospects of a food politics that is capable of overcoming ethnoracial and citizenship boundaries…The ethnoracial and class makeup of food workers pushes labor organizers to challenge the race-to-the-bottom practices of food corporations.

He ends the book by calling for what is needed to create true food justice: land, labor, community development, health, self-determination, and environmental sustainability—exactly what is called for in food system reform.

This is an academic book but well worth reading for anyone who cares about building a movement with power to change food systems.

 

Sep 7 2018

Weekend reading: Kosher and Halal market regulation

John Lever and Johan Fischer. Religion, Regulation, Consumption: Globalising Kosher and Halal Markets.  Manchester University Press, 2018.

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This book is a comparative study of how two countries—Denmark and Great Britain—regulate foods labeled Kosher or Halal.  I did a blurb for it:

Anyone curious about how kosher and halal work in today’s globalized, secularized market economies will want to read this comparative study of food practices in the UK and Denmark.

The big issues dealt with here is whether these dietary laws permit animals to be stunned before they are slaughtered, and how the religious requirements relate to the demands of the secular communities in an increasingly globalized marketplace.

It is clear that kosher and halal markets have globalised and been subjected to new forms of regulation within the last two decades or so.  However, no matter how regulated these markets have become they are still fundamentally expressions of religion as taboos dating back thousands of years…kosher and halal fuel a whole range of debates among rabbis/imams and between religious organisations more broadly over what religion is or ought to be in the modern world…Comparing the UK and Denmark, we can say that Judaism/kosher and Islam/halal are less state regulated in the UK and that this allows for slaughter without stunning, for example  This situation has made the UK one of the largest markets for kosher/halal food in the world….As these processes expand and questions over what kosher is or ought to be intensify in a globalising context so greater numbers of Jews are becoming more Orthodox and strict in terms of their kashrut and shechita requirements [pp. 169-170].

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Aug 17 2018

Weekend reading: Food Trucks!

Julian Agyeman, Caitlin Matthews, and Hannah Sobel, eds.  Food Trucks, Cultural Identity, and Social Justice.  MIT Press, 2017.

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I love books about single food topics and how wonderful to have one about food trucks, seemingly ubiquitous these days.  But who knew they were a subject for research.

This book covers anything you might want to know about this phenomenon–from local regulations, to how safe they are, to the politics of who owns them, where they are allowed to park, their role in community development, and their adherence to the authenticity of ethnic and immigrant cuisines.

The editors asked the various chapter writers to discuss the motivations behind a particular city’s promotion of mobile food vending, and to explain how those motivations relate to broad goals of social justice.

The chapters address these issues from academic perspectives.  The book could have been titled “Food Truck Studies.”  From those perspectives, it’s a treasure.

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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.

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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
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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].

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