by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Books

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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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.”

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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.

 

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