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One morning while reading Barron's, Kara Newman took note of a casual bit of advice offered by famed commodities trader Jim Rogers. "Buy breakfast," he told investors, referring to the increasing value of pork belly and frozen orange juice futures. The statement inspired Newman to take a closer look at agricultural commodities, from the iconic pork belly to the obscure pep One morning while reading Barron's, Kara Newman took note of a casual bit of advice offered by famed commodities trader Jim Rogers. "Buy breakfast," he told investors, referring to the increasing value of pork belly and frozen orange juice futures. The statement inspired Newman to take a closer look at agricultural commodities, from the iconic pork belly to the obscure peppercorn and nutmeg. The results of her investigation, recorded in this fascinating history, show how contracts listed on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange can read like a menu and how market behavior can dictate global economic and culinary practice. The Secret Financial Life of Food reveals the economic pathways that connect food to consumer, unlocking the mysteries behind culinary trends, grocery pricing, and restaurant dining. Newman travels back to the markets of ancient Rome and medieval Europe, where vendors first distinguished between "spot sales" and "sales for delivery." She retraces the storied spice routes of Asia and recounts the spice craze that prompted Christopher Columbus's journey to North America, linking these developments to modern-day India's bustling peppercorn market. Newman centers her history on the transformation of corn into a ubiquitous commodity and uses oats, wheat, and rye to recast America's westward expansion and the Industrial Revolution. She discusses the effects of such mega-corporations as Starbucks and McDonalds on futures markets and considers burgeoning markets, particularly "super soybeans," which could scramble the landscape of food finance. The ingredients of American power and culture, and the making of the modern world, can be found in the history of food commodities exchange, and Newman connects this unconventional story to the how and why of what we eat.


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One morning while reading Barron's, Kara Newman took note of a casual bit of advice offered by famed commodities trader Jim Rogers. "Buy breakfast," he told investors, referring to the increasing value of pork belly and frozen orange juice futures. The statement inspired Newman to take a closer look at agricultural commodities, from the iconic pork belly to the obscure pep One morning while reading Barron's, Kara Newman took note of a casual bit of advice offered by famed commodities trader Jim Rogers. "Buy breakfast," he told investors, referring to the increasing value of pork belly and frozen orange juice futures. The statement inspired Newman to take a closer look at agricultural commodities, from the iconic pork belly to the obscure peppercorn and nutmeg. The results of her investigation, recorded in this fascinating history, show how contracts listed on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange can read like a menu and how market behavior can dictate global economic and culinary practice. The Secret Financial Life of Food reveals the economic pathways that connect food to consumer, unlocking the mysteries behind culinary trends, grocery pricing, and restaurant dining. Newman travels back to the markets of ancient Rome and medieval Europe, where vendors first distinguished between "spot sales" and "sales for delivery." She retraces the storied spice routes of Asia and recounts the spice craze that prompted Christopher Columbus's journey to North America, linking these developments to modern-day India's bustling peppercorn market. Newman centers her history on the transformation of corn into a ubiquitous commodity and uses oats, wheat, and rye to recast America's westward expansion and the Industrial Revolution. She discusses the effects of such mega-corporations as Starbucks and McDonalds on futures markets and considers burgeoning markets, particularly "super soybeans," which could scramble the landscape of food finance. The ingredients of American power and culture, and the making of the modern world, can be found in the history of food commodities exchange, and Newman connects this unconventional story to the how and why of what we eat.

30 review for The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Darren

    This book puts a new meaning to the phrase "Buy Breakfast!" Looking at the series of global trade that lies at the heart of much of what we eat, the author considers the various commodities that are sold such as coffee beans and pork bellies and looks at the impact that this can have throughout the chain from producer right through to the end consumer. Commodity trading over time has helped shape our culinary habits and traditions - wars and regime changes have happened even, as residents of Bost This book puts a new meaning to the phrase "Buy Breakfast!" Looking at the series of global trade that lies at the heart of much of what we eat, the author considers the various commodities that are sold such as coffee beans and pork bellies and looks at the impact that this can have throughout the chain from producer right through to the end consumer. Commodity trading over time has helped shape our culinary habits and traditions - wars and regime changes have happened even, as residents of Boston who threw lots of British tea into the harbour can show, all due to a precious foodstuff being traded. Commodity trading is not just limited to the current "daily" price either, as many traders deal in "futures" (future event pricing) and the author has traced such futures trading in grain back to Biblical times. The book's primary focus is on commodities trading from a United States-perspective, looking back at the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT)'s foundation in 1848 and the various splits and consolidations that have occurred since that time. A smattering of history is, of course, contextually necessary and a welcome addition but since the author has given such a great write up on a subject that is not such a "general interest" topic, hopefully there is scope for a second volume, considering perhaps the development of the world through technology and commodity trading? Each key commodity gets its own chapter and it is interesting to compare and contrast the various developments in commodity trading and their impacts to producer, wholesaler and end-user too, both in isolation and in a general overview. Of course, in the latter decades the world has got a lot smaller thanks to air travel and containerised shipping. Richer nations have the ability to buy in various commodities that perhaps they grow themselves when it is cheaper to do so, perhaps due to labour costs or to adverse weather. Less-developed nations earn a significant portion of their income through the growth of many commodities and even changing prices can have an impact both locally to the producer and locally to the end user. Exactly like the stock market, prices go up and down with often no perceptual reason why to the casual observer. A strike, poor harvests, disease and changing consumer demand all can leave their mark. This book manages to give you a great insight into this fascinating area without compromising itself through over-simplification. Written as a scholarly work but with the general reader also in mind, the engaging, friendly, accessible style means that this book is deserving of a much wider audience than perhaps it might get stuck in a bookstore. You could even just imagine this book as a documentary series. It just has that feel. Of course, as you would expect, at the end of this book are detailed bibliographic notes for those who require this sort of thing. Columbia University Press has managed through its "Arts & Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History" collection to have had some great books that can open the reader's eyes to new thoughts, new thinking and a lot of great history. This book is a further "must buy" for those involved within the food industry who is at least a little bit curious as to how a bit of the global jigsaw works. // This review appeared in YUM.fi and is reproduced here in full with permission of YUM.fi. YUM.fi celebrates the worldwide diversity of food and drink, as presented through the humble book. Whether you call it a cookery book, cook book, recipe book or something else (in the language of your choice) YUM will provide you with news and reviews of the latest books on the marketplace. //

  2. 4 out of 5

    Trena

    I have never understood the futures market, and I can't say that my understanding is any deeper after reading this book. Like, is it conceivable that there could be more futures sold than product could possibly exist? Are the commodities sold on the futures market exclusively traded through it, or is the futures market separate from the actual market? Can a holder of a futures contract put a call on it and get the actual commodity? It's just such a weird, abstract thing to me, paradoxically even I have never understood the futures market, and I can't say that my understanding is any deeper after reading this book. Like, is it conceivable that there could be more futures sold than product could possibly exist? Are the commodities sold on the futures market exclusively traded through it, or is the futures market separate from the actual market? Can a holder of a futures contract put a call on it and get the actual commodity? It's just such a weird, abstract thing to me, paradoxically even more abstract than stocks which don't actually represent anything in the real world. Anyway, explaining the futures market was not the purpose of this book (though it would have been helpful). It's more a history of commodities trading, mostly in the US but she goes back to origins in the ancient as well as slightly less ancient world. The book is organized by type of food--produce, dairy and eggs, meat, coffee and tea, etc.--and provides the history of trading for each commodity and whether it still trades and in what form. I am sad to inform you that the most classic of commodities, pork bellies, stopped trading in 2011. Organizing the book by commodity makes some sense, but overall the book is mostly a history of the various commodities trading marketplaces, the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile being the largest. The history of these and the other trading markets gets kind of chopped up in the telling so it's a bit hard to follow what exactly happened when. This book has the virtue of being short; had it been any longer I would have rated it lower for not really explaining futures trading as a concept and not exploring how futures fit into the larger investment marketplace. As it was, the best parts were random bits of information about the commodities themselves rather than how they are traded, such as how consumer preference changed hogs from fat to lean (with smaller pork bellies) but the current craze for actual pork belly has given rise to fat heirloom hogs to serve at the trendy restaurants of New York.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lori M.

    An interesting concept for a book, although not quite as good as I thought it would be. I don't blame the author, as I wasn't quite sure what to expect. It was well-written, with short overviews of several different markets, and some (such as the chapters on cattle and pork bellies) I found quite interesting. I never knew how Wall Street in NYC got its name before reading this book. Overall, not a bad read, but not something I would stay awake just to finish a chapter. ****I received this book as An interesting concept for a book, although not quite as good as I thought it would be. I don't blame the author, as I wasn't quite sure what to expect. It was well-written, with short overviews of several different markets, and some (such as the chapters on cattle and pork bellies) I found quite interesting. I never knew how Wall Street in NYC got its name before reading this book. Overall, not a bad read, but not something I would stay awake just to finish a chapter. ****I received this book as a goodreads giveaway, but that has not affected my opinion or review of this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dr

    A unique lens through which to tell the the story about food in America, and globally really. Not being an economist, I'm still not sure that I really "get it", in terms of what investors are doing in the commodities markets, how they're making money, based on what factors are they making their decisions, and how any of that impact real prices... but its still a mind expanding read, full of fun vignettes of 'strategery' and intrigue and quippy amusements. A unique lens through which to tell the the story about food in America, and globally really. Not being an economist, I'm still not sure that I really "get it", in terms of what investors are doing in the commodities markets, how they're making money, based on what factors are they making their decisions, and how any of that impact real prices... but its still a mind expanding read, full of fun vignettes of 'strategery' and intrigue and quippy amusements.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Vesna

    THe title did not align very well with the content, so the 'commodities to supermarket' did not come alive for me at all. The book had a very Chicago commodity market focus which is probably fine if you are looking at this topic with an American centric viewpoint. I find food fashions endlessly fascinating and over time I think I've become more tuned to market trends. The one exciting moment for me was in the Butter and egg-man chapter where I was reminded of a university holiday job where I wor THe title did not align very well with the content, so the 'commodities to supermarket' did not come alive for me at all. The book had a very Chicago commodity market focus which is probably fine if you are looking at this topic with an American centric viewpoint. I find food fashions endlessly fascinating and over time I think I've become more tuned to market trends. The one exciting moment for me was in the Butter and egg-man chapter where I was reminded of a university holiday job where I worked the conveyor belt for the Sydney egg board, a factory experience all forgotten until the description of the egg breaking machine which separated the whites from the yolks. This 3 month experience gave me a very brief look-in to food in a way different to that of the domestic consumer, which I guess is what I was expecting, given the title. The history of commodity trading is interesting but I found the points of reference not global enough to capture my attention.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jess Schira

    This book didn’t measure up to my expectations. That doesn’t mean it was a bad book, but I was hoping to learn more about commodities or food production, or something. But after finishing it, I don’t feel smarter. The Secret Financial Life of Food: was competently written but it failed to capture me. I found it to be very dry. There were times when I had to force my attention back to the book. I can’t shake the feeling that if the author had spent more time expressing their viewpoints instead of This book didn’t measure up to my expectations. That doesn’t mean it was a bad book, but I was hoping to learn more about commodities or food production, or something. But after finishing it, I don’t feel smarter. The Secret Financial Life of Food: was competently written but it failed to capture me. I found it to be very dry. There were times when I had to force my attention back to the book. I can’t shake the feeling that if the author had spent more time expressing their viewpoints instead of quoting other books, reading would have been easier. I did like the way the book was organized. Each chapter was a separate food commodity, and the author did a very nice job staying on topic. This book isn’t bad. It would make a great reference book, but it’s not something I would recommend someone plan reading for fun.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Suzy Wilson

    A little dry for me. Interesting enough.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Geoffrey

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tricia

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  12. 5 out of 5

    John

  13. 5 out of 5

    Christian Evans

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jocelyn Reyes Midghall

    Interesting take on the "evolution" of food vis-a-vis commodities. Interesting take on the "evolution" of food vis-a-vis commodities.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stan Bland

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  18. 5 out of 5

    Paul Kearns

  19. 4 out of 5

    Meritree Ratzel

  20. 5 out of 5

    Liming Zhu

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cory Thomas

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ted Beisler

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alex Ripley

  25. 5 out of 5

    Christina Gabriel

  26. 5 out of 5

    Zaman

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gerwin

  28. 4 out of 5

    Hyde

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Chen

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nate Charnas

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