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The politics of food is changing fast. In rich countries, obesity is now a more serious problem than hunger. Consumers once satisfied with cheap and convenient food now want food that is also safe, nutritious, fresh, and grown by local farmers using fewer chemicals. Heavily subsidized and underregulated commercial farmers are facing stronger push back from environmentalist The politics of food is changing fast. In rich countries, obesity is now a more serious problem than hunger. Consumers once satisfied with cheap and convenient food now want food that is also safe, nutritious, fresh, and grown by local farmers using fewer chemicals. Heavily subsidized and underregulated commercial farmers are facing stronger push back from environmentalists and consumer activists, and food companies are under the microscope. Meanwhile, agricultural success in Asia has spurred income growth and dietary enrichment, but agricultural failure in Africa has left one-third of all citizens undernourished - and the international markets that link these diverse regions together are subject to sudden disruption. Food Politics carefully examines and explains the most important issues on today's global food landscape, including international food prices, famines, chronic hunger, the Malthusian race between food production and population growth, international food aid, "green revolution" farming, obesity, farm subsidies and trade, agriculture and the environment, agribusiness, supermarkets, food safety, fast food, slow food, organic food, local food, and genetically engineered food. Politics in each of these areas has become polarized over the past decade by conflicting claims and accusations from advocates on all sides. Paarlberg's book maps this contested terrain, challenging myths and critiquing more than a few of today's fashionable beliefs about farming and food. For those ready to have their thinking about food politics informed and also challenged, this is the book to read.


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The politics of food is changing fast. In rich countries, obesity is now a more serious problem than hunger. Consumers once satisfied with cheap and convenient food now want food that is also safe, nutritious, fresh, and grown by local farmers using fewer chemicals. Heavily subsidized and underregulated commercial farmers are facing stronger push back from environmentalist The politics of food is changing fast. In rich countries, obesity is now a more serious problem than hunger. Consumers once satisfied with cheap and convenient food now want food that is also safe, nutritious, fresh, and grown by local farmers using fewer chemicals. Heavily subsidized and underregulated commercial farmers are facing stronger push back from environmentalists and consumer activists, and food companies are under the microscope. Meanwhile, agricultural success in Asia has spurred income growth and dietary enrichment, but agricultural failure in Africa has left one-third of all citizens undernourished - and the international markets that link these diverse regions together are subject to sudden disruption. Food Politics carefully examines and explains the most important issues on today's global food landscape, including international food prices, famines, chronic hunger, the Malthusian race between food production and population growth, international food aid, "green revolution" farming, obesity, farm subsidies and trade, agriculture and the environment, agribusiness, supermarkets, food safety, fast food, slow food, organic food, local food, and genetically engineered food. Politics in each of these areas has become polarized over the past decade by conflicting claims and accusations from advocates on all sides. Paarlberg's book maps this contested terrain, challenging myths and critiquing more than a few of today's fashionable beliefs about farming and food. For those ready to have their thinking about food politics informed and also challenged, this is the book to read.

30 review for Food Politics

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    This book tends to be biased towards biotechnology and agribusiness, especially in the chapters about the Green Revolution and Genetically Modified foods. The lack of footnotes or citations really impacts the credibility of the author and the broad statements being made. A conclusion at the end of the book would have helped to sum up all the disparate information scattered throughout.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alex Tongue

    This book blew my mind.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Arwen17

    This book was too pro-industry for me to trust it. Completely biased. He nitpicked certain things with activist movements and glossed over the very real problems these movements bring forward. Was this guy paid by the industry to write this book? If he wasn't so biased and pro-establishment, I would have probably liked it because he covered a wide range of topics on this subject. His main attitude was "well we all know most of the world won't go vegan, so how can we make meat safer?" That's the s This book was too pro-industry for me to trust it. Completely biased. He nitpicked certain things with activist movements and glossed over the very real problems these movements bring forward. Was this guy paid by the industry to write this book? If he wasn't so biased and pro-establishment, I would have probably liked it because he covered a wide range of topics on this subject. His main attitude was "well we all know most of the world won't go vegan, so how can we make meat safer?" That's the same as saying "we know most of the world won't give up its junk food, so how can we inject more vitamins into such foods so people won't die of their poor choices?" That is a self-defeating, ludicrous position. The truth is people are going to have to eat less meat and eat less junk food if they don't want to DIE, or if they want the Earth to be around in the next 100 years or so, as we destroy the environment for one more cheeseburger. I agree people likely won't change their ways until we reach the very brink of destruction (and maybe not even then), but I don't share this idea that science will somehow invent a "magic pill" that will suddenly make meat safer or junk food more nutritious. Enrich the junk food all you want. Eat organic meat all you want. It won't give you the long lifespan and disease-free life of a real whole-foods vegan. And the earth is just going to get more and more polluted going forward. Every passing day food becomes more and more dangerous and less nutrient-dense, even the so-called "organic" variety.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joy

    I would give it a four for content and 2 for style. It was a very dry read though not difficult. The author is not trying to pull any heartstrings or inspire anyone to do anything. Rather he simply answers a bunch of questions about food production, consumption and politics. I would say it is worth reading if you are interested in food (including agricultural and environmental) issues, perhaps just for the reminder that things are seldom as simple as they appear and that we should be wary of ove I would give it a four for content and 2 for style. It was a very dry read though not difficult. The author is not trying to pull any heartstrings or inspire anyone to do anything. Rather he simply answers a bunch of questions about food production, consumption and politics. I would say it is worth reading if you are interested in food (including agricultural and environmental) issues, perhaps just for the reminder that things are seldom as simple as they appear and that we should be wary of overly simple solutions to complicated problems.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Spuckler

    Food Politics by Robert Paarlberg is exactly what the title says. I thought I knew quite a bit about my food. I am a vegetarian. I read labels. I have seen the documentaries on our food. I am smart enough to know that meat is not neatly created in styrofoam and plastic wrapped packages. I also know that the long list of chemicals on a frozen burrito wrapper are not natural food stuffs. Furthermore, I know that international trade of food is a touchy subject between countries, small family farms Food Politics by Robert Paarlberg is exactly what the title says. I thought I knew quite a bit about my food. I am a vegetarian. I read labels. I have seen the documentaries on our food. I am smart enough to know that meat is not neatly created in styrofoam and plastic wrapped packages. I also know that the long list of chemicals on a frozen burrito wrapper are not natural food stuffs. Furthermore, I know that international trade of food is a touchy subject between countries, small family farms are mostly a thing of the past,and feed lots are trouble in the making. Paalberg has much more to add. We start with Thomas Malthus who proposed that population growth would outpace food production and result in starvation. Population grows exponentially and compared to linear growth of increased production. Fortunately, technology allowed increased harvests and migration to urban settings slowed population growth. Mankind beat Malthus, at least temporarily. Paarlberg presents several cases for the cost of food. These included production, famine, speculation, and protectionism. Politics is intertwined in almost every aspect of our food. From subsidies, to tariffs and outright bans, politics controls food. No politician from Iowa would survive with out supporting a farm bill nor a Texan politician survive without supporting the beef industry. Whether or not these government programs provide any real value to farmers is a matter for debate. When the government tries to act in good faith to protect the environment against Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO or Feed Lots) it is met with heavy resistance from lobbies and threats of limiting campaign donations. Even when something positive like taxing junk food is proposed it is met by resistance from food processors to the convenient store owners. What is not pure politics, is in advertising. The food industry manipulates ingredients like fat, sugar, and salt to make irresistible tasting food. This also plays directly to children. The industry spends $2 billion a year advertising food to children. The average American child sees thirteen food advertisements a day. Healthy sounding “Whole Grain” usually means added fat and sugar to make it taste better. School lunches fall to food producers and lobbyists too. Pizza is considered a vegetable because it has tomato sauce. Potato growers fight for French Fries to be included as a healthy vegetable. Other producers fight for the inclusion of soda and junk food to be allowed in schools. What have food politics gotten us? The Green Revolution provided huge increases in production. The newer battles between agribusiness and sustainability create controversy. Food costs have dropped 50% through the 20th Century and income levels rose 400%. Food is typical 10% of an average American's budget. With that we also have genetically modified food, heavily processed food, high fructose corn syrup, and unprecedented access to a vast variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. We also have a growing obesity problem, but a pharmaceutical industry keeping us “healthy” despite ourselves. Paarlberg goes into great detail about many more aspects of our food and the politics surrounding it. He presents very balanced arguments and supports them well. His book, however, is not a Fast Food Nation or a Food Inc., or anti-Monsanto/ConAgra/ et al; he presents balance and reason. Food and the politics of food is a timely and important subject as we face increased trade, changes in our farming systems, and vocal groups from anti-GMO to others demanding their right to giant sized sodas in New York City. Food Politcs gave me more information than I thought possible on the subject. It is well written and easy to follow. The only complaint I have is that a more complete bibliography could have been included.

  6. 4 out of 5

    K Steward

    This book takes a very conventional approach to food politics. The author has a point of view that does not include how very large companies can influence political and scientific reality (Congress, government agencies, local officials, "scientific" studies, etc.) and, in effect, buy what they want to happen politically. He does not accept any of the alternative thinking, although he pretends to present both sides of various issues. This book takes a very conventional approach to food politics. The author has a point of view that does not include how very large companies can influence political and scientific reality (Congress, government agencies, local officials, "scientific" studies, etc.) and, in effect, buy what they want to happen politically. He does not accept any of the alternative thinking, although he pretends to present both sides of various issues.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Morgana

    Very biased

  8. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    Food politics is becoming almost ubiquitous in the news these days, and, since its a subject I haven't taken much time to investigate, I figured I should read a basic primer on all the ins and outs. This is a great one. Paarlberg covers everything from international food aid to obesity to organic farming. One thing that may surprise most people coming at this book from reading the New York Times, Paul Roberts, or Michael Pollan (in other words, Whole Foods consumers) is that Paarlbarg isn't a bi Food politics is becoming almost ubiquitous in the news these days, and, since its a subject I haven't taken much time to investigate, I figured I should read a basic primer on all the ins and outs. This is a great one. Paarlberg covers everything from international food aid to obesity to organic farming. One thing that may surprise most people coming at this book from reading the New York Times, Paul Roberts, or Michael Pollan (in other words, Whole Foods consumers) is that Paarlbarg isn't a big tout for organic farming or "sustainable agriculture." He notes that the original patrons of the movement were either wide-eyed mystics like the German Rudolf Steiner or aristocratic reactionaries like Sir Albert Howard in Britain, both of whom rebelled against "unnatural" fertilizer (creating by harvesting nitrogen from the air in the Haber-Bosch process of 1909) since it supposedly denied the life "essence" of food. Only in the 1960s, and especially after the 1990 law mandating a USDA certified "organic" label, did this somehow migrate to the environmental movement. Paarlberg notes that organicly grown staple crops are only about 60% as productive per acre as modern "precision methods," and that to convert the world to organic agriculture would take up more farmland than we have. Besides, he notes that soil health is best preserved with "modest" amounts of fertilizers and insecticides and that organic methods would exclude genetically-engineered foods like Bt Corn and cotton that inhibit the need for chemicals. He also notes that critics of the "Green Revolution" like Paul Ehrlich (who falsely claimed in 1968 that the Green Revolution methods used in India and Asia were unsustainable and would lead to mass starvation by 1980 (in fact yields have consistently increased with no end in sight)) have seriously hurt attempts to improve African agriculture, the one region of the world basically untouched by the Green Revolution. Since 1980 the annual amount of US funds sent modernize African agriculture dropped by 77%. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation created their Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in 2008 they received untold flack from people who called them tools of agribusiness. Such flack has limited other philanthropic attempts to help the region. In 2002 activist groups got the government of Zambia to refuse US food aid, which contained genetically modified crops, since they claimed, I hardly have to say falsely, that the food could potentially lead to a retrovirus similar to HIV. Meanwhile the "sustainable" methods practiced by default by African farmers have left them mired in poverty. The activist community's celebration of "traditional" practices that all Africans are trying to escape from comes across as the worst form of condescension. Paarlberg is hardly a doctrinaire food conservative. He believes Silent Spring and other books created an appropriate reaction against indiscriminate chemical farming in the 1960s (he notes that pesticide use peaked back in 1973). He also believes that food companies should be better regulated to limit advertising and obesity, and that humane treatment of animals needs to be better embodied in law (the 1966 Animal Welfare Act explicitly excluded farm animals), but he does offer a ready corrective to many soi disant experts who have been anointed by the media as the last word on food politics. This book will help me read the daily news about food in a whole new way.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Betsy McGee

    Well, the title really says it all...What everyone needs to know. It's very readable, very even-handed, and a nice general overview of food politics. It's a great book to get started with if you are interested in the topic or just curious about some of the food hot topics (organics, genetically modified, food policy, etc). Basically, read this book if: -You've ever wondered what the big deal about organic/genetically modified food is? -You wonder how starvation and morbid obesity can co-exist on th Well, the title really says it all...What everyone needs to know. It's very readable, very even-handed, and a nice general overview of food politics. It's a great book to get started with if you are interested in the topic or just curious about some of the food hot topics (organics, genetically modified, food policy, etc). Basically, read this book if: -You've ever wondered what the big deal about organic/genetically modified food is? -You wonder how starvation and morbid obesity can co-exist on the same plant? -You've noticed patterns in food culture and consumption. -You wonder about the environmental impacts of agriculture. -You worry about overpopulation. -You think about farm subsidies and the cost of food and food production. -You are curious about the different "food movements".

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brandy

    Food Politics is an excellent introduction to the causes, possible solutions, and complications of world hunger. It would serve well as a reference for anybody regularly discussing the topic with the public. One small nitpick detail is, the number of underweight population shouldn't be used as an indication of how much of a country is food insecure. The book touches on such a wide range of topics I can understand why they aren't in depth, however they could have given a little more detail to some Food Politics is an excellent introduction to the causes, possible solutions, and complications of world hunger. It would serve well as a reference for anybody regularly discussing the topic with the public. One small nitpick detail is, the number of underweight population shouldn't be used as an indication of how much of a country is food insecure. The book touches on such a wide range of topics I can understand why they aren't in depth, however they could have given a little more detail to some to make their arguments more compelling. They also are rather Pollyanna about SNAP and food stamps being "wildly bipartisan supported"..... Overall I'd recommend the book to anybody working in social work, interested in class politics, food insecurity, or ethical eating.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Trey Malone

    This is a decent read for anyone wanting a rough and dirty introduction to food policy issues, although I do wish that Oxford would let the authors in this series actually include citations. The area that really shines through was early in the text when he discusses food policy issues in developing countries. In fact, after reading his discussion there, I'll be reading his other book, "Starved for Science." Hopefully there he will actually be able to cite appropriately. For a continuation of the This is a decent read for anyone wanting a rough and dirty introduction to food policy issues, although I do wish that Oxford would let the authors in this series actually include citations. The area that really shines through was early in the text when he discusses food policy issues in developing countries. In fact, after reading his discussion there, I'll be reading his other book, "Starved for Science." Hopefully there he will actually be able to cite appropriately. For a continuation of the ideas put forward here, I strongly recommend Norwood's "Agricultural and Food Controversies: What Everyone Needs to Know."

  12. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    I was really excited to read this book, and will be using info from a couple of chapters for a term paper I'm writing this semester, but I could not find myself getting interested in the topics as Paarlberg discussed them. I am definitely interested in "food politics", but his style of writing was just too straight-factual for me. The book felt like a list of facts, in sentences instead of bullets. Each chapter didn't really have a connection to the other chapters. I found myself tempted to skim I was really excited to read this book, and will be using info from a couple of chapters for a term paper I'm writing this semester, but I could not find myself getting interested in the topics as Paarlberg discussed them. I am definitely interested in "food politics", but his style of writing was just too straight-factual for me. The book felt like a list of facts, in sentences instead of bullets. Each chapter didn't really have a connection to the other chapters. I found myself tempted to skim many times. The information was helpful for my paper though.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    Should a book ever use questions to preface a chapter? No! What a terrible terrible tactic. Even an explicit text book (which this is not) should KNOW better. Aside from that horrible writing strategy, the content of the book was pretty good, although I personally think it could have benefited from a more specific lens. It covered too much and without enough depth. Could this book have been three separate books instead? Yes. One about economics, one about politics, and one about society.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brennan

    Facts, facts, facts. That's the simplest way I can say it. And incredibly informative book from a man who has a wealth of knowledge from both inside the beltway and inside academia. But the book can feel a bit disjointed and it's easy to get lost in some of the facts lists. Overall I'm glad I read it. Unless you're deeply interested in the wonkier aspects of Agriculture Policy, I wouldn't recommend it. Facts, facts, facts. That's the simplest way I can say it. And incredibly informative book from a man who has a wealth of knowledge from both inside the beltway and inside academia. But the book can feel a bit disjointed and it's easy to get lost in some of the facts lists. Overall I'm glad I read it. Unless you're deeply interested in the wonkier aspects of Agriculture Policy, I wouldn't recommend it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anandh Sundar

    In the highly emotive world of food(where everyone has a view/slant), it is refreshing to hear from a scientist who has no axe to grind viz no corporate funding at all in his full career. Written in a FAQ type format, this book really analyzes the nitty gritties of the topic. Dummies Guide 101 type.

  16. 5 out of 5

    treehugger

    I really liked the short essay-type writing - easy to grab the info you're looking for, but not so great for sitting down next to the lake and doing some pleasure reading.. I also need to look back through it - I think I disagree with a good portion of what he says about food policy, at least domestically... I really liked the short essay-type writing - easy to grab the info you're looking for, but not so great for sitting down next to the lake and doing some pleasure reading.. I also need to look back through it - I think I disagree with a good portion of what he says about food policy, at least domestically...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Derrill Watson

    A very clear, consistent look at a number of questions people have about our food system. The ending comes a bit abruptly - a concluding chapter would have been nice. It's at a simpler level than my textbook, Food Policy for Developing Countries, but doesn't sacrifice any of the clarity or complexity that comes from someone who has done and read the research. A very clear, consistent look at a number of questions people have about our food system. The ending comes a bit abruptly - a concluding chapter would have been nice. It's at a simpler level than my textbook, Food Policy for Developing Countries, but doesn't sacrifice any of the clarity or complexity that comes from someone who has done and read the research.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Awesome. An incredibly insightful, informative book on American food policy and the politics surrounding the industry. Have revisited it over and over again, and will probably come back to it at least 2-3 times more in the near future.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Govind

    Good overview; makes some controversial and interesting claims

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kiki

    Terrible book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Katelyn

    Had to read this for a class but it was really great and informative too.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Review at http://znovels.blogspot.com/2010/06/f... Review at http://znovels.blogspot.com/2010/06/f...

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/28265 http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/28265

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kathely

    I disagreed with some of this, agreed with other parts of it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kyle

    Interesting

  26. 5 out of 5

    CeCe

    I had to read this for a class in school, so I don't really feel qualified to give this a rating. Good information, but I wasn't interested in the subject. I had to read this for a class in school, so I don't really feel qualified to give this a rating. Good information, but I wasn't interested in the subject.

  27. 5 out of 5

    JustineB

    A good, albeit general introduction to the politics of food security.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Janice

    Highly recommended. Everyone should read this.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jemile Nesimi

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gregor Erbach

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