Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Food, Farming and New Yorker

Bee Wilson in this week's New Yorker reviews several books on food supply:
"[Paul] Roberts’s book [The End of Food] is joined by “Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System,” by Raj Patel (Melville House; $19.95); “Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood,” by Taras Grescoe (Bloomsbury; $24.99); and “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” by Michael Pollan, the poet of the group (Penguin Press; $21.95).
All of these authors agree that the entire system of Western food production is in need of radical change, right down to the spinach."
It's not a pretty picture:
"Our current food predicament resembles a Malthusian scenario—misery and famine—but one largely created by overproduction rather than underproduction. Our ability to produce vastly too many calories for our basic needs has skewed the concept of demand, and generated a wildly dysfunctional market...."
"Roberts depicts the global food market as a lumbering beast, organized on such a monolithic scale that it cannot adapt to the consequences of its own distortions. In a flexible, responsive market, producers ought to be able to react to a surplus of one thing by switching to making another thing. Industrial agriculture doesn’t work like this...."

"The food economy has created a system in which some have no food options at all and some have too many options, albeit of a somewhat spurious kind. In the middle is a bottleneck—a relatively small number of wholesalers and buyers who largely determine what the starving farmers produce and what the stuffed consumers eat."
Needless to say, I don't agree.

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