So we’re halfway through May and I’ve been reading voraciously. While I will be adding these reviews to my Book List, I thought I’d devote a specific post to reviewing the books I chose for Green Bean’s Bookworm Challenge.
The first was Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini. I was looking forward to reading the story about how this movement started, a movement that many credit as the first big stand against modern industrial food production. Alas, I confess that I found it mostly to be a dry read. I’m not sure if this is because I’ve already run ahead of the topic with Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, both great storytellers. Or because the book just focussed a bit too much on the definition of “gastronome” for my liking. I enjoyed the little “diary stories” scattered throughout – the rest seemed like an exercise in semantics (though I do get that, back then, alot of what he was proposing was newer than it seems now).
The second book I’ve read is Stuffed and Starved: markets, power, and the hidden battle for the world’s food system by Raj Patel. This is a heavy read, but fascinating. Patel seems to pick up where Pollan left off in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, taking the issue of modern industrial food production to its historical (and largely political) roots. I was stunned, for example, to realize that Food Aid – which on the surface seems like the ultimate altruistic endeavour – is actually as politically motivated as campaigns like “free” infant formula for mothers in the third world, or disposable pads for school girls in Africa. Turns out that dumping vast amounts of wheat, corn, and soy (a product of government subsidies and policies that encourage overproduction) into countries that had not historically relied on them for staples creates an almost instant consumer base. Local staples cannot compete with the influx of ultra-cheap goods in the form of “aid”, but when the aid is gone the locals are now dependent on the “Global North” (aka: the developed nations) for food. World hunger and the current food crisis, as it turns out, have little to do with scarcity of food, but with the politics of its distribution and trade. This book is an important read for anybody wishing to truly Know Their Food, a meaty read full of facts that will make you shake your head in despair at times (but it does end on a positive note).
Finally, I whizzed through Michael Pollan’s latest offer, In Defense of Food. This is for folks who read books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Stuffed and Starved and are left wondering “what the heck can I do about this?”. But it’s not just full of advice like “eat local” or “shop at farmer’s markets”. Pollan also uses the opportunity to expose the pseudoscience that is nutritionism. Not that nutritionism is necessarly faulty science, but its application to the question of “what should we eat” is just totally inappropriate. And it has provided fuel for the processed food industry, not to mention clouded our collective common sense with a bunch of techno-speak that really doesn’t make any sense when you stop and think about it. Pollan’s writing style kept me turning pages and enjoying the experience. A great, simple, but important read.