Bittman writes with utter conviction and not a little rage.

A comprehensive overview of the history of agriculture and agribusiness across the world, beginning with the assertion that large-scale agriculture was what gave rise to the caste system in every society. There were the people who owned the land, and the people who farmed it for them, and so it remains, now with farm owners being supplanted by international agribusinesses.

Bittman’s concern for the survival of our species is evident on every page, from the introduction

A dictionary definition of “food” reads something like “a substance that provides nourishment.” And until a century ago, we had two types of food: plants and animals. But as agriculture and food processing became industries, they developed a third type of “food,” more akin to poison–“a substance that is capable of causing illness or death.” These engineered edible substances, barely recognizable as products of the earth are commonly called “junk.”

on to the Irish Famine, which he puts down not just to the Irish farming only potatoes

Not only were many of the Irish growing only potatoes; they were growing only one type of potato.

on to the government by way of the USDA historically subsidizing junk food and the production of junk food to the benefit only of the agribusiness producers, never the health of consumers

The playbook for junk food in general, and sugar in particular, was almost identical to that of tobacco…Ninety percent of Americans…use caffeine daily, whether in sugar-laced drinks like soda, iced tea, a variety of “sports” and energy drinks, or coffee, which had increasingly become a fat-and-sugar bomb.

A Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino, anyone?

If he didn’t have all the evidence right there on every page this book might feel like a rant, but he does and writes with utter conviction and not a little rage. Next trip to Safeway, I’m going to buy a bag of brown rice and see how it cooks up in my rice cooker. [Update: Yuk. I am Filipino when it comes to rice.]

However, as an Alaskan who watches the container ships do what their pilots call “Carry the milk to Anchorage” runs multiple times each day, importing fully 85 percent of Alaska’s consumer products, including food, I wonder how my state gets to a place of food security for all. One small, traditional farm at a time, Bittman would reply. I hope he’s right. I would have said that Alaska Natives, with a ten-thousand year history of subsistence living behind them, had a leg up on the rest of us, but the salmon runs on the Yukon River have been crashing lately, so extensively that even elders are saying they’ve never seen anything like it. Self-reliance is a worthy and, I would agree with Bittman here, necessary goal but for some communities it may be simply unachievable.

Which makes this a very scary book.

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2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I’m reading a book called What Your Food Ate by Montgomery and Bicklé. Lots of stats on soil science, but interesting also. Makes the case for renewable agriculture. I didn’t need convincing.

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