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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: THE END OF FOOD (Houghton Mifflin, 2008) by Paul Roberts

THE END OF FOOD (Houghton Mifflin, 2008, 390 pages, ISBN 978-0-618-
60623-8, $26 US hard covers) is by Paul Roberts, an author who writes
on resource economics and politics for magazines and newspapers. He
wrote the doomsday "The End of Oil" in 2004, and now the failure of the
modern food economy is his new theme. Needless to say, his book is
endorsed by Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food). This is not a hard
book to get in to, although it is depressing. It certainly is a timely
book because of the excessive rise in food prices since January 2008.
His scope is broad, ranging from making food to marketing food and to
moving what we eat. Of course, it is all entwined with OIL, his
previous book. So he has done his basic research. And there are
extremes here: the "haves" are now obese while the "have-nots" are
starving. What's new and different over the past few years have been
the incredible amount of international investments and speculative food
futures markets (commodity exchanges). With the entrance of China as a
global player, the whole situation has been compounded. Commodity
producers have taken over: they spend money on political campaign
contributions, lobbying, food security, and transportation (read: oil)
costs. They believe in ethanol which is raising grain prices. They set
prices yet get government subsidies. Their profit margins grow, they
don't cover deficiencies. They influence trade policies. Worst still,
they have managed to convince pension funds to buy into the
investments. There are long-term costs associated with commodity
producers, and we need to be aware of them.
Audience and level of use: foodies, consumers, concerned people
Some interesting or unusual facts: high volume production creates many
food-borne illnesses and food of declining nutritional value. It costs
money to fix these, so it is all counter-productive.
The downside to this book: some circumstances over the past six months
have both augmented and deflected the points he has made. Just another
reason why the book format is outdated when it comes to topical issues.
The upside to this book: there are extensive endnotes and a
bibliography (strangely enough, though, he does not cite Marion
Nestle's 2006 book "What to Eat" although her two other books are
Quality/Price Rating: 92.

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