Luckily I live in a day and age when food politics is at the forefront of the non-fiction scene. Maybe this is the very reason why I have taken such an interest in the American diet. Nonetheless there are resources out there for learning about what we eat than ever before. I'm constantly reading up on this stuff - almost more quickly than I can post about them. In satisfying my voracious appetite for foodie non-fiction, I've come across some really important and noteworthy books that I feel are deserving of a little mention.
Most recently, I picked up Food, Inc., a book edited by Karl Weber that was created as a companion to the documentary film of the same name. Food, Inc. provides a thorough look at industrial food culture and it's resulting human, environmental, and economic impacts through a compilation of essays from some of the biggest names in food writing and the most prominent organizations working on the front lines to bring about change. Though the book is a little dense and the sheer number of statistics thrown around can be overwhelming, Food, Inc. serves as a great reference because it features the opinions and research of a number of experts to provide a more comprehensive overview of our problematic food culture.
I really feel like I could create a length post for each individual article because the topics discussed are so varied and fascinating. Food, Inc. the book is really a crash-course on everything food. From organics to genetically engineered foods, pesticide use, climate change and their impact on our food system, to farm workers' rights and world hunger. No stone is left untouched.
But what's even better is that readers are not only given the lowdown on the problems and issues at hand, they're also offered methods of alleviating them. Most of the pieces within offer potential personal changes and methods for improvement corresponding to their particular topic. In addition, the final section of the book, about 100 pages in length, is dedicated to "What You Can Do About It." While many people today can tell you that there are problems with our food system, we have yet to see large-scale change because there are not nearly as many people who can tell you how to solve said problems. Food, Inc. offers us countless opportunities to make a difference, change our ways, and improve our health and that of our loved ones, our communities, and our environment.
As I've said, the content level of this book is pretty astounding. So rather than provide a lengthy and extensive summary of all that I've learned, I have instead decided to include some of the hardest hitting excerpts I came across. Hopefully these will give you an idea of what you can learn about by picking up this book or will inspire you to make some positive changes in what you eat.
"U.S. corporations are very conscious of how they're perceived, and they worry about it a lot. That gives consumers a lot of power - if they're prepared to inform themselves and make smart decisions based on what they learn." - from "Exploring the Corporate Powers Behind the Way We Eat" by Robert Kenner
"The increasing use of food to make motor fuel poses a moral question: what should the United States be doing to help feed the growing ranks of the poor? As (Lester) Brown noted in his Washington Post essay, "The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol would feed one person for a full year." And yet the United States is providing huge subsidies to a program that feeds cars, not people." - from "The Ethanol Scam" by Robert Bryce
"According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Academy of Sciences, standard chemicals are up to ten times more toxic to children than to adults, depending on body weight. This is due to the fact that children take in more toxic chemicals relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify such chemicals. According to the EPA's "Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment," children receive fifty percent of their lifetime cancer risks in the first two years of life" - from "Exposure to Pesticides: A Fact Sheet" by The Organic Consumers Association
"The true conversion ratio, (Paul) Roberts estimates, in twenty pounds of grain to produce a single pound of beef, 7.3 pounds for pigs, and 3.5 pounds for poultry. The inefficiency of turning to grain-fed livestock as a major component of the human diet is devastating in itself, especially in a world where nearly one billion people still go hungry." - from "The Climate Crisis at the End of Our Fork" by Anna Lappe
"...The pressures for decreased prices in our food system inevitably lead to exploitation of the workers at the lowest end of the economic chain... Fatality and injury rates for farmwork rank second in the nation, second only to coal mining... Most Americans would be horrified to realize that the foods they eat are produced under conditions like these. Their lack of knowledge about these realities is attributable not to public apathy but to deliberate obfuscation by the companies that market foods and unconscionable neglect by the government agencies that should be safeguarding workers... farmers in America are left to suffer incredible poverty and abuse in an industry characterized by great wealth and enormous profits." - from "Cheap Food" by Arturo Rodriguez, with Alexa Delwiche and Sheheryar Kaoosji
"...Reliance on cost-benefit analysis means that a hazardous pesticide will not be restricted by the EPA if economic hardship to the grower is considered to be greater than the hazards to farmworker or consumer health. If pesticide protection for farmworkers were under the jurisdiction of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), cost-benefit analysis would not be required - a simple finding that workers' lives were at risk would suffice to justify regulation." - from "Cheap Food" by Arturo Rodriguez, with Alexa Delwiche and Sheheryar Kaoosji
"Cheap energy, which gives us climate change, fosters precisely the mentality that makes dealing with climate change in our own lives seem impossibly difficult... Al Gore asks us to change the light bulbs because he probably can't imagine us doing anything much more challenging, like, say, growing some portion of our own food... Because the cheap-energy mind translates everything into money, its proxy, it prefers to put its faith in market-based solutions - carbon taxes and pollution-trading schemes. If we could just get the incentives right, it believes, the economy will properly value everything that matters and nudge our self-interest down the proper channels." - from "Why Bother?" by Michael Pollan
"If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand... Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an SUV or eating a twenty-four-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience."
- from "Why Bother?" by Michael Pollan
Of course, you can also watch the film to further educate yourself on these issues.
And if you want to learn more or get involved with changing our food system, you can find some great information from the following organizations about everything from sourcing local produce to purchasing fair-trade goods. There were innumerable groups referenced in the book and I tried to make as comprehensive a list as possible.