A Good Food Read

Cooked up on August 16, 2011

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We are back from vacation and excited to be home! Needless to say, in the past 12 hours I have not cooked. I have not even unpacked. But I did read the first half of a great food book on the plane:

The End of Food by Paul Roberts

I am loving this book so far (I’m about 150 pages in). This book is a unique look at how the supply chain shapes the price and nature of foods – it not based on ethics, but economics. And therefore it shows what does happen rather than what should happen.

Farmers, companies that buy from farms, fast food chains and large grocery chains (Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway, etc.) have all at some point held the power to decide what price crops are. Each time that power changes hands, it means changes for all aspects of the food production – delivery time, availability, shelf life, ability to withstand bruising (if it’s a fruit, for example) and many more. Scientists engineer everything down to how fat is distributed in the muscle of the beef or chicken you buy. All of those things and more have contributed to drive the cost of producing raw goods up, but the purchase price for the same raw goods like meat and grain way, way down. Those things combined with the American market preference for buying more and more convenient and processed foods make for an increasingly destructive cycle in the American food system.

This book is examining which of the factors involved will collapse first – will there finally be enough health problems that we can’t eat the way we do anymore? Or will the cost of corn become so low (and the money spent by the government to keep the corn market afloat become so high) that it just can’t be maintained any longer? Or will the grocery stores that constant try to get lower and lower prices finally reach a point where they can’t get lower?

One of my biggest complaints about nonfiction food writing about the future of how we eat is that they often rehash the same points – pollution, humane treatment, health effects of red meat. This book goes one step further to say that changing the way the world eats is not just an ethical issue: it is going to crash one way or another. Something bad is going to happen if the system doesn’t change.

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