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Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis Paperback – May 29, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The "toxic cornucopia" of big agriculture is pilloried in this populist manifesto. Journalist Cook offers a nauseating recap of familiar charges: factory farming serves up pesticide-laden produce; the horrifying mills of high-density feedlots and hog and poultry sheds produce meat laced with hormones and antibiotics but still tainted with lethal bacteria; pesticide, fertilizer and manure runoff pollute air and water; immigrant meatpackers are paid paltry wages and physically ruined by inhuman line speedups. The heart of the book is an analysis of agricultural economics straight out of an 1890s Grange hall. Cook laments the destruction of family farms by a corporate "octopus" of agribusiness giants and parasitic middlemen who squeeze prices for farm products and inflate them for highly processed convenience foods on the store shelf, abetted by government farm subsidies that encourage overproduction and favor big producers. Cook's objections often seem to be to aimed at modernity itself—to the same forces of technology-driven, mechanized productivity that have industrialized the nonfarm economy. He doesn't explain how, without legions of housewives to make meals from scratch, we can do without food-processing middlemen nor why his program of returning to small family farms will curb abuses of animals, workers, consumers and the environment better than firmer government regulation of large-scale agriculture. His indictment is compelling, but his nostalgic remedy isn't fully persuasive.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A far-reaching takedown of the American food industry . . . further explores the stomach-churning realm described by Eric Schlosser." —Mother Jones

"A book that forces you to look at things that you took for granted. Like breakfast." —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Provides the big picture, along with fascinating details, to motivate change before it’s too late." —Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 326 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press; 1 edition (May 29, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595580840
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595580849
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,075,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am an award-winning journalist and author who writes widely on food politics, labor and social policy, corporate power, and more. I've written for Harper's, The Economist, the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, The Nation and many others. You can find more at my website, My book, Diet for a Dead Planet, is an investigation of how the food we eat has become a source of so many ills--from our diets and health epidemics to ecological decay to extreme labor abuse, and the fall of the family farm. I examine the history of how we got where we are today, and what it means to have a few corporations controlling everything we eat. And what that means for our future. I hope you'll take a look. --Christopher

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Amazon customer on February 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Whether he is taking on the exploitation of farm workers and poultry-plant employees; the take-over of large-scale agribusiness; farm subsidies, or an America swimming in pesticides and animal waste, Mr. Cook has clearly done his research. Extremely well documented, the book contains a number of startling statistics. Did you know that in California's Central Valley, the 1,600 dairies there generate more waste than a city of 21 million people? Did you know that in 1997, growers applied more than 985 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides to crops? Can you conceive of a farm subsidy system that has people like Scottie Pippin and Sam Donaldson receiving farm program monies?

There is a lot to ponder in this book and some excellent ideas and suggestions as to what we as consumers can do to make changes in our lives and our communities to help bring farming back to the people and out of the hands of the giant corporations.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By J. Higgins on February 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a well-written and well-researched description of the economic problems ailing contemporary American agriculture, and of the deleterious effects mammoth-scale corporate farming is having on the environment. The author is an experienced investigative reporter and an unashamed proponent of sustainable agriculture and the ever-dwindling "family" farmer representative of traditional crop cultivation in the United States. As such, Diet For A Dead Planet is a bit of a polemic and firmly in the camp of other books critical of the relationship between agricultural economics and modern food production, such as Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. Needless to say, Cargill and Archer-Daniels Midland executives are not going to be enamored of Diet, but any citizen concerned about the state of farming in the US, and its effects on public health and environmental well-being, would do well to read this book.

Cook organizes his topic into three sections, dealing with food quality and safety; the business and economic aspects of modern agriculture; and environmental consequences of profligate pesticide use and "factory" farm effluents. Each section contains several chapters with extensive footnotes. The chapters are obviously targeted for a general audience, and as a consequence are very readable without overwhelming the reader with statistics and technical jargon. In particular, I found the chapters on the evolving history of American agriculture offered a concise but informative account of a complex and often tumultuous subject. Other chapters on such diverse subjects as the "mad cow" crisis, the continuous deposition of toxic pesticides in water supplies, and the travails of workers in high-throughput slaughterhouse operations, are all eye-opening to one degree or another.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By a reader from SF on November 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Hey people, the situation with how we get our food is not OK. I love steak and all the good eats but I am a new parent, I don't want to poison my kid. Reading this book pissed me off. Our food is full of toxins and the big companies that produce most of it are a bunch of welfare grubbing polluters. I am telling you, it's socialism for the big companies when you read the fine print of the agro bills as Cook, the author of this book, did. Sadly the little farmers have been mostly put out of business. Agro biz is not only poisoning us but are raping the American environment as well. Mr. Cook (yes, it's a funny name for a guy who writes about food) reveals some really freaky bad stuff from the heartland. How do lagoons of hog doo doo spoiling rivers strike you? Cows eating cows? Yummy. It's really crazy that the topics covered in the very well written and intensely researched book are not more of an issue. It'd be easy to get really down when looking too closely at where our vitals come from but Cook also takes a realistic look at some remedies; all of which involve producing and then eating good food. If you care about your health and about the planet read this book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Dana Melly on December 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I thought I knew a lot about how dangerous our food is, but this book put all the pieces together in a way that gives me a whole new understanding of the nature and gravity of the problem. Anyone who thinks buying organic food will solve the problem needs to read this book--the whole system of subsidies, price supports and food retailing necessarily means more huge corporate farms and slaughterhouses, more pesticides, more food contamination. By humanizing and sympathizing with the players (and by writing with consummate skill), Cook manages to make agricultural history and policy highly readable, and his portrayal of the conditions in the meatpacking industry is downright gruesome. Cook shows how the interests of consumers in healthy, fresh food and the interests of small family farmers and meatpacking workers coincide. Now it's up to the rest of us to see that the nation's agricultural and food safety policies are rewritten from the bottom up.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mona on December 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
Christopher D. Cook's latest book Diet for a Dead Planet offers the American public with a wake up call view of the food industry today. As an investigative journalist, he gives a complete overview of the socioeconomic and political ills facing food production. He begins the supermarkets and ends with the global agricultural market.

Cook inspects the multifaceted complexities which have arisen due to cheap labor, often exploited and without healthcare. He also depicts the plight of migrant workers, processed food, and pesticides manipulatively spread over crops with the able assistance of government subsidies. The findings are thorough, compelling, and difficult to ingest at times. However, they are warranted as he introduces authorities to backup his claims.

The statistics Cook presents are real, yet harsh. Yearly, 75 million Americans are sickened by the food they eat, while an estimated 67 million birds are killed by the millions of pounds of toxic agricultural pesticides sprayed on crops. Meanwhile, farmers that remain take home only about 19 cents per food dollar spent by the average consumer (this is in comparison to 37 cents in 1980 and 47 cents in 1952) according to Cook.

Cook closely examines every branch of the food industry. In doing so, he reaches a necessary reason for change. The socioeconomic, environmental, and political injustices currently practiced weigh heavily on America's well being. Within each chapter, he goes into great detail explaining, expanding, and scoping the historical difficulties and how they adversely impact today's food industry. Beyond that conclusion, Cook explains that unless a new solution, specifically changing how food is "made", Americans will continue to spiral downward.
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