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Political scientist Paarlberg calls on years of food-policy work and casts his net far and wide in highly opinionated discussions of food shortages and safety, organics, and obesity. He believes that the unsuccessful farm bill labors under the weight of Congressional and lobbyist interests who care only about profits, not good policy, while critics of the “green revolution” are more focused on idealism than science. Factory farming is essential, Paarlberg argues, and, by the way, international food aid is manipulated by everyone from the Department of Defense to the shipping lobby. The facts and figures he provides are dizzying, and the quick shifts in subject matter will likely leave readers wishing Paarlberg had chosen to focus his attention on a facet or two of this enormous subject. Ultimately Food Politics is best used as source book for those uncertain where to begin but desiring something more substantial than bland green guides. Consider it a cram course in how the world eats, and then use this knowledge to support further inquiry. —Colleen Mondor
In this 2010 book "Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know", Oxford University Press, Robert Paarlberg takes a Q & A approach to a broad set of food and agriculture topics, covering aid and trade, obesity and famine, organic farming and genetically engineered (GE) organisms, and the food system's effects on health and environment, among others. The work is a self-proclaimed attempt at "rebalancing some debates around food and farming" for "an aware audience of non-specialists". And on the whole, its strength lies in its accessible style and the common myths it dispels: how buying local produce, for example, is not necessarily more environmentally friendly or the fact that global market food prices do not automatically increase local consumer costs.
For all its breadth, however, the book is beset by problems. The simplicity with which the debates are framed and the generalisations employed oversimplify several issues; a number of inherent contradictions undermine some arguments' validity; a purely macro and economic appraisal of debates leads to conclusions that would have been challenged had the social and cultural politics of food been considered; it takes a US-centric approach despite promising a global overview; and the vexing lack of referencing throughout weakens the book overall since the aware reader is prevented from effective fact checking.
Food Politics' major failings, however, lie in its uneven, at times uncritical discussion of politics and presentation of broad-based counter-arguments with inadequate use of evidence to be undoubtedly convincing. He defends the GE agriculture industry safety, for example, by comparing it to GE medicine.Read more ›
I'm one of those liberals who does not identify as liberal because "I don't like to be put in a box." But for all intents and purposes, one would classify me as a liberal (in the modern liberal = Prius driving, organic eating, gay-friendly and pro-choice consumer). And I think it's no accident that the cover and title of this book appeals to a liberal audience. This book will certainly challenge any liberal assumptions you may have about the modern food system.
I, who have no background in food politics or international relations, was looking for a good, informative overview of both topics and was expecting a progressive assessment of the modern food system (along the line's of Michael Pollan's work--which, it should be noted, Paarlberg takes issue with on multiple occasions). After a more 'progressive' criticism of modern farm subsidies, Paarlberg reveals himself to be an unapologetic globalist and capitalist in his stance on GMOs, organic food, local food, and green technology. He takes a pragmatic tone as most of his criticisms center around how effectively each system or technology can be monetized and capitalized. He pays short shrift to the cultural implications of each system and almost completely dismisses the importance of more abstract concepts like national and local sovereignty.
But to Paarlberg's credit, he does enumerate different points of views on the issues and explains (with a transparent bias) the rationale behind them before launching into his own opinion. And that is where this book succeeds: it provides a good overview of all the major debates within food politics--which, I suppose, is what I was looking for. This book is worth picking up simply because it's easy to read and covers a wide array of issues. It will not satisfy all your curiosities nor settle any issues for you. If anything, it will challenge your assumptions and prompt you to dive deeper into these issues.
If you were discussing whether tobacco causes cancer would you consult a Phillip Morris scientist? If you wanted accurate information about the links between burning fossil fuels and climate change would you seek out a scientist funded by Exxon Mobil?
Fortunately I did not pay for this book, but was loaned a copy, because what I had been interested in - a critical perspective and investigation into the climate surrounding food politics - was noticeably absent.
I believe this book to be Oxford University Press's attempt to divert a significant number of "reasonable" and "pragmatic" folks out there from further investigation into the field of food politics, lest their eyes be further opened to the real world. In the real world we live with a food and agricultural system which has been established primarily for the purpose of increasing profits for corporate shareholders, with all other considerations of importance only when media headlines of famine, illness outbreaks, or deficit-growing subsidies for monocrops focus the public's attention, however briefly.
So Paarlberg has given us a book that purports to be a neutral observation, above the fray of what his publisher calls the "polarized" climate of the food politics debate. But without addressing any particular problems with the book's content, which has been done quite well by numerous other reviewers here, his qualifications as an independent observer and expert capable of taking a critical perspective come into question.
Paarlberg has been a paid advisor to Monsanto and received funding from the Gates Foundation, a major Monsanto shareholder, as well.Read more ›
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