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Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0470631928
ISBN-10: 0470631929
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Much has been made of the organic, local, and slow-food movements, but when it comes to feeding seven-billion people, these laudable efforts represent a small fraction of the food supply. Food has become in effect a type of currency, and the universal currency of food is pizza. Kaufman deconstructs a Domino’s pizza, tracing it back to the soil to find out how the massive quantities of wheat, tomatoes, meat (pepperoni), and milk (cheese) in it are produced. Surprisingly, he discovers a different movement of sorts, a sustainability movement being undertaken by the likes of industry giants Unilever, Tyson Foods, and the nation’s largest grocer, Walmart, a company that has taken a proactive stance on the ecological impact of its products. At the Ohio State University’s experimental research station, Kaufman considers the pros and cons of genetically modified food in a world in which new organisms are treated as intellectual property. These examinations lead us on a quest to discover why, in a world of food surpluses, a billion people still go hungry every day as food becomes increasingly globalized, industrialized, and commoditized. --David Siegfried

From the Inside Flap

In the last half decade, the world has seen two devastating spikes in the price of food, and a third may be on the way. In 2008 and 2010, farmers gathered record wheat harvests, yet more people starved than ever before—and most of them were farmers. How is that possible?

In Bet the Farm, Harper's magazine contributing editor Frederick Kaufman investigates the hidden connection between global food and global finance by asking the simple question: Why can't delicious, inexpensive, and healthy food be available to everyone on Earth?

You will find his discoveries shocking.

Like a detective intent on solving a mystery, Kaufman travels from the corporate headquarters of Domino's Pizza and Tyson Foods to Walmart's sustainability research center, to mega-farms and organic farms and numerous genetic modification laboratories. Kaufman goes to Rome to the meeting of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and finally ends up on Wall Street and the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where he discovers the answer to the riddle. His investigation reveals that money pouring into the global derivatives market in grain futures is having astonishing consequences that reach far beyond your dinner table, including the Arab Spring, bankrupt farmers, starving masses, and armies of scientists creating new GMO foods with U.S. marketing and shipping needs in mind instead of global nutrition.

Our food is getting less healthy, less delicious, and more expensive even as the world's biggest food companies and food scientists say things are better than ever and that the rest of us should leave it to them to feed the world. Readers of Bet the Farm will glimpse the power behind global food and understand what truly supports the system that has brought mass misery to our planet.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (October 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470631929
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470631928
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is an eye-opening account of how our food system works, or fails to work, often to the disadvantage of billions. The story is packed to the brim with information, but is never dull. Kaufman is a lively writer, able to bring humor to his discussion while reminding us that food system is--literally--a deadly serious business. There is a lot of fine critical writing about food these days, but Kaufman's book is different from almost all of it: instead of examining food's industrialization, he explains its financialization. Most of us know little or nothing about that, but by the time you're done with this book you'll realize that it's something everybody needs to understand. A couple of the previous reviews complain that the book is "political." That's utterly false if they mean it's duplicitous or engaged in cheap, partisan point-scoring. But I would say it is political in the oldest and best sense of the word: it asks us to think and care about important, common things, and about how we share the world with other people. That it also provides flashes of wit along with the information and insight is an added benefit
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Format: Hardcover
Bet the Farm, subtitled "How Food Stopped being Food," demonstrates how food has become a commodity and the negative impact that resulted. The author starts with the example of a pizza and how the major providers of this food (Dominos, Pizza Hut, etc.) have manipulated the market for such food staples as tomatoes, cheese and pepperoni with the result that many small farmers have been forced out of business, an increasing inequality in income has grown, more people are obese and at the same time more are hungry, environmental degradation has resulted, the conversion of some food crops to fuel has negatively impacted the supply of food as food and other negative consequences.

The author recounts his visits to various food companies and other food agencies and conferences to illustrate his points. The book is highly readable and informative. It also makes one think before ordering that pizza or hamburger. I recommend reading it along with "Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows" to get a good picture of the food industry and how it harms us.
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Format: Hardcover
Occasionally, some one sounds the alarm about a coming crisis. Many times people ignore the warning or assume things are just fine the way they are (think of the housing market circa 2006). This is one of those books where the call needs to be listened to - before it is too late.

I've followed Mr. Kaufman's work for many years now - and no one knows the ins and outs of the food industry better. If you are one of those people who think that oil is speculated on out of control, wait until you read this and find out what speculators are doing to food!! They are literally "betting the farm" with my - as well as your - daily bread (and also our water!).

The book is easy as well as actually fun to read, and complex subjects are broken down into bite-size pieces, pardon the pun. You will see how the increase in food prices (driven by a wacky financialization of food stuffs) is already causing a farrago of problems throughout the world. And why it's only going to get worse unless we do something.

In sum, anyone wishing not to see future food riots and masses of people going hungry and starving - or who simply do not wish to pay exorbitant amounts for their own food - should read Bet the Farm. In the future, people will either point to it as a book which got people to take action, or a book whose messages was tragically not heeded.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It turns out that the price of food no longer has anything whatsoever to do with supply and demand--it is determined by commodity speculators.

I remember that some years back I'd bought a wheat product I''d been eating for decades, only to find out that it no longer tasted the same. I could find nothing to explain this, until reading Bet the Farm, where I learned that the market in the type of wheat used for that product had been cornered by commodity traders, causing the price to rise so drastically that most food processing corporations couldn't afford it and switched to other types of wheat. I'd stopped buying that product, but after learning what the problem had been, I tried it again this year, and it is back to being the product I'd always known and enjoyed.

The author did a lot of research that I'd never thought of doing, and I'm very grateful. Five stars.
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Format: Hardcover
The title says a lot. This book is about the myriad of ways food decisions have become dominated by one factor: money. Fred builds his case by showing how three different parts of the new global food system have been altered by speculation and profit motives. Throughout each section, Fred seeks answers to his ultimate question, why are there so many hungry people in the world? At each turn, he shows how money is turning food into something it's not nor should be.

Part 1 starts with a pretty standard food chain analysis of a common food item: fast food pizza. Fred traces the ingredients of a pizza through global networks that make pizza on a huge scale possible. SPOILER: it takes a lot of tomatoes to make that much sauce. This section also introduces the idea that extending markets to smallholders will break the cycle of hunger. Part 2 is a short section on GMOs. It's not as well-developed as the wheat section (see part 3), but there's an amazing connection between intellectual property here that I haven't read enough of in Food Studies literature. The book ends with a VERY compelling description of how food markets have become overly-commodified, disrupting HUGE parts of the global food chain. The same forces that created the 2008 financial meltdown caused disorder in food markets, jacking up prices for those very people who were supposed to benefit from more access. I thought this was the best part of the book, although some will say it's boring, and some will say it's not detailed enough, I thought it was the perfect amount of technical knowledge sprinkled over the narrative.

This book is a really compelling narrative of Fred's exploration of a question that perplexes him. I love this form, and I teach exploratory writing like this in my writing classes.
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