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The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) Hardcover – December 4, 2012
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The Secret Financial Life of Food is of benefit to anyone who is involved in the food industry, including growers, processors, consumers, and even professionals in the culinary arts. It also has appeal for those of us who buy and sell commodity futures, helping us gain a better understanding of how the markets have evolved.(Alan Bush, senior financial futures analyst, Archer Financial Services, Inc.)
Interesting, thought-provoking book for food aficionados.(Booklist)
Those who are interested in the history of the "food" commodity markets will find many treats in Newman's book.(Brenda Jubin Seeking Alpha)
a refreshing and much-needed look from a different perspective: food as commodity.(James Norton Washington Post)
Top Customer Reviews
Looking at the series of global trade that lies at the heart of much of what we eat, the author considers the various commodities that are sold such as coffee beans and pork bellies and looks at the impact that this can have throughout the chain from producer right through to the end consumer. Commodity trading over time has helped shape our culinary habits and traditions - wars and regime changes have happened even, as residents of Boston who threw lots of British tea into the harbour can show, all due to a precious foodstuff being traded.
Commodity trading is not just limited to the current "daily" price either, as many traders deal in "futures" (future event pricing) and the author has traced such futures trading in grain back to Biblical times. The book's primary focus is on commodities trading from a United States-perspective, looking back at the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT)'s foundation in 1848 and the various splits and consolidations that have occurred since that time.
A smattering of history is, of course, contextually necessary and a welcome addition but since the author has given such a great write up on a subject that is not such a "general interest" topic, hopefully there is scope for a second volume, considering perhaps the development of the world through technology and commodity trading?
Each key commodity gets its own chapter and it is interesting to compare and contrast the various developments in commodity trading and their impacts to producer, wholesaler and end-user too, both in isolation and in a general overview. Of course, in the latter decades the world has got a lot smaller thanks to air travel and containerised shipping. Richer nations have the ability to buy in various commodities that perhaps they grow themselves when it is cheaper to do so, perhaps due to labour costs or to adverse weather. Less-developed nations earn a significant portion of their income through the growth of many commodities and even changing prices can have an impact both locally to the producer and locally to the end user.
Exactly like the stock market, prices go up and down with often no perceptual reason why to the casual observer. A strike, poor harvests, disease and changing consumer demand all can leave their mark. This book manages to give you a great insight into this fascinating area without compromising itself through over-simplification. Written as a scholarly work but with the general reader also in mind, the engaging, friendly, accessible style means that this book is deserving of a much wider audience than perhaps it might get stuck in a bookstore. You could even just imagine this book as a documentary series. It just has that feel. Of course, as you would expect, at the end of this book are detailed bibliographic notes for those who require this sort of thing.
Columbia University Press has managed through its "Arts & Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History" collection to have had some great books that can open the reader's eyes to new thoughts, new thinking and a lot of great history. This book is a further "must buy" for those involved within the food industry who is at least a little bit curious as to how a bit of the global jigsaw works.
There are lots of things I enjoyed about the book. The author obviously did their homework and dug deep into both the history of agriculture and commodity trading. The book was crammed full of all sorts of interesting bits of information. And I loved how the book was organized. With each chapter dedicated to a single type of food commodity.
My main objection to this book was my failure to connect to the writing. The author has a very competent, but almost clinical writing voice and more than once I felt like I was reading a textbook and found my attention wandering. I also could have done with fewer quotes from other authors.
While I'm not sure that I'll ever read this book from cover to cover again, I am glad to own a copy and think it will be an excellent reference resource in the future.
I wish more people understood how the 'financialization' of food came to be and how it influences our food systems. It really is critical in understanding how we got to where we are now and shaping where we go from here.