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267 of 284 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From the front lines of the food wars, May 21, 2009
This review is from: Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About It (Paperback)
This book is a companion piece to the documentary Food Inc. It consists of 25 essays on topics ranging from agribusiness, to so-called "frankenfoods," to pesticides and hormones, to biofuels, to nutrition and global hunger. The essays are written by acknowledged experts including Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation (2006) and Michael Pollan, who wrote some of the best books I have read on food, including The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (2001), The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006), and In Defense of Foods: An Eater's Manifesto (2008)--see my reviews at Amazon.

The topics are presented in a fairly balanced way with one essay followed by an essay termed "ANOTHER TAKE." For example Peter Pringle's piece "Food, Science, and the Challenge of World Hunger--Who Will Control the Future?" argues that genetically modified (GM) foods are not as dangerous as some think and they can, with proper precautions taken, help us feed a growing world population. However in the next essay, using the term "genetically engineered" (GE) foods, Ronnie Cummins argues that such foods are dangerous and threaten to take away from local farmers the ability to grow food and give that power solely to agribusiness.

In his essay, "Exploring the Corporate Powers behind the Way We Eat," Robert Kenner recounts his experience making Food Inc. emphasizing how closed and secretive are the big corporations that produce and process our food. They wouldn't let him and his camera crews into their plants and they made the people who would talk to him feel threatened. There was no counter to this, possibly because the agribusiness people wouldn't participate in the book just as they wouldn't cooperate in the making of the film. This is damning. Secrecy and closed-doors suggest that they have something to hide.

Nonetheless I have mixed feelings. There is no question that in an ideal world we would all have local access to organically grown and minimally processed foods--free range chickens and vegetables grown with natural fertilizers in a sustainable family farm environment where the animals are treated humanely. But we don't. Why? The usual answer is you can't produce food cheaply enough in that manner to feed a world of six and a half billion people. This book in effect argues that you can, and the real reason we don't is that the big corporations have a stranglehold on not just our governments but on the science and logistics required to deliver and present the food including labor, transportation, storage, and the markets. Small and local can't compete.

However, what is hardly mentioned in the book and seems almost taboo to say is that the underlying problem, which is only going to get worse, is the enormous demand for food put on our resources because we have too many people living on this planet. I can see a Wendell Berry kind of agrarian paradise possible after we cut our numbers by perhaps half (more would be better) with a larger percentage of the population choosing to become farmers.

Currently the Slow Foods, sustainable foods, organic foods, and the humane treatment to animals movements are mainly supported by society's well-to-do, its elites educationally and economically. The average person cannot afford to shop at Whole Foods, which is sometimes called "Whole Paycheck." Neither can your average urban or suburban dweller conveniently find his or her way to the local farmer's market, if there is one.

But the main problem in the United States is public ignorance. The average person has little understanding of nutrition and is bombarded by conflicting claims in the literature as the big corporations pay for studies that support their interests. On television and elsewhere there's an endless stream of ads promoting fast and cheap food, adulterated food, and food that entices and seduces with depictions of juicy, fatty, starchy essences. A secondary problem is the loss of the tradition of the home cooked meal. As Joel Salatin writes in his essay "Declare Your Independence": "Learn to Cook Again"(!). Much of the food that is bought at supermarkets and taken home to prepare is of the "throw it in the microwave" variety. With many if not most households having two bread winners or a single parent, who has the time and energy to prepare a complete home-cooked meal?

So ultimately the stranglehold that agribusiness has on our society is the result of an unhealthy lifestyle pursued by most people, a lifestyle that has removed us from the land and thrown us onto the concrete and asphalt jungles of our cities and suburbs, has taught us little to nothing about our real relationship with the natural environment and the foods that have sustained us for thousands of years. Instead we live in ignorance in an artificial and unsustainable world of mass produced, sanitized junk food, force fed to us as if by gigantic steam shovels. Or, to change the image, like our cattle, hogs and chickens we are kept at the trough and stuffed to the gills with an ever flowing stream of denatured concoctions of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, sugars and additives until perhaps someday we'll burst. Obesity and chronic disease reign supreme and all our days we will dwell in the house of the overfed and the under nourished.

I applaud editor Karl Weber and the others who contributed to this excellent book and hope it is widely read. And I wish the producers of the documentary a huge audience. Understanding and education come first. We as a society have to know there is a problem, and if this book and accompanying film reach a large number of people, that will be a giant step in the right direction.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"
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Showing 1-10 of 29 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 22, 2009, 8:12:00 AM PDT
Brett Little says:
You should read Micheal Pollans book in Defense of food and see how he points out that we really not need to eat as much food as we do. I do realize world population is a problem and there needs to be solutions to that but in developed countries we are eating way to much food and it is making us sick. So it stands to reason there must be enough food we just need to eat less and share more.

Posted on Jun 17, 2009, 5:04:45 PM PDT
J. Halper says:
This book is really something. I recommend it and the documentary to all ages. It will truly change the way you think and look at your next meal. After all, we are what we it so let's know what we're eating!

Posted on Jun 25, 2009, 12:34:03 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 26, 2009, 8:25:24 AM PDT
Sarah668 says:
I grew up on a 80 head dairy farm, until my parents could no longer afford to farm (which was in the mid 90's). I have always loved that way of life. We had a huge vegetable garden (with no chemicals) and chickens, pigs, rabbits to eat. I plan on continuing the family farm tradition with my beef (small herd) and crop farmer boyfriend for hopefully the rest of our lives (we're close to our 30's). Of course, the farming part is secondary to the other full-time jobs we have to have to afford to even farm in the first place. Got to love America...hmmm Although I haven't read this book nor saw the movie is there any mention of Community Supported Agricuture (CSA)? For those who don't have room to grow their own food, they should invest their dollars in CSA. You get fresh local food weekly or bi-weekly direct from the farmer (as good as a farmers market, but more convenient I think). www.localharvest.org for details.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 25, 2009, 3:53:58 PM PDT
Joel Salatin mentions Community Supported Agriculture in the "Buy Local" section of his piece. CSA is also mentioned in the piece by Dr. Preston Maring. Both mentions are brief. Dennis

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2009, 12:06:20 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jul 7, 2009, 12:06:34 PM PDT]

Posted on Jul 7, 2009, 7:31:48 PM PDT
The review makes the book seem one which might really change one's perceptions about food and eating. However I wonder if it makes sense to advocate that mankind 'halve' its population. How exactly could that be done, especially given the fact that medical technology is pushing us to longer and longer life-spans?
It seems to me that mankind , as it is, is facing a problem of a generally 'aging population' one which will take up more and more resources in advanced, and less productive years. The young are the hope and the innovation of the world, and any drastic reduction in their number does not bode well for humanity.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2009, 9:22:38 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 7, 2009, 9:23:43 PM PDT
Hi, Shalom: The young are the problem actually, especially in the Middle East and Africa where many of the young men feel desperate because their prospects aren't great. In our ghettos too it is the young men who are the problem for similar reasons. Older people in the West think they need the young to fund their social welfare programs, and they are right. Without young workers the social welfare programs will have to be reduced. But sooner or later we will have to cut our population or face dire consequences. I definitely think humanity and the planet would be better off with fewer people. I think there's a lot of evidence to support that view. Of course it is true that the only hope for any species is younger members! Dennis

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 29, 2010, 3:08:23 AM PST
I think we need to scale down on the population, by not having so many children.
Why are there so many people having SOOO many Children. 5 to 10 kids or more to a family. What is the point? Yes I have children (2), and I love my Family, and I can Afford them.
We have allot of homeless families with allot of children to feed on the streets.
Instead of flower gardens, why not veggie gardens. Instead of flowering trees, why not Fruit trees!!
This can be done in the suburbs, on apt. balconey, or on the street parkways.
If we grew our own we would know its clean, not spray with poisons.
Why do we need such large lawns to water? Big mistake, and such a waste of water.
Isn't Animal Cruelty against the law!!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 29, 2010, 8:17:18 AM PST
Great Cook, I couldn't agree more: we have too many people on this planet and if we were reduce our numbers that by itself would solve some of the problems we're having with resource depletion and pollution. And yes, veggie gardens and fruit trees!

Posted on Jan 29, 2010, 6:13:57 PM PST
Eva Green says:
I downloaded the DVD and watched the entire film - spellbound. I think this film should be seen in every household in this country. America is way behind Europe, where untarnished foods are readily available and at a good price. We are so behind, but if we do not control what we eat now, by not buying what is not in our best interest, we will most certainly pay for it later in ...you guessed it - medical bills. We must stop the "dumbification" of America . Excellent, low key reporting.
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