In the days following the completion of my May 2010 Blogathon, I took a break from writing and immersed myself in reading. Now that I’ve devoured the last of Steig Larrson’s Millennium Trilogy (and learned to my surprise and heartbreak – and like always, way behind the curve - that Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004, shortly after delivering the manuscripts of all three books) I’m ready to delve back into a little food activist reading. Here’s my reading list for the next few weeks:
More than twenty years ago, when Italian Carlo Petrini learned that McDonald’s wanted to erect its golden arches next to the Spanish Steps in Rome, he developed an impassioned response: he helped found the Slow Food movement. Since then, Slow Food has become a worldwide phenomenon, inspiring the likes of Alice Waters and Michael Pollan. Now, it’s time to take the work of changing the way people grow, distribute, and consume food to a new level.On a global scale, as Petrini tells us in Terra Madre, we aren’t eating food. Food is eating us.Large-scale industrial agriculture has run rampant and penetrated every corner of the world. The price of food is fixed by the rules of the market, which have neither concern for quality nor respect for producers. People have been forced into standardized, unnatural diets, and aggressive, chemical-based agriculture is ravaging ecosystems from the Great Plains to the Kalahari. Food has been stripped of its meaning, reduced to a mere commodity, and its mass production is contributing to injustice all over the world.In Terra Madre, Petrini shows us a solution in the thousands of newly formed local alliances between food producers and food consumers. And he proposes expanding these alliances-connecting regional food communities around the world to promote good, clean, and fair food.The end goal is a world in which communities are entitled to food sovereignty-allowed to choose not only what they want to grow and eat, but also how they produce and distribute it.
Less concerned with what people choose to eat per se, Singer and Mason make a case for how people’s everyday food choices affect others’ lives. They describe in vivid detail how applying industrial processing principles to animal husbandry has led to cheap foods whose cost savings occur at the expense of animals raised for profit and for product. Using Wal-Mart as an example, they lay out how huge retailers wield enormous power over prices and compel those far up the chain of food production and distribution to make unhelpful decisions. They hold up for admiration a Kansas family that has turned vegan so as not to participate in this particular destructive cycle of animal and human exploitation. They also thoughtfully and critically examine the ethical pros and cons of eating meat in any form. Urban dwellers far removed from the source of the foods they eat will find Singer and Mason’s descriptions of food production more disturbing and violent than the quiet, attractive, plastic-wrapped displays in the local supermarket’s pristine meat case. Mark Knoblauch
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Having been a part of the movement since the 1970s, serving as (among other positions) the executive director of the Hartford Food System, Winne has an insider’s view on what it’s like to feed our country’s hungry citizens. Through the lens of Hartford, Conn.—a quintessential inner city bereft of decent food options apart from bodegas and fast food chains—he explains the successes he witnessed and helped to create: community gardens, inner city farmers’ markets and youth-run urban farms. Winne concludes his tale in our present food-crazed era, giving voice to low-income shoppers and exploring where they fit in with such foodie discussions as local vs. organic. In this articulate and comprehensive book, Winne points out that the greatest successes have been an informal alliance between sustainable agriculture and food security advocates… that shows promise for helping both the poor and small and medium-size farmers. For the most part it is a calm, well-reasoned and soft-spoken call to arms to fight for policy reform, rather than fill in, with community-based projects and privately funded programs, the gaps left by our city and state legislators. (Jan.)
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The rat has been described as the shadow of the human. In this fascinating account of the rat in history, myth, and culture, Jonathan Burt traces the contradictory human relationship with rats from the first archaeological finds to the genetically engineered rats of the present day. He explores the representation of rats in the arts and sciences, religion and myth, and psychoanalysis and medicine, and shows the complex range of human attitudes that the rodent provokes. Using a wide range of examples, including The Pied Piper, Victorian rat-and-dog baiting pits, and the popularity of rats as pets, he asks why humans view rats with particular disgust and how they became a perverse symbol for the worst excesses of human behavior.
What are you reading these days?