Book List: Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems

Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System – Raj Patel (Melville House, June 2008, rev. 2012)

Half the world is malnourished, the other half obese—both symptoms of the corporate food monopoly. To show how a few powerful distributors control the health of the entire world, Raj Patel conducts a global investigation, traveling from the “green deserts” of Brazil and protester-packed streets of South Korea to bankrupt Ugandan coffee farms and barren fields of India. From seed to store to plate, Stuffed and Starved explains the steps to regain control of the global food economy, stop the exploitation of farmers and consumers, and rebalance global sustenance.

  • Review in The Guardian
  • Interview with author at Resilience.org
  • Video of author discussing book at FORA.tv

Food – Jennifer Clapp (Polity Press, 2012)

“The global food economy may seem remote from daily experience, but it affects every aspect of what we eat and, therefore, our health and welfare. The author explains what happens when food is no longer considered a mere source of nourishment or cultural element but is transformed into a fungible commodity. Clapp unpacks and clarifies the mind-numbing complexities of transnational corporations, international trade, and financial markets.  Best of all, the book provides precisely the information and tools advocates need to redesign the global food economy to promote fair trade, food justice, and local sovereignty.”  – Marion Nestle

Food Sovereignty: Reconnecting Food, Nature and Community – Hannah Wittman, Annette Aurélie Desmarais, Nettie Wiebe, editors (Food First Books, October 2010)

Global resistance to the social, environmental, and economic destruction perpetuated by the global food system has led to a new and radical response from peasant and farmer organizations: food sovereignty. Food Sovereignty gives voice to the peasant movements that are planting the seeds of a revolution that could fundamentally alter our relationship with food — and with each other.

Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations – Evan D.G. Fraser, Andrew Rimas (Free Press, June 2010)

Using the colorful diaries of a sixteenth-century merchant as a narrative guide, Empires of Food vividly chronicles the fate of people and societies for the past twelve thousand years through the foods they grew, hunted, traded, and ate—and gives us fascinating, and devastating, insights into what to expect in years to come. The authors argue that neither local food movements nor free market economists will stave off the next crash, and they propose their own solutions. This book offers a grand scope and a provocative analysis of the world today, indispensable in this time of global warming and food crises.

  • Review at Kirkus Reviews – received Kirkus Star as a book of exceptional merit
  • Interview on NPR All Things Considered
  • Review at Organic Consumers Association
  • Review at NRDC’s OnEarth

Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America – Wenonah Hauter (New Press, December 2012)

The author, who is executive director of Food & Water Watch and runs a large organic family farm in Virginia, is one of the nation’s most ardent advocates of healthy food. In this book, she takes a close look at the massive consolidation and corporate control of food production, which prevents farmers from raising healthy crops and limits the choices that people can make in the grocery store. She concludes that solving the crisis will require a complete structural shift – a grassroots movement to reshape our food system from seed to table – a change that is about politics, not just personal choice.

Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Stable, and Secure Food Systems – Philip Ackerman-Leist (Chelsea Green, February 2013)

Droves of people have turned to local food as a way to retreat from our broken industrial food system. From rural outposts to city streets, they are sowing, growing, selling, and eating food produced close to home—and they are crying out for agricultural reform. Now it’s time to take the conversation to the next level. That’s exactly what the author does in Rebuilding the Foodshed, in which he refocuses the local-food lens on the broad issue of rebuilding regional food systems that can replace the destructive aspects of industrial agriculture, meet food demands affordably and sustainably, and be resilient enough to endure potentially rough times ahead.

  • New book – we will add additional reviews when available
  • Review at Kirkus Reviews

Food Movements Unite! – Eric Holt-Giménez, editor (Food First Books, November 2011)

Food Movements Unite! provides a sector-by-sector road map for bringing the tremendous transformative potential of the world’s food movements together into a powerful transnational force capable of ending the injustices that cause hunger. In Food Movements Unite!, food movement leaders from around the world seek to answer the perennial political question: What is to be done? The authors address the corporate food regime head on and lay out convergent strategies for the fair, sustainable, and democratic transformation of our food systems.

Behind the Kitchen Door: What Every Diner Should Know About the People Who Feed Us – Saru Jayaraman, forward by Eric Schlosser (ILR Press, February 2013)

How do restaurant workers live on some of the lowest wages in America? And how do poor working conditions–discriminatory labor practices, exploitation, and unsanitary kitchens–affect the meals that arrive at our restaurant tables? Saru Jayaraman, who launched the national restaurant workers’ organization Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), sets out to answer these questions by following the lives of restaurant workers in New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Detroit, and New Orleans.

Note: this book is the UUA “Common Read” for 2013-14; learn more on the UUA webiste.

The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities – Will Allen (Gotham Books, May 2012)

Will Allen is an extraordinary pioneering urban farmer and MacArthur “Genius Award” winner who invested his retirement money in a two-acre plot in a food desert near Milwaukee’s largest public housing project. This is the inspiring story of how he then built the nation’s most famous urban farm and how his non-profit Growing Power employed troubled young people from the housing project to help make it such a success – it produces enough vegetables and fish to feed thousands of people year-round. His organization now helps develop community food systems around the country. He is a true eco-hero.

Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement Is Changing the Way We Eat – Tanya Denkla Cobb (Storey Publishing, LLC, October 2011)

“People constantly ask me what kinds of things they can do to get involved in the food movement and where to start. Now I can just hand them this. The projects it describes should inspire readers to get busy doing similar projects in their own communities.”  – Marion Nestle

Winner of the Nautilus 2012 Gold Award for Green Living, given to books that promote spiritual growth, conscious living, and positive social change; stimulate the imagination; and offer new possibilities for a better life and a better world. Named by “Booklist” as one of the top ten books on the environment in 2012.

Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All – Oran Hesterman (PublicAffairs, May 2011)

This is an inspiring guide to changing not only what we eat, but also how food is grown, packaged, delivered, marketed, and sold. The author shows how our emphasis on efficiency, centralization, higher yields, profit, and convenience create dysfunctions in our food system and outlines how the new principles and concrete steps needed to restructure it. He introduces people and organizations across the country that are already doing this work in a number of creative ways, from bringing fresh food to inner cities to fighting for farm workers’ rights to putting cows back on the pastures where they belong. He provides a wealth of practical information for readers who want to get more involved.

Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cookin’ Mamas: Fighting Back in an Age of Industrial Agriculture – Mark Winne (Beacon, October 2010)

Agribusiness giants don’t want you to know if the food you eat is genetically modified, factory farmed, or grown with toxic chemicals. But the rapidly growing alternative food movement is resisting these practices and helping people reclaim their connections to their food. The author introduces us to innovative “local doers” who are defying industrial agribusiness and leading the charge to bring nutritious, sustainable, and affordable food to all while promoting food democracy and empowering communities. Winne challenges us to go beyond eating local to become part of a larger solution, demanding a system that sustains body and soul.

Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness – Lisa M. Hamilton (Counterpoint, May 2009)

A century of industrialization has left our food system riddled with problems, yet for solutions we look to nutritionists and government agencies, scientists and chefs – but why not look to the people who grow our food? The author makes this vital inquiry through the stories of three unconventional farmers: an African-American dairyman in Texas who plays David to the Goliath of agribusiness corporations; a 10th-generation rancher in New Mexico struggling to restore agriculture as a pillar of his crumbling community; and a modern pioneer family in North Dakota who is breeding new varieties of plants to face the future’s double threat of Monsanto and global warming. These unusual characters and their surprising stories make the case that in order to correct what has gone wrong with the food system, we must first bring farmers back to the table.

Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food – Frederick Kaufman (Wiley, October 2012)

In this wide-ranging work of investigative journalism, the editor of Harper’s magazine explores our global food system by following the trail from Big Pizza to square tomatoes to Wall Street, seeking the answer to why we can’t all have access to healthy, delicious, and affordable food. He argues that the new food revolution involves collateral products and processes, not food itself. He discusses Big Food through specific products and goes far behind the curtain of corporate processes and practices. Hunger, the lack of food, is often Kaufman’s subtext and eventually evolves into his main.

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer – Novella Carpenter (Penguin Press, June 2009; May 2010)

For anyone who has ever grown herbs on their windowsill, tomatoes on their fire escape, or obsessed over the offerings at the local farmers’ market, Carpenter’s story will capture your heart. Urban eccentricity meets rural thrift and tradition in this charming memoir about her farm in downtown Oakland. It is full of hilarious moments, fascinating farmers’ tips, and a great deal of heart. It is also a moving meditation on urban life versus the natural world and what we have given up to live the way we do.

  • Review at Kirkus Reviews – received Kirkus Star as a book of exceptional merit
  • Review in The New York Times
  • Review in Hutchinson Leader

The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebees, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table ­– Tracie McMillan (Scribner, October, 2012)

The author, a freelance journalist, went undercover for a year to investigate the American “foodscape” – from picking garlic on a California industrial farm, to stocking shelves at a Detroit Walmart, to working as an expeditor at a New York Applebees. Along the way, she exposes the exhausting and sometimes inhumane conditions food workers face – and who are not even paid enough to put good, healthy food on their own tables. This situation has much to say about our nation’s struggle with food and class.

The Compassionate Diet: How What You Eat Can Change Your Life and Save the Planet – Arran Stephens, Eliot Jay Rosen (Rodale, May 2011)

What can we do to allay global warming, contend with world hunger, be healthier, and live a longer more compassionate life? The authors offer the simple answer: eat vegetarian. A balanced and natural vegetarian diet is neither a fad nor a passing trend. It has been part of many cultures over untold millennia. The Compassionate Diet distills the history, philosophy, and core benefits of eschewing meat and makes a strong case for vegetarianism from the perspectives of health, morality, ecology, and spirituality.

Diet For a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the end of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It – Anna Lappé (Bloomsbury, April 2010)

The food system is responsible for as much as one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions – more than all forms of transportation combined! This book explains the role of industrial agriculture in the climate crisis and how agroecology is vital to helping us adapt to and mitigate climate change. Find out what you, your neighbors and local leaders can do to support food systems that heal the planet at a time that we need it most.

Eating Animals – Jonathan Safran Foer (Little, Brown, November 2009)

When the author (Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) became a husband and a father, he kept returning to two questions: Why do we eat animals? And would we eat them if we knew how they got on our dinner plates? In Eating Animals he explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits – from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth – and how such tales justify a brutal ignorance. Marked by Foer’s profound moral ferocity and unvarying generosity, Eating Animals is a celebration and a reckoning, a story about the stories we’ve told – and the stories we now need to tell.

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