A Brief Review of The End of Food.
By Paul Roberts
Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.
The plethora of books being written critiquing the modern food economy ought to given some indication as to the extent of the problem. Paul Robert’s The End of Food is perhaps the most thorough account of the history and current practices of industrial agriculture.
Much of this factory production of food is nothing but layers of processing, “value-adding” to raw products. The obscuring of food itself is reflected in language about food and eating, for instance, the “food experience,” or the “eating occasion.” Or how about an image that’s been haunting me: “the average four-ounce burger patty contains tissue from fifty-five separate cows; some patties had tissue from more than a thousand” (180). Considering this mechanized model for a food economy alongside the additional fact that “one-seventh of the population [of the world] are malnourished;” (140) and further, that developing countries are encouraged that “food security can be best done by trade” (169) is a depressing vision for the future of food in this book. The inclusion of “pest-startling carbide cannons” (191), “tracking infected bird flocks with spy satellites” (201), and “farmers … smuggling birds from their backyard flocks into city markets” (202) brings into clarity the role by that the entire industrial-capitalist market has played in overtaking the very food we eat.
This dense book is essential for its expansive look at current food economics, of which we participate in every time we have an “eating occasion,” to use the commodity language. For all of the thorough research in this book, what it does not do is offer many possibilities that transcend the industrial agriculture model, to which I would offer two possible ways to begin engaging The End of Food:
1. What does if look like if we stop believing that our food economy (or any economy) is “defined by scarcity,” a concept Roberts returns to many times. Rather, might it be a question of perceiving the superabundance of the given world – the “Great Economy,” as Wendell Berry names it – as a starting place?
2. To what extent must this be a communal effort to share in another economy, and on small, local scales? The church may be uniquely situated to endorse radically different economies, which identify the abundance available, and are committed to sustaining it.
The End of Food.
(Out this week in Paperback!)
Paperback: Mariner Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com