Monday, November 04, 2013

Stuffed & Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System by Raj Patel

I have several other books in this narrow genre including The End of Food by Paul Roberts and The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan. For food month, I decided to read Stuffed & Starved for its global scope followed by the The American Way of Eating for a national perspective. Unfortunately, by the time I finished this book I was burned out, not necessarily on the topic but on the format of both books, namely the copious endnotes. I generally ignore endnotes if they merely provide citations, but when they have additional content, the constant flipping back and forth between two bookmarks becomes annoying and detracts from the book. I'd much rather read a book with footnotes (ideally footnotes would be for comments and endnotes for citations). I wouldn't judge a book poorly for using endnotes (I know there are good reasons for using them), it's just that I enjoy the reading experience less. I will read The American Way of Eating someday, but right now I need a break.

When I showed this book to a friend, he laughed and said, "It's all bad!" That's a fair assessment considering how large-scale corporate farming has perverted the food system, and Patel offers plenty of examples. Yet he also explores a few movements that are working to change things. A highlight for me as an Illinoisan is his history of soybeans. They are Illinois' second biggest cash crop (behind corn), and Illinois ranks second among the 50 states in production, but I didn't know much about them.

Although Stuffed & Starved is packed with details, the prose doesn't get too bogged down. Also Patel isn't afraid to reference popular culture (such as a long Monty Python quote). I still wouldn't call it an easy read because it's a lot to digest*, but it's more accessible than the typical book of this depth and breadth.

* I honestly wrote that without thinking of the pun.


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