I frequently find myself picking up books about the food industry. I am fascinated by the social, cultural, economic, and political implications of food production. Fortunately for me there is a wealth of literature available on the subject. Here are a few of my recent reads…
The Dorito Effect: the surprising new truth about food and flavor by Mark Schatzker
In The Dorito Effect, Mark Schatzker explores the connection between nutrition and flavour, specifically the idea that industrial food production has led to flavourless, nutritionally substandard food that must be made marketable by the addition of artificial flavours, and that these artificial flavours confuse our bodies and are the root cause of the recent global increase in health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. It’s an idea I hadn’t heard before and Schatzker presents a good case.
Salt, Sugar, Fat: how the food giants hooked us by Michael Moss
Meanwhile Michael Moss blames the usual culprits: salt, sugar, and fat. He pulls no punches over how the food industry has used our biologically hardwired desire for these three ingredients to boost sales of food products by increasing consumption with little regard for the health or wellbeing of consumers. The relationship between government policy and food production is particularly compelling. Moss illustrates this very clearly with the example of how cheese went from being a food that was consumed in small servings off a cheese board to a dominant ingredient in most fast food and freezer meals due to subsidies that the dairy industry receives from the American government.
Bet the Farm: how food stopped being food by Frederick Kaufman
If you have no idea what commodity indexes, speculation, and derivatives have to do with the food on your plate, this book is worth a read. In Bet the Farm, Kaufman explores the relationship between food and finance. The first part looks at the impact that demand has on the food chain. Using the franchise pizza chain Dominos as an example, Kaufman shows how the demand for a consistent sauce has led to the decimation of tomato varieties and small farms on a global scale. The second part of the book focuses on GMOs, intellectual property, and the implications for society when a corporation becomes the owner of the right to grow grain. The final chapters bring everything together, documenting a global trend towards food being treated like currency, and cautioning that the same forces that led to the 2008 financial meltdown are now at work on the food chain. The author does an excellent job of explaining complex concepts from the world of finance in a manner that is both clear and enjoyable.
Pandora’s Lunchbox: how processed food took over the American meal by Melanie Warner
Melanie Warner has an easy, engaging style that is a pleasure to read. In Pandora’s Lunchbox, she dives into artificial ingredients, why they are there, what they do, and what that means in terms of texture, shelf life, production cost, and health. A great deal of research went into this book, but Warner has the gift of presenting information in a way that is as easy to follow as an interesting conversation with a friend.
Stuffed: an insider’s look at who’s (really) making America fat by Hank Cardello
The author worked in the industry as a marketing executive for many years so, while his book covers similar ground to Salt, Sugar, Fat, there is greater focus on how advertising and marketing campaigns influence our food choices. This book was clearly written by someone who is entrenched in the food and advertising industries; the marketing side of it is quite interesting; however, I was frustrated by the underlying assumption that North Americans are nothing but passive consumers with no conscious choice in the matter of what goes in their mouths.
For those who are looking for something a little lighter in tone, this book about food trends is just the thing. Instead of lamenting about the unhealthy side of the food industry, the author shares stories about optimistic young hipsters who just want to share their goats’ milk caramels with the world, nice Dutch farmers who have married their hopes and dreams to the success of the Red Prince apple, and scientists who are attempting to resurrect our lost heirloom varieties of rice. It was a nice change to read about a side of the food industry that is not controlled by greedy profit driven corporations with no concern for the health and wellbeing of others and food trends are fun because you can witness them playing out all around you.