Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food

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A prominent food journalist follows the trail from Big Pizza to square tomatoes to exploding food prices to Wall Street, trying figure out why we can't all have healthy, delicious, affordable food

In 2008, farmers grew enough to feed twice the world's population, yet more people starved than ever before—and most of them were farmers. In Bet the Farm, food writer Kaufman sets out to discover the connection between the global food system and why the food on our tables is getting ...

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A prominent food journalist follows the trail from Big Pizza to square tomatoes to exploding food prices to Wall Street, trying figure out why we can't all have healthy, delicious, affordable food

In 2008, farmers grew enough to feed twice the world's population, yet more people starved than ever before—and most of them were farmers. In Bet the Farm, food writer Kaufman sets out to discover the connection between the global food system and why the food on our tables is getting less healthy and less delicious even as the the world's biggest food companies and food scientists say things are better than ever. To unravel this riddle, he moves down the supply chain like a detective solving a mystery, revealing a force at work that is larger than Monsanto, McDonalds or any of the other commonly cited culprits—and far more shocking.

Kaufman's recent cover story for Harper's, "The Food Bubble," provoked controversy throughout the food world, and led to appearances on the NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, Fox Business News, Democracy Now, and Bloomberg TV, along with features on National Public Radio and the BBC World Service.

  • Visits the front lines of the food supply system and food politics as Kaufman visits farms, food science research labs, agribusiness giants, the United Nations, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and more
  • Explains how food has been financialized and the powerful consequences of this change, including: the Arab Spring, started over rising food prices; farmers being put out of business; food scientists rushing to make easy-to-transport, homogenized ingredients instead of delicious foods
  • Explains how the push for sustainability in food production is more likely to make everything worse, rather than better—and how the rise of fast food is bad for us, but catastrophic for those who will never even see a McNugget or frozen pizza
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this energetic, wide-ranging work of investigative journalism, Harper’s editor Kaufman 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. The book is often a stew of figures, from dollars to statistics with an alphabet soup of organizational acronyms and italicized buzzwords for flavor. Along the way, it probes the complications of marrying apparent incompatibles such as free market economics and slow food, how food-related information converts to capital, and how technology facilitates and oversimplifies the industry. Hunger, the lack of food, is often Kaufman’s subtext and eventually evolves into his main. Yet this is neither dry argumentative soup nor antiglobalization polemic, and the villains aren’t black and white; Kaufman’s tone is subtly ironic without being snarky—a nice addition to Michael Pollan. (Dec.)
Kirkus Reviews
Beginning with a simple question--"Why can't inexpensive, healthy, and delicious food be available to everyone?"--Harper's contributing editor Kaufman (A Short History of the American Stomach, 2008, etc.) embarked on an odyssey into pizza kitchens, tomato fields, biotech labs, United Nations conference rooms and commodities exchanges. The author argues that we grow enough food to feed the world's population, but it's priced too high for the poorest one billion. "The price of basic farm goods drives world hunger," he writes, "but it also drives the push for sustainability, the rise of long-distance food from nowhere, the scourge of cheap and unhealthy foods, the single-minded drive to own the smallest molecules of food, the declarations and pledges of the politicians, the global mania for markets, and the profit margins of many of the world's largest corporations." He notes that the content of our meals often has very little to do with agriculture and getting seasonal products and more with economics and the exigencies of international commodities markets. Kaufman explains the history of wheat futures and their role in stabilizing food prices worldwide for over a century. Yet these commodity pricing tools have been eclipsed in recent years by new trading structures, derivative-trading hedge funds that trade food futures, increase volatility and drive up the price of food. In short, food, one of the most basic necessities of life, has become another avenue of asset allocation. So how do we stop this shift in food pricing and profiteering? Because they are global, food derivative markets are nearly impossible to curtail, but the author suggests position limits for traders and a national grain reserve, among other possible solutions. Kaufman went looking for a pizza and ended up on Wall Street, giving a revealing view into commodity markets and food pricing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780470631928
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 10/16/2012
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 622,665
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Frederick Kaufman

FREDERICK KAUFMAN is a contributing editor at Harper's and teaches at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. He has written about American food culture for Foreign Policy, Wired, the New Yorker, Gourmet, the New York Times Magazine, and others. He has spoken about food justice and food politics at the General Assembly of the UN and appeared on MSNBC, Fox Business News, Democracy Now!, and public radio's Radiolab, On the Media, and the BBC World Service.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Closed to the Press 1

Part I Looking for a Slice

1 A Marvel of Technology 7

2 The Domino’s Effect 19

3 The Measure of All Things 37

4 What’s New for Dinner 57

Part II Looking for the Killer App(etizer)

5 The Nucleotidal Wave 75

6 The Code 95

Part III Looking for a Leader

7 Circus Maximus 111

8 A Short History of Wheat Futures 129

9 The Food Bubble 151

10 Let Them Eat Cash 171

Part IV Looking for Money

11 Fresh Water and a Shotgun 193

12 The Price 205

13 Hard Red Spring 223

14 The Bubble Business 237

Epilogue: Return to Reality 255

Acknowledgments 257

Index 260

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2012

    The early chapters about genetics and standardizing what goes in

    The early chapters about genetics and standardizing what goes into common foods like pizza were interesting and somewhat familiar to me already, but once Kaufman moves into the world of commodities, I was totally taken aback and alarmed. I heard part of the author's interview on Wisconsin Public Radio and immediately order the book because I was so intrigued. I rarely read anything twice, but I plan to in this case. I think it's that important to understand how Wall Street , bankers, etc. have created a situation more dangerous than any drought or flood.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2013

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