Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food

Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food

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by Frederick Kaufman
     
 

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In the last half decade, the world has seen two devastating spikes in the price of food, and a third may be on the way. In 2008 and 2010, farmers gathered record wheat harvests, yet more people starved than ever before—and most of them were farmers. How is that possible?

In Bet the Farm, Harper's magazine contributing editor Frederick Kaufman

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Overview

In the last half decade, the world has seen two devastating spikes in the price of food, and a third may be on the way. In 2008 and 2010, farmers gathered record wheat harvests, yet more people starved than ever before—and most of them were farmers. How is that possible?

In Bet the Farm, Harper's magazine contributing editor Frederick Kaufman investigates the hidden connection between global food and global finance by asking the simple question: Why can't delicious, inexpensive, and healthy food be available to everyone on Earth?

You will find his discoveries shocking.

Like a detective intent on solving a mystery, Kaufman travels from the corporate headquarters of Domino's Pizza and Tyson Foods to Walmart's sustainability research center, to mega-farms and organic farms and numerous genetic modification laboratories. Kaufman goes to Rome to the meeting of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and finally ends up on Wall Street and the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where he discovers the answer to the riddle. His investigation reveals that money pouring into the global derivatives market in grain futures is having astonishing consequences that reach far beyond your dinner table, including the Arab Spring, bankrupt farmers, starving masses, and armies of scientists creating new GMO foods with U.S. marketing and shipping needs in mind instead of global nutrition.

Our food is getting less healthy, less delicious, and more expensive even as the world's biggest food companies and food scientists say things are better than ever and that the rest of us should leave it to them to feed the world. Readers of Bet the Farm will glimpse the power behind global food and understand what truly supports the system that has brought mass misery to our planet.

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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
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
1,388,424
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)

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