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Silly food books badly reviewed?

Posted by Richard D North in Food / Green / Money / Truth & Trust on 18 July 2008

Why we posted this: Two important but probably silly books have had silly (politically-correct and right-on) reviews in right-of-centre papers. We need to work out why.

The original stories:
The Sunday Times reviews books on the world food crisis
The Economist reviews one of them

Summary of the stories:
Two important and widely-reviewed books describe the modern global food crisis (bad food, too little of it, too much of it wasted) and identify villains (high-tech agri-business and supermarkets). That’s all normal: there are a lot of such books. What’s interesting is that these books should receive favourable reviews from right-of-centre mainstream journals, one of which is perhaps the UK’s most important source of economically-literate commentary.

livingissues comment:
At first sight it is odd that journals committed to the free-market should have anti-corporate, luddite books reviewed by people who cheerfully promote an anti-corporate, luddite view. But we need to remember that books page editors are in the arts section of their journals, and are employed to bring something a little gentler to the mix. What’s more, most writers of whatever economic persuasion are half in love with the Green agenda, even if their heads would tell them it’s probably nonsense. Besides, they are from a “me” generation which holds its own body to be a temple, and is hyper-sensitive to insults to it. That means they are prone to imagine they are under assault.

So we must expect lots of nonsense about food.

It is of course true that a combination of technology, subsidy, state interference, widespread affluence, a good deal of poverty, and the free market (some of them in all places, all of them in a few) have made food a fascinating issue. Roughly speaking, some people eat way too much whilst others eat way too little. (And yes, there are conservation issues too.)

But what’s missing from the current debate is the understanding that the planet is now feeding vastly more people than it ever did before. And doing so quite well.

The question is, what will be the next evolutions of what has been for millennia a fast-changing agricultural scene?  Do we really believe that big firms won’t be at the heart of the next chapter in the story? Is it really clever to demonise them? 

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