Two brand-new books did stand out for a number of our folks: Paul Greenberg's ultimately hopeful lament for the troubled oceans, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food; and Jan Poppendick's Free for All: Fixing School Food in America, a rigorous, highly charged history of public school lunches. Both are very much books of the moment.My list includes no books that were published in 2010, but those that I read during the year.
The Food Wars (Verso 2009) by Walden Bello is a wide critique of the food industry's profit motives throughout the world. It's a heavyweight that weighs in at 149 pages. He sets up and debunks common myths, such as the causes of the "food crisis" of 2006-2008, benefits of the "green revolution," as well as taking readers on a history of how monetary policy and trade agreements have impacted small farmers and labor. The book highlights more recent trends, such as GMO seeds and foods. Most of all, he positions capitalist industrial agriculture against peasant farm/labor movements. He has chapters focusing on small farmers in Mexico, Philippines, Africa, and China, as well as a chapter on agrofuels.
The last chapter focuses on a way out by describing life-affirming trends in agriculture, as well as highlighting movement organizations and individuals, such as Via Campesina and Brazil's Landless Workers' Movement (MST). Bello also links traditional rural farming movements with newer urban ag by pointing out how "the emergence of urban agriculture in many parts of the world signals the emergence of new numbers of (part-time) peasants and a simultaneous spatial shift of the peasantry from the countryside toward the big metropolises of the world."Over twenty-five years after the beginning of structural adjustment in the early '80s, Mexico is in a state of acute food insecurity, permanent economic crisis, political instability, and uncontrolled criminal activity. It may not yet be a "failed state," to use the fashionable term, but it is close to becoming one. It is exhibit A in the case against neoliberalism.
Food and Behavior: A Natural Connection (2004) by Barbara Reed Stitt was noteworthy because it covered the physiology and sociology of dietary habits. The book was a solid argument devoted to improving the quality of life by changing our food intake. Through her career as a probation officer the author argues that changing diets reduced crime and violent behavior by children and young adults.
If the child is allowed...to indulge in processed foods, junk foods, refined sugar, cola or coffee, cigarettes or alcohol, then that child will continue those habits after leaving home, and will in all probability join the welling ranks of the victims of heart disease, diabetes, hypoglycemia, cancer, psychosis and schizophrenia which clog our nation's hospitals and prisons. If, on the other hand, the child is taught to value and enjoy whole, fresh fruits and vegetables and learns to associate what he or she eats to how he or she feels, then that child will almost certainly grow up to be a healthy, happy, fully functioning adult.
Nick Reding's Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town 2009 book reported on the stories of several meth users, as well as, the impact on rural towns through the stories of law and health practitioners in Olewein, Iowa. The book is especially relevant for those of us living in the Midwest, more specifically in Missouri and Iowa, where the spotlight of national news media shone: it's a fascinating report on the history, science, and sociology of methamphetamine use.
The book takes the reader on an unexpected trail by outlining three economic trends in the U.S. meth epidemic: Big Agriculture, Big Pharma, and the Mexican drug trade. He lays it out plain: pharmaceutical companies opposed anti-meth bills for 30 years, allowing the illegal meth drug manufacturing to morph from mom-and-pop operations to large-scale labs. Multinational food corporations have changed the landscape of farming, making it nearly impossible to maintain a comfortable quality of life on the farm or meatpacking plant, thus the unique place of meth as a "vocational" drug. Mexican drug traffickers took over the entire meth production and distribution after mom-and-pop meth labs were finally closed.
By 2006, it was clear that the Combat Meth Act would require two things in order for it to work. First, the Mexican government would have to stand up to the DTOs by making it more difficult for them to import bulk pseudoephedrine. Second, the U.S. government would have to stand up to Big Ag and Big Phanna by forcing the former to curtail its employment of illegals and the latter to make cold medicine from something other than pseudoephedrine.
The book is a must for those studying how large corporations have changed our society. Most of all, it's still relevant. Where meth use and trafficking have disappeared from headlines, lab busts have skyrocketed in Missouri in 2009.