8 Books to Read About The Politics of Food
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Everybody eats. How can such a routine activity be so loaded with politics?
Food is about land—whether it is planted, grazes or swims, food takes land to produce, and who owns that land is often political. Food is about the environment—because without clean soil and water, we cannot have clean food. Food is about labor—who is hired and how much is paid to those who produce, deliver, stock, prepare and cook it. And of course, food is about culture—what we eat and how we eat it are deeply ingrained parts of any culture.
Italian activist Carlo Petrini explores many of these intersections in his book Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should be Good, Clean, and Fair. He defines “good” as tasty to eat, “clean” as grown in a way that is both humane and environmentally responsible, and “fair” means economic and social justice for those involved in its production.
Petrini has been considering these issues for a long time. Back in 1986, Petrini organized a protest in Rome against the opening of its first McDonald’s. That movement against processed, globalized food production and in favor of fresh, local food became Slow Food, an organization which has since grown to more than 100,000 members in 150 countries. He has a wealth of experience to share.
The current famine in Somalia illustrates the disastrous outcomes of government policies that affect access to food. According to the relief agency Oxfam, “Crop failure and poverty leave people vulnerable to starvation – but famine only occurs with political failure. In Somalia years of internal violence and conflict have been highly significant in creating the conditions for famine.” To put it plainly, we must concern ourselves not only with how our food is being produced and how much workers are paid for its production, but also who has access to food.
Taking Off the Blinders
Food is fraught with issues from racists stereotypes to prejudices in what people are willing to pay, and even human trafficking. Restauranteur Soleil Ho and journalist Zahir Janmohamed take on the politics of food in their podcast The Racist Sandwich. Ho says, “We normally consider food to be apolitical, so pushing against that notion is important for us, because there’s so much to learn and uncover in that world”.
Here are eight books for readers interested in learning more: