Saturday, September 4, 2010

The End of Food, by Paul Roberts

The End of Food, by Paul Roberts. Mariner Books, 2008. 400 pp. 978-0-547-08597-5.

... in which we learn about the relationship between large-scale food production and nutrition, and the paradox of food surpluses and world hunger coexisting.

Paul Roberts is well-known for his previous book, The End of Oil. As a writer and lecturer who often focuses on resource economics and politics, oil and food are two topics which he is very qualified to discuss. The book opens with a quick history of humanity's relationship with food: hunter-gatherer, simple cultivation, small agriculture, big agriculture. The majority of the book focuses on post-Green Revolution agriculture, which seems to subscribe to a policy of "bigger, faster."

Unlike previous books on this topic that I've read, this book approaches the issues from both a nutritional and an economic perspective. He describes how the current situation came to be, as a result of economic factors, and how the current state of agriculture is not really economically sustainable, but the amount of resources needed to break free from the current trend will be large enough to require a significant effort from consumers and producers. Despite a fairly refreshingly different approach, however, I didn't find that he really had anything new to say. I expect there are only so many books that can be written on a single topic, before all following books end up just being repeats of the previous books.

The recommendations for the future that Roberts makes are basically the same recommendations you see anywhere: more sustainable farming by growing crops that require fewer inputs, eat local, eat less meat, etc. However, despite the fairly redundant nature of the content, the writing is quite good. He keeps the narrative moving along at a nice pace, and his writing makes the material easy to read, and it holds your interest. Because of this, I would recommend this book to people who don't know much about the topic, but are interested in educating themselves. However, if you're one of the people who's already read numerous other works by people like Michael Pollan etc, I would suggest that you move on to a different book.

1 comment:

  1. I guess the brevity of this review really reviews my lack of strong feelings about the book...


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