Author Archives: foodanthro

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, July 30 Edition

 

We have had a brief summer hiatus here in the FoodAnthropology reading and Tour de France watching department, during which we have, in fact, been doing some reading (among other things). Here, then, is a little list of items you may want to read or share with your colleagues, students, friends, or random strangers on social media. And if you find any nifty items out there about food, nutrition, anthropology, etc., that you would like to share with our readers, please send a link and very brief description to dberiss@gmail.com.

First, an article on the state of food writing in the United States today. Amanda Hesser, from Food52, and Adam Sachs, from Saveur, discuss diversity, investigative journalism, click bait, and food media in general.

This article from the Atlantic looks at the reasons why salads are associated with women, at least in the US, and brings a nice food studies perspective to the broader question of cross cultural perceptions of health and taste in food.

The U.S. elections are impending and one might think that food, nutrition, and agriculture would be hot issues. One would, of course, be wrong. At Food First, Christopher Cook rails against this situation, arguing for the centrality of these issues. Borrowing from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the New Food Economy web site provides a nice little comparison of where the two major party platforms stand on key food and agriculture issues. Then Dan Mitchell, reacting to Cook’s piece, analyzes why neither party is making a big deal out of food or agriculture issues at this time. This goes far beyond the simple fact that not a lot of voters work in agriculture and, given the historic importance of food in shaping the political history of nations, raises great questions about American politics, economy, and culture. And Tom Philpott, in Mother Jones, speculates about which food and agriculture issues a future Clinton administration might focus on. This could be useful stuff if you want to spark a debate among students this fall.

Meanwhile, it turns out that kids still need to eat school lunches and the government still needs to regulate those lunches…and doing so is seen as an opportunity to make political points. At Forbes, Nancy Fink Huehnergarth outlines the politics of school lunch rule making.

Climate change is making it more difficult for small communities in places like Alaska to acquire the subsistence foods that they depend upon. Although this particular story focuses on very small groups of people in a remote region of the planet, it seems like climate change is going to have an impact on food supplies for many more people in the near future.

Native Americans are still fighting for justice within the food system, as this piece from Food First indicates. As part of their “Dismantling Racism in the Food System” series, Hartman Deetz writes about the connections between fishing rights, recognition, and economic development for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts.

800,000 years of oyster middens. Biologists and archaeologists from the Smithsonian have put together a huge data set that allows them to track the relationship between oysters and humans in Chesapeake Bay over a really long period of time. They have figured out the impact of human harvesting of oysters on oyster size, for instance. Drawing on some ideas about Native American oyster practices, they have some oyster management suggestions for today as well.

From Anthropology News, Andrew Newman interviews Alex Hill, epidemiologist and applied anthropologist with the Detroit Health Department. They discuss food access issues in the city, including the idea of a food desert, urban farming, and much more, including a nifty mapping project web site.

From Gastropod, a podcast focused on food, science, and history, the story of how so many things in American supermarkets, including a lot of processed foods, came to be labeled as kosher. When rabbis needed to become scientists…and how the kosher labeling system is itself a result of the industrialization of food in the United States.

The “Mediterranean diet” seems to have been a “thing” in medical circles for nearly as long as the idea of a “Mediterranean cultural region” was a thing in anthropology. What do people in the region think of the diet? Xaq Frohlich writes about the discovery and marketing of the Mediterranean diet in Spain in this article.

It seems fitting to finish this round up with something sweet. As your correspondent had a very brief ice cream truck driving career, this story really struck a chord (pun more or less intended). Ice cream trucks have iconic music. Often, the tune is “Turkey in the Straw.” There is some rather interesting history behind that little tune and Richard Parks, at Lucky Peach, has written about it.

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Review: The Psychology of Overeating

Psych of overeating cover

Cargill, Kima. 2015. The Psychology of Overeating. Food and the Culture of Consumerism. London/New York: Bloomsbury Academic (216 pp).

Julie Starr
Hamilton College

In The Psychology of Overeating Kima Cargill, a practicing clinical psychologist and professor of psychology, argues that overeating is a by-product of the American propensity to overconsume. Situating her account of unhealthy eating habits within the ‘culture of consumption’—our endless desire to have or purchase ‘more’—Cargill illustrates how the accumulation of empty calories parallels that of unnecessary goods. This book is Cargill’s (personal) attempt to convince her patients, students, and a general audience that overconsumption is toxic to our bodies and psyches and, far from fulfilling our lives, induces the modern malaise of the ‘empty self.’

The book’s main protagonist is Cargill’s patient, Allison, who is obese and unhappy. Allison feels isolated and wants to lose weight in order to improve her social/dating life but is caught in an endless loop of seeking out new products to facilitate her efforts. From expensive juicers and nutritional supplements, to super foods and gym memberships, Allison’s attempts at weight loss are mitigated by her purchases and are short lived; they are interspersed with binge eating episodes and breakdowns. Cargill’s efforts to convince Allison of the futility of her approach are ineffective, in part giving rise to Cargill’s desire to write the book.

The book consists of eleven short chapters, beginning with an introduction in which we come to know Allison and learn of the main problem Cargill hopes to tackle in the book: the powerful forces of consumerism that lead most of us to overeat. She then turns her attention to a general discussion of consumerism: it’s rise in the U.S. (Chapter 2) and the psychological distress it causes (Chapter 3) before tackling consumerism and food (Chapter 4) and the way the food industry is tricking/manipulating its consumers into eating more (Chapter 5). For Cargill, the culprit of our malaise is sugar, the overconsumption of which she links to its historical rise as a commodity (Chapter 6) and our biological propensity to enjoy it, a fact that the food industry preys upon to create ‘hyperpalatable’ and addictive foods (Chapter 7).

These first seven chapters set the stage for the most interesting (and most anthropological) part of the book, in which Cargill gives an account of the newly designated psychological disorders of Binge-Eating and Hoarding (Chapter 8). In support of her main thesis, both ‘overconsumption’ disorders emerged at the same time, in 2013 with the publication of the updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 (DSM), the handbook of all disorders penned by the American Psychiatric Association. In her discussion of the manual, Cargill draws our attention to the way that treating Binge-Eating and Hoarding as psychological disorders blames the “bounded individual, decontextualized from surrounding cultural and economic forces” (114). She recognizes the power the DSM has in establishing psychological norms, which shapes the experience, diagnoses, and treatment of psychological disorders. But a Foucaultian she is not; after recognizing issues with taxonomy, she is quick to defend the ‘purity’ of the scientific method (128) and views the adulteration of it as stemming from the pursuit of profit.

The fact that overeating is now considered a psychological disorder sets the stage for her discussion of how Big Food and Big Pharm are working together to create and then medicate consumer-driven problems (Chapter 9), which the FDA has little power to monitor or quell (Chapter 10). In an all too familiar tale, then, Cargill presents another case in which consumer culture aids corporations in seeking profit at the cost of consumer health. She concludes the book with some tips on how to consume less and more wisely, in order to regain control of our eating and consumption habits and reverse “the course of Empty Selfhood” (154).

The strength of the book is no doubt the way that Cargill seeks to situate psychological disorders and the problem of overeating within the larger cultural context of consumption, a necessary step to understanding the dilemmas individuals face in our society. But in some ways the book fails to deliver on its promise, mostly due to a lack of theoretical framework (e.g. practice) through which to integrate psychology, biological and ‘unconscious’ drives, positionality, the pressures of consumer life, and the marketing tricks and ploys used to sell products. As such, the chapters move between historical accounts, personal anecdotes, popular culture, philosophy, evolutionary psychology, social theory, personal opinions, and Allison’s (and other quickly introduced and then forgotten patients and acquaintances’) perils. This ad hoc approach undermines analytical cohesion as anecdotes work against and often contradict previously established arguments.

For example, in addition to education and policy change, one remedy Cargill suggests for fighting the forces of consumerism is for individuals to use their ‘common sense.’ She writes: “With the notable exception of children, no matter how little education someone has, no matter how little nutritional literacy one has, there is still common sense. None of us is forced to eat junk food and it doesn’t take a college degree or even a high school diploma to know that an apple is healthier than a donut” (59). Setting aside the way she ignores how common sense is itself a product of power relations, Cargill’s book is full of examples where she is the only one with such ‘common sense.’ Indeed, we are presented example upon example where Cargill is ‘surprised’ and ‘puzzled’ by her (educated!) friends, students, and patients, and their lack of knowledge about simple nutrition. According to Cargill, this is due mostly to the way our psychological defenses allow us to “conveniently deny” (73) food’s unhealthy properties.

Although she seeks to integrate psychology with cultural context, Cargill inevitably returns to the individual to account for why we overconsume. This is most apparent in her conclusion, where she offers advice on how to consume less and more wisely. But by focusing on consumption practices, in an odd way Cargill aligns with the very system she seeks to critique: agency comes through what we choose to buy (or not buy) rather than our activity in social and political life.

As a whole, this book is best suited for those struggling to control their desire to overeat and looking for inspiration to cut back on consumption. In an academic setting, Chapter 8 would make a nice addition to an undergraduate course on Medical Anthropology; Chapters 7, 9, and 10 could be useful on a syllabus for an undergraduate course on food and health.

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New Food Studies MS Program

We recently received the following announcement of a new Master of Science degree in Culinary Arts and Science from Professor Jonathan Deutsch at Drexel University, which may be of interest to FoodAnthropology readers. We welcome any announcements of degree programs, fellowships, grants, prizes, etc. Send them to foodanthro@gmail.com.

From Professor Deutsch:

On behalf of the faculty of the Department of Culinary Arts and Food Science at Drexel University, it is my pleasure to announce the launch of a new Master of Science degree in Culinary Arts and Science (MS CAS). In a nutshell, it is one part culinary arts, one part food science, and one part gastronomy/food systems. Taken together, the program not only engages students with the challenges and opportunities in our food system but provides the hands-on skills in the kitchen and the lab to arm students to address them as practitioner-scholars. The MS CAS joins existing programs in the department and center—BS in Culinary Arts and Science, Undergraduate Food Studies Minor, MS in Food Science and MS in Hospitality Management—and benefits from those established programs for career and research opportunities. Students can also benefit from extensive departmental partnerships including the Monell Chemical Senses Center, USDA’s Eastern Regional Research Center, Research Chefs Association, Drexel’s Center for Hunger Free Communities, Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, Department of Nutrition Sciences, Center for Science & Technology Studies, our own Drexel Food Lab, and an extensive industry network.

We are currently recruiting students for Fall 2017, with prerequisite culinary and food science courses available as early as Fall 2016.

While I’ve been asked to announce the program, Asst. Prof. Dr. Jacob Lahne (jl3542@drexel.edu), Program Director Rosemary Trout (rek23@drexel.edu) and Strategic Marketing Manager Jessica “Jimmy” Wilson (jw3335@drexel.edu) have been champions of the program. Feel free to reach out to any of us.

Official information including application instructions can be found at: drexel.edu/hsm/academics/Culinary-Arts-Food-Science or email: hsm@drexel.edu for more information.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, June 17 Edition

We have a global and eclectic collection of readings for you this week, with a lot of hidden treasures among the links. See below. If you are inspired by food and nutrition related items you find, please send them to us at either dberiss@gmail.com or LaurenRMoore@uky.edu.

What is the market for religiously sanctioned foods? The French daily Le Monde reports on the growth of the halal meat market in that country. Anthropologist Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, author of a book on halal practices, notes that French companies started exporting halal meat to Muslim countries decades ago. Today halal meat may be a 5.5 billion Euro market, sold in both specialized butcher shops and big supermarket chains. The article is in French.

Historian and food activist Michael Twitty responds to queries about the intersection of sexuality, faith, race, and food activism in this blog article: “There is a dialogue in the world of food about homophobia in the industry kitchen and little whispers about queerness and food—but what happens when you sit at the crossroads of gayness, Blackness, and faith and do this sort of work?

A nice little video in which an organic seed rants in a foul mouthed way about big ag, chemicals, GMOs, and other aspects of our food system. Fun, with poop jokes.

From the website “The New Food Economy,” a series of articles devoted to considering the impact of Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” ten years after it was first published. This includes a timeline of what they think of as milestones in “the new food economy,” commentary from luminaries from many corners of the food activist world, and more. Curiously U.S. centric – it would be interesting to see what something equivalent with a global viewpoint might look like. There are alternative views of the timeline proposed in the series, including this one from the Small Planet Institute and this one from Brad Wilson, farm activist and blogger at FamilyFarmJustice.

This two part series in Sapiens by Karen Coates starts with a food diary from her work with a bomb clearance team in Laos, a country with a stunning amount of unexploded ordinance left over from the U.S. war in that region. The food the team prepared and ate while working there reflects the problematic local food economy and ecology, related to the history of war, the global trade in endangered species, and poverty. Useful ethnography with potential to set off great classroom policy discussions.

The seafood industry raises additional global issues. In this article, the author examines the exploitation of workers in that industry in sites ranging from Southeast Asia to Louisiana. She also documents efforts to organize workers and police the conditions in which they work. Meanwhile, fishers in Louisiana struggle to make a living in a context in which they are challenged by the global trade in seafood, disaster, weak U.S. regulation of imported seafood, and other issues, as explored in this excellent article by Michael Stein.

The Southern Foodways Alliance podcast Gravy recounts the strange phenomenon of Jubilee, in Alabama’s Mobile Bay. Why do thousands of fish, shrimp, crabs, eels, and more suddenly fling themselves on the shore in the middle of the night? Strange and true stories from the Gulf Coast.

In this short (around 9 minutes) documentary, Sol Friedman interviews a very philosophical ninety-year-old Jewish woman whose faith has been shattered by Google, among other things and who, as a consequence, decides for the first time in her life to try bacon. But not before considerations of faith, reason, family history, and the potential for God’s wrath.

After you consider all this, you are probably getting anxious about publishing your own research. Emily Contois has just published a very helpful guide to food studies journals on her blog. Get those articles submitted!

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Christine Wilson Award, July 1 Deadline!

REMINDER!

Christine Wilson Award

This is an exciting award for outstanding student research examining topics in nutrition, food studies and anthropology. Exemplary graduate and undergraduate papers are accepted.

Guidelines for Submission of Your Entry:

  • Paper must present original, empirical research (literature reviews not eligible) undertaken in whole or in part by the author.
  • Primary focus must be on anthropological approach to food and/or nutrition.
  • Author (or first author for co-authored papers) must be currently enrolled as a student (undergraduate or graduate), or enrolled during the past academic year
  • Papers should be no longer than 25 pages, double-spaced, and follow American Anthropological Association (AAA) style guidelines)

Winners of the graduate and undergraduate awards receive a cash prize + a year’s membership in SAFN.

DEADLINE: JULY 1, 2016 [NOTE NEW AND EARLIER DEADLINE]

Submit your paper to Amy Trubek via email at atrubek@uvm.edu

 

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Review: Teaching Food and Culture

Teaching Food and Culture. Edited by Candice Lowe Swift and Richard Wilk. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, Inc., 2015. 209 pp. US$39.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-62958-127-9.

Review by Chelsea Wentworth, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor of Anthropology, High Point University

In Teaching Food and Culture Swift and Wilk present a compilation of papers that use food “to transform research into pedagogy,” arguing that food is a productive medium to Teaching Food Big Coverengage students in the core themes and topics of anthropology. One of the strengths of this volume is the editors’ commitment to all four subfields of the discipline; however, every author demonstrates a commitment to a holistic approach to teaching and research that is reflective of the trans-disciplinary nature of the study of food. Several authors specifically mention that assignments can be adapted to courses in a range of disciplines including gender studies, communications, public health, religion, economics, and history, giving the volume a broad readership. After presenting an overview of the chapters and the goals of the book in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 is an interview with the late and notable food scholar Sydney Mintz. The interview took place via email correspondence and is Mintz’ thorough responses to three questions posed by the editors of the volume.

Section II of the book, Nutrition and Health, begins with a chapter on “Teaching Obesity: Stigma, Structure, and Self.” The authors of Chapter 3 describe the ways they use the topic of obesity to address key concepts in their upper and lower division undergraduate courses on anthropology and global health including poverty, discrimination, and responsibility. While they describe the sensitive nature of teaching obesity and problems that can arise in having students research and debate this topic, more concrete examples of how to avert these problems in the classroom would be beneficial. In Chapter 4, Sept describes how she structures her upper division archaeology course, Prehistoric Diet and Nutrition. Blending biological anthropology and archaeology she links studies of genetic change and the development of taste, with popular culture trends in food such as the paleo-diet. She details a related in-class scenario-building exercise that prepares students for debates on hunting and scavenging. After providing a brief history of the development of nutritional anthropology and the biocultural approach to food in Chapter 5, Wiley outlines the history and social life of milk. A detailed semester-long assignment presented in the appendix guides students through their own single-food project, yet the body of the chapter itself could be strengthened by more classroom examples.

The three chapters of Section III: Food Ethics and the Public offer the most pedagogical insight with discussion of activities and student’s responses to these approaches. First Benson (Chapter 6) describes three different assignments he has used to emphasize the role of food in the study of consumption, explaining how they “…[have] students look inside themselves at their own issues of dependency and habituation as well as upward at the powerful institutions that make the myths and realties of consumption” (111). This balance is carefully analyzed in several other chapters including Chapters 7, 8, and 12 where the notion of linking research and praxis, and demonstrating how the personal is political are emphasized. In Chapter 7 Counihan describes her research and teaching that encourages her students to reexamine the places where food is produced, purchased, and consumed. Using Lancaster’s historic farmers market, she provides students with a central research question, “Does Central Market promote a just and community-building system of food production and consumption?” This guides students through ethnographic research on the intersections of food, gender, class, race, power, economics, and politics. Service learning courses that address these same themes are the focus of Chrzan in Chapter 8. By offering readers a history of her service learning courses, she describes her successes and failures, allowing readers to avoid these pitfalls in their own courses. The active ethnographic requirements of the assignments in these chapters illustrate how students learn to apply anthropology beyond academe in ways that also promotes food justice and democracy.

Finally, the chapters in Section IV: Food, Identity, and Consumer Society discuss identity creation and how food and eating can illustrate “otherness”. Sutton and Beriss (Chapter 9) explain how place, identity, and community can be analyzed through an exploration of restaurants. However it seems that Chapter 9 would be better suited to the third section of the volume. Chapters 10 and 11 accentuate the role of language in the study of food. Stross (Chapter 10) presents a narrative of his syllabus, and highlights several innovative in-class activities. In Chapter 11, O’Connor explains how she uses food to teach semiotics with an emphasis on helping students understand the relationship between theory and method.  In the final chapter, Van Esterick reviews her decades of research and teaching on food, discussing how her research informed her teaching, which in turn informed new research. She writes poignantly about the emotional reactions experienced by both scholars and students through discourse on family, hunger, health, and disordered eating.

Several authors reflect that their courses on food attract a diversity of students making teaching both challenging and enjoyable as they learn from their experiences. As students grapple with how to analyze personal experience in an academic context, food becomes a tangible and emotionally charged vehicle for applying anthropological theory. In teaching anthropology courses, this is not an uncommon problem. However, this volume could benefit from deeper discussion of how to handle pedagogical challenges in the classroom. While ethical dilemmas such as students who struggle personally with issues such as food security and eating disorders are regularly mentioned, precisely how these problems are resolved in the classroom is largely absent (with Chrzan’s chapter a notable exception).

This volume will be of most use to graduate students and professors who are preparing to teach new courses, or wish to infuse their existing courses with new assignments, activities, and articles. Nearly every chapter includes expansive reference lists for readings and films, and many authors list website URLs for resources and classroom activities. A major strength of the volume is that most authors describe a specific assignment used in their course that is subsequently listed in the appendix. These assignments are excellent additions to the volume, providing easily adaptable teaching examples for readers.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, June 3 Edition

An amazing selection of items from around the internet gathered to delight and fascinate our faithful readers. If you have items you think our readers should read, send a note to LaurenRMoore@uky.edu or dberiss@uno.edu.

Here in the U.S., activists are constantly fighting over what constitutes “authentic” cuisine, about who can make or speak for and about the foods associated with various groups or ethnicities. In the real world, the complexities involved in making—and making sense—of cuisines seem hard to contain in neat cultural categories. For one variation on this, read this piece on the history of Chinese cooking in Mexico City.

As if matters of ethnicity and race were not complicated enough (see above), the story of Zarif Khan, aka Hot Tamale Louie, of Wyoming, renders them even more so. Wyoming provides a perfect setting for this very American story of race, citizenship, legal wrangling, capitalism, ethnic networking, Mexican food, immigration, Islam and much more and would be perfect for use in a wide variety of anthropology classes. Tamales, “the cronuts of fin-de-siècle America.” Yes, this may be the best thing you will read this month.

What makes a farming community grow? Northfield, Minnesota is apparently becoming a growth center for small farmers and the area’s success is about people, not soil or climate. Civil Eats examines why.

What can we learn from big data about American food trends? Check out the Google Food Trends report on the United States for 2016. Bibimbap is rising in popularity, while apparently the Rainbow Bagel (a trend we missed here at FoodAnthropology) is in sharp decline. People seem to think turmeric is a miracle food and they really like videos about pho. Seriously, however, there is a lot of material in the report with which one could raise some interesting questions for further (ethnographic) research.

From the American Futures Project, a report by Deborah Fallows on an interesting combination of efforts to make local food work for a working poor community in Arizona. A further report on this community from the USDA’s “Local Foods, Local Places” is also available.

The past week also featured an impressive series of food and nutrition articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, from food labels and how much sugar is hiding in your food, and how sugar taxes can successfully fund city programs, to clever uses for food waste, clever uses for unwanted and voracious introduced species of fish, clever uses for annoying plants and cracking down on the international trafficking of toxic foods.

The US NAS-NRC has just released its huge literature review on GMOs (Genetically-engineered crops: Experience and Prospects), and invites everyone to join the conversation. It managed to strike some balance between the industry and anti-industry views, which contend that GE foods are not/are unsafe or cause health problems; so there is no need to regulate products based on how they were produced by GE (or not). On the risks and labeling issues, the authors assert that their current lack of negative findings do not rule out that possible hazards or additional risks might be evidenced in the future, or preclude the finding that GE foods should be labeled for reasons other than health risks, in response to consumer demands.

Creole tomatoes are in season in Louisiana right now. They are generally thought to draw their distinctiveness from the soils of St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, down river from New Orleans, and they are much prized locally. There is a Creole tomato festival and Creole tomato mythology. Perhaps most interestingly, there are farmers and families with good stories, which you can read about here.

Weird news: customers in a vegan café in Tbilisi, Georgia, were attacked by a group of men throwing sausages, grilled meat, and fish at them. Food is a powerful symbol, of course, and in this case seems to be somehow related to questions of sexuality.

Regular FoodAnthropology contributor Ellen Messer has sent us the following brief book reading notes, opening a new section for our periodic reading digest:

Blake, Michael 2015 Maize for the Gods. Unearthing the 9,000 year History of Corn. Oakland: University of California Press.  This is an exciting consolidation of all the new (most recent 30 years) archaeological, archaeobotanical, and genetic information that now allows scholars to trace more accurately the bicultural evolution and diffusion of maize. In the final chapter on material culture (“Daily Tools and Sacred Symbols”) Blake makes an effort to integrate the cultural dimensions, that would have been stronger if he had consulted more with nutritional anthropologists who work on diet and agriculture.

Lusk, Jayson (2016) Unnaturally Delicious. How Science and Technology Are Serving Up Super Foods to Save the World. NY: St. Martin’s Press.  This breezily written volume by an ag economist at Oklahoma State University tries to construct a pro-technology ground on all aspects of agricultural and food-chain questions, while also giving good summaries of the ag-ecological and anti-high tech positions.

Fresco, Louise O. (2016) Hamburgers in Paradise. The Stories Behind the Food We Eat. Liz Waters, Trans. Princeton University Press.  Building on her decades of experience as a leader at FAO and European ag universities, Fresco indulges in a history of agriculture that draws on sources as wide-ranging as the Bible and art history to the latest cutting edge agricultural and related sciences.  Her goal, in addition to synthesizing her historical knowledge, is to move beyond the polarization over GMOs and related chemical-intensive technologies, and provide some bridging positions.  Whether you think she succeeds probably depends on your starting point (Bee Wilson’s review in The Guardian calls it “maddening”).

 

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