Aperceptive analysis of America's food system.
Political scientist Paarlberg, who teaches public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, levels a well-informed, evidence-based critique of a broad swath of players in food production and consumption: food companies (which process, package, transport, and advertise products), supermarkets, and restaurant chains, all of which have created “food swamps” of unhealthy choices; as well as “advocacy organizations fixated on local food and organic food” and “those who push for agroecology or food sovereignty over green revolution farming.” He debunks food movement activists such as Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and Alice Waters, calling their advocacy of preindustrial agriculture elitist. A return to those farming methods, he writes, “can work on a small scale for those with plenty of money to spend, but it will never be a society-wide solution.” Drawing on scientific and economic research, combined with visits to farms and food plants, Paarlberg asserts persuasively that “modern farming protects the environment not only by using less land compared to several decades ago; it also uses less water, less fossil energy, and fewer chemicals.” Analyzing the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and GMOs, the author argues that much fear of these products is unsupported by research. “Visions that privilege what comes from nature over what is made by people have a mystical appeal,” he writes, “but they malfunction as practical guidance.” Paarlberg highlights many commercial farms that judiciously employ scientific methods in planting, harvesting, and raising livestock. Yet for many food activists, the idea of applying modern science to agriculture and food production has “become strangely controversial”—even though “compared to small farms and local marketing systems, bigger operations are better able to detect and avoid contamination.” Paarlberg criticizes commercial farm organizations, too, for supporting food processing companies, and he calls for farmers to become strong advocates for healthful eating.
A cogent, revealing look at the future of food.