Back in August last year, I spotted in one of London’s many Waterstones a book that made all the other books fade away. It had a cover depicting a branch of kumquats that had a USB instead of roots. It was eery, beautiful and thought-provoking at the same time.
That was the cover of The Fate of Food by Amanda Little, a book I desperately wanted to get in London. I have confidently delayed the purchase until one hour before my train ride, thinking that the station will be the best place to get it – a naïve belief since I was among the last ones to board the Eurostar, obviously sans my book.
But I bought it eventually and read it in January. I have underlined countless paragraphs, I have scribbled dozens of OMG, WTF and Holy Cow (in pencil, of course, I am not a monster!) and I have arrived at the conclusion that this must be one of the best books I will probably read in 2020, if not the best.
Here’s what it’s about: Amanda Little is an environmental journalist who set out to understand and explore the way our food system will shift in a world that’s increasingly drier, tech-driven, and more populous.
She delved into the sustainability and disease-risks of fisheries, the automation potential in the agroindustry, developments in the field of fake “meat” and lab-grown meat (such as Impossible Foods and Memphis Meats), short-term and long-term effects of genetically engineered seeds and crops (such as the ones created by Monsanto Company), the consequences of unpredictable weather patterns on entire orchards and groves, and SO much more.
This book is meaty. (Pun intended – I simply had to!) It was not a fast read for me because I was constantly taking notes, but it is easy to read because the style is quite approachable, direct and informal. Amanda Little had a lot of facts to share, and thankfully she chose not to use mystifying industry jargon, for which I am grateful.
One of the things I liked the most, which was also pointed out by other readers on Goodreads, is that Amanda Little is actively engaging with the subject matter of the book. She is honest and transparent in sharing that she is still struggling to cut down on her meat consumption, that she is wary of certain innovations and that her idyllic family produce garden is a far cry from what she had envisioned. She is not writing about Norway, the US, China and Kenya by reading articles on the web – she is pursuing innovators, scientists, business people and farmers in her endeavour of always trying to get both sides of the story.
For instance, I really appreciated the way she presented the impact of Monsanto’s genetically modified crops. She showed how essential they are for short term for impoverished communities benefiting from them via charitable organizations or pilot programs, only to be locked in monocultures, monopoly structures and buying only certain types of seeds. (Please read the book because she explains this WAY better, I am still learning!)
Food concerns us all. And the fact that there are so many resources used and invested to feed the Western world, while so many other countries are experiencing malnutrition is an issue that is highly problematic. Our planet is dealing with increasing consumption that has to be satisfied with finite resources. Our environment is turning against us, partially due to food industries and consumer choices. For all these reasons and more, The Fate of Food has to be on everyone’s reading menu this year (that pun was a bit cringy, sorry!).
Finally, I am leaving you here one of the paragraphs I have marked. It’s part of the introduction chapter (page 5), so you know you are in for a real treat.
Farms globally now produce 17 percent more calories per person than they did in 1990. And while some 800 million people still suffer from chronic hunger, that is almost 200 million fewer than there were thirty years ago. Meanwhile, prices have fallen. The average household in the 1950s spent about 30 percent of its budget on food. Today, we spend about 13 percent—a financial advantage for low- and middle- income households, and a boon for economies worldwide. Processed foods have also liberated men and, in particular, women from the drudgery of preparing every meal from scratch. Yet the disadvantages of abundant, low-cost food are well documented, starting with massive waste, overconsumption, poorer nutrition, and a reliance on fewer, more concentrated farms to feed the world. There’s also an increasing risk that the methods we’ve devised to feed billions more people are backfiring on the environment.