Written for a popular audience, Feeding Frenzy traces the history of the global food system and reveals the underlying causes of recent food shortages and price spikes - what the media has labelled a 'world food crisis'. As the tectonic plates of the world food system shift, forces are being unleashed that threaten the security of billions.
Food-producing countries are banning exports to benefit their own citizens, even if this means that other countries starve. Most worryingly, they are acquiring huge areas of under-utilised farmland in poorest countries to grow crops for export, often at the expense of local communities. Some of the trends identified in this book are unstoppable. But McMahon also outlines actions that can be taken to lower the risks of conflict and to produce fairer outcomes. It is possible to envisage a more benign scenario, associated with a shift to a sustainable and productive form of agriculture.
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BOOK REVIEW: Feeding Frenzy
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A activation email has been sent to you. Please click the link in that email to activate your subscription. McMahon does a convincing job of ruling on which arguments to take seriously. He's dismissive of one current bone of the food security campaigners, that repurposing food for biofuels was a major cause of the price rises.
He does think the land grab boom — Gulf states acquiring bits of poor Africa to use as giant allotments — is a serious problem.
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- Feeding frenzy : the new politics of food / Paul McMahon - Details - Trove.
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He is very interesting on how the food and energy markets are now intertwined and, bloated with excess capital since the financial crisis, unmanageable. High-speed robot trading systems make it easy for speculators to manipulate agricultural commodity prices, no matter the cost in human misery. McMahon insists the market must be made to work.
Or more of us will starve, though "us" does not mean anyone at this end of the planet. This is revealing stuff, but it's more fun to spend time with Jay Rayner, whose own Feed the World polemic comes with investigation, memoir and personal celebrity Rayner and his famous hair are the biggest thing on the cover. You may think he spends all his time researching and recovering from restaurant outings, but Rayner has a TV life as a principled investigator of the insanities and inanities of modern food retail.
Like the great food essayist Jeffrey Steingarten, Rayner travels stomach-first and uncovers truths beyond what's on the table. But the most fun here is the making of "greedy bastard" Rayner, in north London butchers' shops and s McDonald's. Key to that story was his wonderful mother, the journalist Claire, who died in I'd urge this book on anyone, if only for the tale of Rayner's sexual education through his helping sort the letters sent to his mother's sex advice column — and for the lobster and chips by her hospital bed.
Rayner skewers them deftly, as a man who knows his cutlery can. He's right: eating local won't save the planet. Nor will a boycott of industrial farming or of rapacious supermarkets.
But these are issues that have got a class of shoppers thinking about how this historically cheap food got to their kitchens. That, surely, is a door opened. By the end, Rayner and McMahon — and the reader — are pretty much in agreement on sorting out world food security. It can be done. It is "ear-bleedingly, eye-gougingly complicated" as one of the authors guess which puts it.
And the answer is brain-foggingly ordinary: compromise and a combination of approaches — some low-tech, some hi-tech. Some adjustments to capitalism, some to diet. Less meat-eating and less waste, no doubt. There are no silver bullets; though putting up the money and taking down the trade barriers to enable African farmers to be as productive as American ones would be — both authors agree — a damn good start. Alex Renton's ebook on meat and the happiest way to feed the world is published by Guardian Shorts later this year.
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