Started reading: 9th April 2010
Finished reading: 15th August 2011
For thousands of years, food has been at the center of human life. Egypt used the rich bounties of the Nile to establish and expand her empire. Rome fell (at least partly) because her farms failed and she was no longer able to feed herself. National culture is steeped in the production and consumption of food, and personal identity is often tied to it.
Food also happens to be one of my favorite things. I like to eat, and increasingly, I like to grow, cook, and produce it. Perhaps this is why “The End of Food” by Paul Roberts is one of the most disturbing books I’ve read in a long time.
If you follow the narrative of the modern age, you have probably heard that we have successfully banished “famine” from the modern pantheon of the Apocalypse. For the first time in history, the developed world has access to cheap and abundant calories. And inevitably, that same sense of food security will be extended to all others in the developing world. It is only a question of time, investment, and technology.
Except … that narrative is a lie.
Throughout his book, Paul Roberts carefully investigates the modern food system and demonstrates a disheartening truth. The way which we grow, market, transport, and commercially prepare our food is in trouble. It ravages the environment, contains less nutritional value, contains huge risks for food-borne illness, and is no longer even able to support it’s own economics. In short, the modern food system is unsustainable at every level and, eventually, it will fail. What is more terrifying, though, is that the failure will probably be sooner rather than later. And when it happens, millions of people will remember that while Death may command the Apocalyptic Horde, Famine was, perhaps, the most feared member.
This is also why “The End of Food” should be a must-read for anyone who cares about what they eat. While the overall tone of Roberts’ book is extremely dark, he highlights that there are things that can be done to fix our food system. But there is no 4 step (or even 12 step) program for success. The problems are simply too large for “Not shopping at Walmart” or “Buy local.”
Fixing the food system will require an enormous investment in research, policy, and reform of the market. It is a big problem and will require a serious investment from companies, non-profits, government, and regular citizens. Reading this book is a great first step. It introduces the modern food system as a ticking time bomb and offers sound advice on how we might begin to defuse and replace it.