Gift Ideas: Best 2019 Books and Movies About Our Food System
By Stacy Malkan
If you like to give friends and family the gift of knowledge about our food, we're here with recommendations for 2019 books and movies that illuminate the issues close to our hearts. At U.S. Right to Know, we believe that transparency – in the marketplace and in politics – is crucial to building a healthier food system for our children, our families and our world. Kudos to the journalists and filmmakers who are exposing how powerful food and chemical industry interests impact our health and the environment.
Here are our recommendations for best-of-the-year food books and movies. You can also receive a signed copy of the award-winning 2017 book by our colleague, Carey Gillam, Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, for a monthly sustainer donation to U.S. Right to Know through Patreon or you can donate directly to USRTK here.
Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food
By Timothy A. Wise, The New Press
Holiday gift-giving solved: #EatingTomorrow!— Timothy A. Wise (@TimothyAWise) December 3, 2019
Olivier De Schutter: "There is a battle for the future of food, and Eating Tomorrow shifts the frontlines.”@drvandanashiva: “Eating Tomorrow is a wake-up call about the future of food."
Ricardo Salvador: “Wise’s writing is riveting." pic.twitter.com/f0nXjqc4Y2
Scholar Timothy A. Wise shows the world already has the tools to feed itself, without expanding industrial agriculture or adopting genetically modified seeds. Reporting from Africa, Mexico, India and the U.S., Wise details how agribusiness and its philanthropic promoters have hijacked food policies to feed corporate interests, and argues that policies promoted by the Gates Foundation-funded Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) are failing to deliver productivity and income improvements for small-scale farmers in Africa. Wise also takes readers to remote villages to see how farmers are rebuilding soils with ecologically sound practices without chemicals or imported hybrid or genetically engineered seeds.
"Hundreds of billions of dollars spent on fertilizer and hybrid seed subsidies by Kenya and other African countries over the past few years have gone down the drain, a new book argues," writes Julius Segei in Kenya's largest independent newspaper, the The Daily Nation. "The scholar's verdict that there is little evidence of any green revolution coming to Africa more than 10 years after AGRA is likely to kick up a storm in agriculture and development circles."
The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception
By David Michaels, Oxford University Press (available January 2020)
David Michaels' new book offers an insider's look at how corporations manufacture doubt in science: bogus studies, congressional testimonies, think-tank policy documents and more. He provides new details of high-profile cases involving car manufacturing, professional sports, the food we eat and the air we breathe. Michaels, the former assistant secretary of labor under President Barack Obama, writes that the anti-science policies of the Trump administration are not new, but rather the outcome of decades-long campaigns by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries to stop regulation of deadly products. "This book is written to get you angry enough to want to learn how to defend yourselves, your communities, and our vulnerable planet," writes consumer advocate Ralph Nader. "Let it grip you toward detection and defiance."
A tenacious attorney, Rob Billot, uncovers a dark secret that connects a growing number of unexplained deaths to one of the world's largest corporations. As the evidence in the film shows, DuPont was aware of the dangers of its Teflon ingredients for many years. While trying to expose the truth, Bilot soon finds himself risking his future, his family and his own life.
In these kinds of movies, "you know going in that you're going to see a story about how bad things are thanks to corporate influence over government as well as the economy," writes movie critic Roger Ebert, "but the extent of the corruption is still shocking, highlighting the implicit question: why fight, if the bad guys have already won? The answer, of course, is that you should fight because it's the right thing to do." Dark Waters is "an effective outrage machine," writes Michael O'Sullivan in The Washington Post, but the movie "doesn't aspire to be something it's not. Like Bilott himself, it gets the job done, not by showboating, but by laying out the facts."
Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World
By Bettina Elias Siegel, Oxford University Press
Many of you have asked if KID FOOD will be released as an audiobook. YES! Here’s a preorder link—along with details re: my East Coast book tour, which starts THIS WEEK! https://t.co/UBnfH6I9Yw @AvivaGoldfarb @marionnestle @pam_koch @dietdetective @greenlightbklyn @audible_com pic.twitter.com/XvhBk6Nppv— Bettina Elias Siegel (@thelunchtray) November 11, 2019
Bettina Elias Siegel, a leading voice on children's food, critically examines how America's food culture exploits children and misleads parents. Siegel exposes predatory food-industry techniques for marketing directly to children and convincing parents that highly-processed products are "healthy." She provides extensive coverage of America's school-food program — including why, even after Obama-era reforms, school meals are still so often dominated by processed foods, many of them bearing popular junk-food trademarks. "This is a gorgeously written, heartfelt, and deeply compelling manifesto arguing why and how we must do better at feeding our kids more healthfully at home, in schools, and on the soccer field," writes Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. "It should inspire all of us to get busy and start advocating for better kid-food policies — right now."
Modified: A food lover's journey into GMOs
By Aube Giroux, feature length documentary now available for purchase or rent online
In this beautiful, moving, award-winning documentary, filmmaker Aube Giroux and her mother embark on a personal investigative journey to find out why GMOs are not labeled on food products in the U.S. and Canada, despite being labeled in 64 countries around the world. Interweaving the personal and the political, the film is anchored around the filmmaker's relationship to her mom, a gardener and food activist who battled cancer during the film's production. Fueled by their shared love of food, the mother-daughter team discovers the extent to which the agribusiness industry controls our food policies, and makes a strong case for a more transparent and sustainable food system. The winner of four Audience Favorite Awards and the 2019 James Beard Foundation Broadcast Media Award for best documentary, Modified is "beautiful beyond words … compelling and compassionate," writes the journalist Joan Baxter.
Et le monde devint silencieux: Comment l'agrochimie a détruit les insectes
And The World Became Silent: How Agrochemistry Destroyed Insects
by Stéphane Foucart, Editions du Seuil (in French)
[Événement] Stéphane Foucart @sfoucart, journaliste @lemondefr, présente son ouvrage sur l’industrie des pesticides auprès des étudiants dauphinois— Univ Paris Dauphine-PSL (@Paris_Dauphine) November 12, 2019
« Et le monde devint silencieux » @EditionsduSeuil 🐝
➡️ https://t.co/MpYXfDr1Db pic.twitter.com/N127Gb3Ir1
Investigative journalist Stéphane Foucart details how the agrichemical industry orchestrated "the greatest ecological disaster of the early twenty-first century" – the collapse of insect populations. Although pesticide companies claim the disappearance of insects is a mystery due to multiple factors, Foucart reports that the dominant cause is the massive use of neonicotinoid pesticides, and shows how it was made possible by an industry that faked public debate by manipulating science, regulation and expertise. The book shows how the industry exploited science to the point of "making us forget that insecticides … kill insects," writes Annabelle Martella in La Croix (review in French).
Foucart won the 2018 European Press Prize for investigative reporting, along with Stéphane Horel, for their Monsanto Papers (translated into English here) articles about how Monsanto manipulated science, influenced the regulatory process and orchestrated stealth PR campaigns to defend its Roundup herbicides.
Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry
By Julie Guthman, University of California Press
Thanks to @uscs professor Julie Guthman for her excellent reporting on how the strawberry industry came to rely on highly toxic soil fumigants. For more on #Wilted, see review by @emonosson11 in @aaas @sciencemagazine https://t.co/AfjdjsgxB2— U.S. Right To Know (@USRightToKnow) December 18, 2019
Julie Guthman tells the story of how strawberries – the sixth highest-grossing crop in California which produces 88 percent of the nation's favorite berry – came to rely on highly toxic soil fumigants, and how that reliance reverberated throughout the rest of the fruit's production system. The particular conditions of plants, soils, chemicals, climate and laboring bodies that once made strawberry production so lucrative in the Golden State have now changed and become a set of related threats that jeopardize the future of the industry. "The strawberry industry's predicament is just one example of how our strategy of dominating ecological systems and focusing on increased output at all cost is short-sighted, with diminishing returns," writes Emily Monosson in a Science magazine review. "Recent efforts to work with, rather than against, natural systems suggest a path forward."
GMOs Decoded: A Skeptic's View of Genetically Modified Foods
By Sheldon Krimsky, MIT Press
Tufts professor Sheldon Krimsky examines health and safety concerns, environmental issues, implications for world hunger and lack of scientific consensus on GMOs (genetically modified organisms). He explores the viewpoints of a range of GMO skeptics, from public advocacy groups and nongovernmental organizations to scientists with differing views on risk and environmental impact. Publishers Weekly calls Krimsky's book a "fair-minded, informative primer" that "lays out opposing 'claims and counterclaims,' demystifies the science, and shows where there is consensus, honest disagreement, or unresolved uncertainty." NYU professor Marion Nestle describes the book as "a gift to anyone confused" about GMOs.
And Two More Excellent Food Books From 2018
Seeds of Resistance: The Fight to Save Our Food Supply
By Mark Schapiro, Skyhorse Publishing
Check out Mark Schapiro's new website on seed politics, and his terrific new book Seeds of Resistance https://t.co/QtCduGXSrH— Michael Pollan (@michaelpollan) February 19, 2019
Journalist Mark Schapiro reports on the high-stakes battle underway for control of the world's seeds, as climate volatility threatens the security of our food supply. Schapiro investigates what it means that more than half the world's commercial seeds are owned by three multinational chemical companies, and brings to light what the corporate stranglehold is doing to our daily diet – from the explosion of genetically modified foods, to the rapid disappearance of plant varieties, to the elimination of independent farmers who have long been the bedrock of our food supply. The book also documents colorful and surprising stories from the global movement that is defying these companies, and offering alternatives capable of surviving the accelerating climatic changes. "Seeds of Resistance is a wake-up call," writes Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse and the Edible Schoolyard. "With vivid and memorable stories, Mark Schapiro tells us how seeds are at the frontlines of our epic battle for healthy food."
Formerly Known as Food: How the Industrial Food System Is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture
By Kristin Lawless, St. Martin's Press
Not mad about the comparison! “Of all the books that I’ve read on the food industry, hers is one that sticks out. An absolute flamethrower – jawdropping – savage AF. Kristin Lawless is Daenerys Targaryen and Big Food is King’s Landing and I’m here for it.” https://t.co/a7BiHpsh4C— Kristin Lawless (@kristinlawless) December 15, 2019
If you think buying organic from Whole Foods is protecting you, you're wrong. Our food — even what we're told is good for us — has changed for the worse in the past 100 years, its nutritional content deteriorating due to industrial farming and its composition altered due to the addition of thousands of chemicals from pesticides to packaging. We simply no longer know what we're eating. In Formerly Known as Food, Kristin Lawless argues that, because of the degradation of our diet, our bodies are literally changing from the inside out. The billion-dollar food industry is reshaping our food preferences, altering our brains, changing the composition of our microbiota, and even affecting the expression of our genes.
"In this revelatory survey of the dangers of the industrial food system, Lawless offers crucial tools for navigating it safely," writes the author Naomi Klein. "The best ones have nothing to do with shopping advice: she asks us to think holistically about food, why it can't be separated from other struggles for justice, and what it means to demand transformative change."
Reposted with permission from U.S. Right to Know.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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