Calculating the true cost of getting your family's typical dinner on the table would reveal a shocking price! In addition to produce cost itself, you would have to include the delivery charges for each meal component: from the producer via long distance shipping, packaging, storage, and distribution to you via your local supermarket. The authors suggest that product travel distance in reaching our table should be calculated in 'food miles'. The further the distance - the higher the price . At least that's what it should logically be.
However, as consumers, most of us rarely pay the full cost of any food item. If we did, we would appreciate more readily how the global food system has turned food production on its head. Thus claim the authors of this concise and illuminating analysis of globalization of the agribusiness and its impacts on our well-being. While this slim volume might appear otherwise, the study is packed with useful information and concrete data. It explains why we are facing major problems in the food economy around the world. In developing and industrialized countries farmers are abandoning their land to large-scale cash-crop agribusiness or big corporations. The push for crop monocultures is contributing to land degradation and is skewing food supplies. The authors demystify the notion that a globalized food system is more efficient and economic and question the logic of its processes. For example, in recent years the UK has been importing about as much milk as it has exported! The only beneficiaries of this artificial trade balance, they argue, are the transport businesses and the financial speculators. As tax payers we subsidize the transportation business by allowing governments to subsidize the development of big agriculture to the detriment of local farmers everywhere. The authors encourage the reader to examine these issues and outline what we can do as consumers and citizens, to reverse current trends. Examples and case studies are interleafed with tables and statistics illustrating the underlying argument of the authors: to restore local food production and closely link it to the consumer.
In this well-structured and easily followed study, the authors examine global food issues from all possible angles: food and health, food and economy, food and community; food and marketing ecologies and (local) food security. In addition, the authors expose the serious environmental impacts of large-scale monoculture farming and the unnecessary transport of food shipped across the globe or from one end of the country to the other (in the US). For example, US cookies are exported to Denmark while Danish cookies are exported to the US! Why not, the authors argue, just swap recipes at minimal cost?
In each chapter the implications of globalizing the food sector are summarized, critiqued and contrasted with working alternatives. For example. initiatives of community-based agriculture or consumer-coops are introduced that are springing up in many countries. While food production and trade in the developing world are not addressed as the primary focus of the analysis, the consistent negative impacts of a globalized food system on the populations in the South have provided the authors with strong arguments for local diversity in food security systems. Norberg-Hodge, in particular, has a long track record of researching the impact of international development policies on traditional functioning rural communities in the South.
The intended audiences of this book are clearly the consumers and citizens in the industrialized countries. The examples given are highlighting the situation in the US and UK. Yet, they also present interesting insights into other countries' situations. The authors' conclusion is that the food economy needs to be shifted from its current global level to the local wherever possible. This does not mean, they contend, that all food trade should stop or the consumer should no longer be able to buy exotic foods from far away. Instead, they argue, the priority has to be that people produce staple food locally wherever possible. Food should be imported only where the local resources cannot fulfill the demand of the population. Local produce is usually healthier, fresher and can be more appropriate for the local diet and culture. It is also much cheaper if transport, packaging and storage costs for long distance travel are to be included in the true price of food.
This a book to absorb and not just to read once. It calls for action by everyone and is a toolkit for all those seriously engaged in educating people of all ages in health, environment and all food issues. A resource guide is added for further study and action. [Friederike Knabe, Ottawa Canada]