Animal, Vegetables, Junk
The book is a timely reminder of the urgency related to food security. Offering a sweeping history of the ways humans have procured, processed, and consumed food, the author focuses on the political, social, cultural and environmental consequences of the transformation from hunting and gathering to agriculture and of the increased industrialisation of the food system. The author asserts that agriculture “sparked disputes over landownership, water use, and the extraction of resources” and has “driven exploitation and injustice, slavery and war.” Colonial powers forced indigenous people to farm crops that benefited Europeans, “establishing cash-crop monoculture” for maximum profits. Soil depletion spurred a search for fertiliser, from bird to ammonia-based chemicals. Machinery, pesticides, and governmental policies abetted industrialised farming: a “push to grow larger and focus on one crop.” The author decries the wanton creation of “engineered edible substances,” which he urges consumers to resist with their wallets and their votes. “Today,” he writes, “government subsidizes a harmful form of production that produces a harmful form of food and forces it into markets everywhere.” The food industry has no motivation to make major revisions; unlike some observers, the author is skeptical that “buying right” will lead to reform. “The system itself needs to be changed, its values and goals challenged and reimagined,” he writes. “We need legislation to support agriculture that stewards the land. We need food processing whose goal is to nourish. And we need an economy that supports people who want to grow and cook food for their communities. Those will come about when citizens organise and force government to do its job. A good diet will follow.” The book aims at underscoring the connection among food, human rights, climate change, and justice. The book is an expert’s vigorous argument for systemic food reform.
The crown in crisis
The book is an entertaining, multilayered study of the abdication crisis of 1936 and the many traitorous and sycophantic characters surrounding King Edward VIII. Employing an impressive amount of research via archival material, letters, MI5 dossiers, Philip Ziegler’s definitive 1990 biography of the king, and numerous other sources, British historian and journalist Larman manages to shine new light on this scandalous and well-picked-over moment in British royal history. As he notes, further research and newly declassified documents offer “a stranger and more complex narrative, in which a succession of half-truths and subterfuge give a glimpse into a febrile, paranoid time…in which anything—even a royal assassination—seemed possible.” The author fully fleshes out the many historical characters who took sides during this tumultuous period, most of whom were flummoxed and/or enraged by the inability of the new king, a well-known hedonistic playboy, to extricate himself from association with the once-divorced and still-married American Wallis Simpson. Some of the most memorable include the Queen Mother, who shared her sadness with the king’s decision-making and refused to offer a “maternal blessing”; and those who supported him—e.g., newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook and Winston Churchill, “whose attitudes toward the situation was summed up by ‘let the king have his cutie.’ ” Over the course of this absorbing text, several salient points emerge: how incredible it was that the British press suppressed the scandal for so long when the American press was braying wildly; that Edward’s venal, soulless character was so well established by the time he took the throne that nearly everyone, from his father to government officials to Simpson herself, sensed it was better he be gone rather than destroy the throne; and that Simpson had tried repeatedly to convince her forceful, cloying lover that she did not want him.