How Food Stopped Being Food

Monday, October 22, 2012

In 2008, farmers grew more than enough to feed the world, yet more people starved than ever before—and most of them were farmers. Harper’s magazine contributing editor Frederick Kaufman investigates the connection between the global food system and why the food on our tables is getting less healthy and less delicious even as the world's biggest food companies and food scientists say things are better than ever. In Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food, he moves down the supply chain like a detective solving a mystery, revealing the forces undermining our food system.


Frederick Kaufman

Comments [24]

Michele Jacobson from New Jersey/Vermont

"Greenwashing" -- what a great word. Sustainability and organics have become huge business; it's agribusiness as I like to say. Half of the organic produce in our markets comes from other countries. LOCAL is the new "organic." Keep it simple, grow as much as your own food as you can. Then COOK it by yourself so you actually know what you're eating.

Regarding GMOs: what Leonard and Mr. Frederick say are interesting, however the labeling of GM and GE foods would at least bring public awareness to the issue. Then the conversation around patents, profits, and/or gene splicing could ensue.

Oct. 23 2012 08:22 AM
Jf from Nyc

I want to hear about earthship architecture which is the most beautiful, sustainable perfect form of construction and lifestyle that could save the earth. Please please please talk about this,

Oct. 22 2012 12:51 PM
Amy from Manhattan

superf88: "Beef" comes from the French word "boeuf," meaning "ox." After the Norman Conquest, a lot of French words for animals came into English as words for the meat from those animals, like "mutton" ("mouton"), "veal" ("veau"), & "pork" ("porc"). Some people think this contributed to a distancing between English speakers' concept of meat & the animals it comes from.

Oct. 22 2012 12:46 PM

Excellent point re role of patents in this area that might merit further exploration here. Potential "Please Explain" material?

Oct. 22 2012 12:43 PM

thanks leonard -- i am buying this book (along with Robert Kaplan's book showcased on this show last week)!

Oct. 22 2012 12:42 PM
Henry from Manhattan

To slow “meatification” (Kaufman’s term) of the developing world, if the US reduced animal food consumption significantly (a less divisive statement than "going vegan"), the rest of the world would follow our lead of affluence the same way they copy many of our consumption patterns.

So the US would reap the immediate benefits of a more plant-based diet which cannot be dismissed, and the rest of the world would likely follow.

To make the claim that developing countries won’t change their consumption trajectory so therefore we shouldn’t bother it specious. While we’re at it, let’s not bother with women’s equality or human rights in the US either since, you know, the developing world isn’t on board.

Oct. 22 2012 12:40 PM

True re GMOs but there are simpler ways that exporting contemporary farming methods can be counterproductive. For example, there are situations in which draft animals are more cost-effective than tractors.

Oct. 22 2012 12:39 PM
Amy from Manhattan


Leonard: "People like Goldman Sachs...."
Frederick Kaufman: "I didn't think Tyson was the kind of people who [would let him see their operations]"

What happened to "Corporations aren't people"?

Oct. 22 2012 12:38 PM
james from nyc

How are we supposed to have rich non working job creators with out patents?

Oct. 22 2012 12:37 PM

Better economists and environmental scientists have a very simple — and demanding — standard for sustainability. It's sustainable if there is, among other things, ZERO net added carbon pumped into the atmosphere, ZERO net added waste material, ZERO net loss of water or other resources.

Mr. Kaufman has nailed the point with his anecdote about Bill Gates. The Gateses and Bloombergs and others want to feel good about what they're doing, they want everybody to applaud their actions, but giving up their corporate jets or any of their multi-millionaire dollar lifestyles is completely out of the question. Bloomberg has talked a great line about improving the green-ness of New York City, but he is among the _worst_ actors on the planet. He as an individual consumes as much as hundreds of average New Yorkers. And each average New Yorker consumes as much as dozens or hundreds of average Kenyans or Ghanaians or Vietnamese....

Oct. 22 2012 12:37 PM

Really appreciating Kaufman's numerous succinct, honest answers. He's not afraid to point the finger at those who need accusing.

Oct. 22 2012 12:37 PM

Kudos to the commentary and the book with three reservations:

-- I wish he was saying "rediscovered" instead of "discovered" as folks have been writing about this for decades.

-- Given how little of this is new the need to rediscover this stuff may be as significant as the rediscoveries themselves.

-- The role of speculation has been well described but farm subsidies also play a role in these problems.

Oct. 22 2012 12:36 PM
Wolfgang Hauptman from Brooklyn

Leonard, with comments like (I'm paraphrasing) 'most of us when we see that the price of an item has increased, simply shrug and buy it if we need it anyway,' has you sounding more and more out of touch with the current economic reality of New Yorkers. I think wnyc needs to consider the pervasive nature of upper, middle class comments through out their broadcasts. These assumptions about the class background of your listeners are alienating.

Wolfgang Hauptman

Oct. 22 2012 12:36 PM
John A

Can this be traced to deregulation? That is, did our government once prevent this overuse of the market?

Oct. 22 2012 12:34 PM
Susan from nyc

Food stops being food when it is genetically modified and becomes poisonous.

Oct. 22 2012 12:33 PM

BTW Do you know,

who invented the word "beef?"

Oct. 22 2012 12:30 PM

Economists talk of "consumption smoothing" — the tendency of consumers to act to reduce extremes. It sounds like Mr. Kaufman is describing this "smoothing" taken to an absurd extreme (one that favors mass producers).

Oct. 22 2012 12:28 PM

is cow meat worshipped by most humans around the world largely because it is the the one food that is most consuming, complicated and therefore profitable? seems simple enough if one only puts on the cargill cap for a moment.

Oct. 22 2012 12:28 PM

To add to my comment about the use of food as a weapon, another regional example is found in Israeli attacks on Palestinian crops, especially olive and orange groves.

Oct. 22 2012 12:26 PM

This is some very SICK sh*t!!

Oct. 22 2012 12:26 PM

Sounds like food is frequently used as an economic tool and even as a economic weapon. This seems clearly to be happening in US-driven sanctions on Iran, where there is now fear over food and pharmaceutical shortages.

What seems to be changing on the broader scale is the degree to which this is now in the hands of individual corporations.

I wonder whether Mr. Kaufman sees any parallels to past events, like the English machinations that played a role in the Irish potato famine.

Oct. 22 2012 12:25 PM
Wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Bk

Tyson Foods has been charged with animal cruelty after videos of their animals being beaten were discovered. Mr. Kaufman is making a great case for Veganism.

Oct. 22 2012 12:24 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Are food corp's. tweaking plant varieties so they can apply for new patents when old ones expire, the way pharma co's. are doing with drugs?

Oct. 22 2012 12:17 PM

Which came first cheap industrial foods or food intolerance illnesses like celiac disease

Oct. 22 2012 12:10 PM

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