Get Big and Get Out!

Many news stories from the first half of 2008 read like a page out of the Book of Revelation.  Rising grain prices were already leading to food riots in developing countries when a one-two punch, in the form of Cyclone Nargis and a series of tornadoes and floods, devastated the rice crop in Burma and corn production in the Midwest.  When food wasn’t too expensive, it frequently made people ill, such as in the salmonella outbreak that sickened customers and caused restaurants and grocers to dispose of several varieties of tomatoes in more than a dozen states, although the cause of the outbreak has yet to be determined.

Paul Roberts, with The End of Food, is here to tell the eating public that the problem isn’t as bad as the media make it seem—it is, in reality, much worse.  The book is a searing indictment not only of the dominant methods of food production, but, implicitly, of the political and media culture, which does a great job of reporting on flag pins and flip-flops but drops the ball when it comes to serious issues.

American agriculture has for decades been geared toward producing large quantities of commodities at low prices.  Roberts quotes the two secretaries of agriculture who most explicitly articulated the guiding philosophy of American agricultural policy in the post-World War II era—Ezra Taft Benson (“get big or get out”) and Earl Butz (plant...

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