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The Politics of Food.

The Politics of Food

Lien ME, Nerlich B, eds. Berg, Oxford, 2004, 244 pages, $62.00, ISBN 1-859-73853-2

On first glance I had to wonder whether the world needed yet another book called 'The politics of food'. Like 'Food for thought' or 'You are what you eat', the title did seem to be one that had been tried several times before (an issue that is in fact the subject of this book's last chapter). My doubts were dispelled, however, as soon as I looked at the contents page. For here is not another book on food politics--the argy-bargy, pushy-shovy policy-making processes around food regulation and legislation (a spectacle once likened to watching sausages being made, i.e. not for the squeamish). This is instead a book about the 'personal as political' and food as a lens for culture difference. This different slant on food politics no doubt arises because the book was developed as an edited collection from a workshop of the European Association of Social Anthropologists. And anthropologists tend to look at the world rather differently from sociologists and public health nutritionists.

The book is divided into three sections each containing three to four chapters. Section 1 deals with food, risk and blame. I particularly liked the chapter written by Brigitte Nerlich on how the UK media developed a rhetoric of blame about cheap food as the cause of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. Section 2 examines nation and nurture, or as it says in the blurb, 'the role of food as a mediator between body, place and nation'. Included in this section is a chapter on the French reception (not) of genetically modified crops as a specific point of resistance to American dominance of the international food trade. The role played by Jose Bove in all of this is fascinating reading. Bove who, when he is not trashing McDonald's restaurants--a habit that landed him in jail and in so doing elevated him to martyr status within the anti-globalisation movement--is a producer of sheep milk for the queen of cheeses, Roquefort. He was also an instigator of Operation Roquefort, a crafty and pungent piece of media choreography played out at the Seattle WTO meeting in 1999. But you will have to read the book to find out more. The last section, titled 'Global rules, routes and access' concerns the internationalisation of food and food activism. One chapter here refers to international campaigns against consumption of so-called 'taboo' foods: dogs, whales and ... kangaroos. I learned a lot about Viva! a UK organisation that campaigned to bring kangaroo meat importation into British supermarkets to its knees in the late 1990s. Another chapter in this section is written by Lawrence Busch, whose work on science and regulation is always a joy to read. Here Busch discusses the social construction of food safety. The last chapter written by Anne Murcott cleverly shows how our concerns about food and politics have changed over time, by reference to the content of earlier books with the same title as this one.

This book has many strengths: new material; original, international viewpoints; and excellent, lucid writing. It also has a great index (rare these days). Pricewise, at just over $60.00, it is excellent value. And weaknesses? Only a few. The book is probably suited more to postgraduate study than undergraduate, although some chapters would be highly accessible to newcomers to food politics. The anthropological nature of the book might not appeal to all readers, although it should be noted that the book is refreshingly free of the jargon and theory often found in this area. And some might quibble because this is not a how-to instruction manual.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in sociocultural aspects of food. It will be particularly valuable to students, researchers and academics looking for a fresh view of food, culture and politics.

John Coveney, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Public Health

Flinders University

Adelaide, South Australia
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Author:Coveney, John
Publication:Nutrition & Dietetics: The Journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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