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The 13 Most Dynamic Minds in Food Politics You Should Know

By: Vanessa Barrington
Published: ecosalon/November 6, 2008

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know that everything you put in your mouth has an impact on the environment. Because our global system is interconnected, your food choices also affect farmers and eaters across the globe. Eating is not just an individual act; it’s also a political act.

Here’s a who’s who of smart people in food politics and policy, along with some of their must-read books. One of these people also appeared on Sarah’s recent post on 15 must read books. They all approach the issues very differently, so there’s something for everyone here. Please leave a comment if I’ve missed anyone!

-Wendell Berry is a farmer, poet, novelist, essayist and cultural scholar. He has called eating “an agricultural act”. His work is brilliant, beautiful, and haunting. His essays about the cultural, economic, and environmental destructiveness of industrial agriculture are devastating and important works.

-Ann Cooper is known as the Renegade Lunch Lady for her efforts to transform the cafeteria food in our nation’s schools. She’s written several books including Bitter Harvest about the relationship between food, politics, and health. Her most recent book Lunch Lessons is about changing the way we feed our children.

-Husband and wife team, writer Faith D’aluisio and photographer Peter Menzel have collaborated on many books on various subjects. The one I want to mention here is Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. It’s a collection of photo essays depicting families all over the world photographed together with every morsel of food they have to eat for a week. The pieces are stunning and at times deeply disturbing snapshots in time depicting the poverty in some parts of the world alongside the abundance in others. The stories about the families and their lives are riveting. This book has not left my coffee table since it was published in 2005.

-Brian Halweil is the Senior Researcher for the Worldwatch Institute. He studies agriculture, the environment, population, and much more. He recently authored a report on the world’s oceans, and he wrote the book, Eat Here: Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket.

-Sandor Ellix Katz is known for his book Wild Fermentation, about live culture foods. He also wrote a rousing account of people all over the country bucking the status quo of our dominant food system. That book is called The Revolution Will Not be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements.

-Frances Moore Lappé started this whole thing with her seminal book, Diet for a Small Planet. First published in 1971, the book advocated vegetarian eating as a way to use the earth’s resources widely and stay healthy. This book pointed out to people the inherent inefficiencies in meat production. Frances Moore Lappé now runs the Small Planet Institute with her daughter Anna Lappé. (See below).

-Anna Lappé founded the Small Planet Institute with her mother Frances Moore Lappé. With her mother she wrote Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet and she wrote Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen Bryant Terry (see below). She’s working on a book about food and climate change.

-Gary Nabhan, PhD is a scholar, teacher, writer, folklorist, conservationist, and food and farming advocate. He’s a prolific writer on many subjects. His recent book, Where Our Food Comes From – Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine is a fascinating look at the origins of our food and shows how climate change, free trade policies, genetic engineering, and loss of traditional knowledge are threatening our food supply.

-Marian Nestle is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. Her blog is on my daily reading list. Her books Food Politics, What to Eat, and Safe Food untangle food policy into readable layperson prose and expose the food industry’s role in what we eat. Her latest book is Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine.

-Raj Patel has been an activist, academic and policy analyst in food, agricultural and land use policy all over the world. He’s worked with NGOs and institutes and earned his PhD, publishing multiple academic papers. Most people had never heard of him until he burst on the scene with his book Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. The book sits on my shelf waiting to be read, but I’ve heard him speak, and trust me, he’s brilliant. He’s a visiting scholar in the Center for African Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, a Fellow at the Institute of Food and Development Policy and a Research Associate at the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

-Michael Pollan: Most of you have no doubt heard of this gentleman. It’s worth a reminder to check out his books if you haven’t already. His latest is In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Most famous, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, which shows up on Sarah’s list. Extra credit if you’ve read The Botany of Desire, a beautiful book about how plants have evolved.

-Vandana Shiva is among my heroines. I once went to hear her speak two nights in a row. Among many things, she helps farmers fight back against the Monsantos of the world by starting seed saving banks, speaking out, advocating, and writing about the plight of small farmers in countries all over the world, particularly in the global south. She’s a powerful anti-globalization activist and feminist. Not to mention a prolific writer. I haven’t read my way through the collection yet.

-Bryant Terry is a great chef and food justice advocate who works to bring healthy food to low income young people. He’s a Food and Society Policy Fellow with the WK Kellogg Foundation and co-author with Anna Lappé of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen. (See above). He’s working on another book called Organic Soul.

Who else should be on this list? Let us know!


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