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Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives Paperback – 26 Mar 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (26 Mar. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099531682
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099531685
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 418,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"'Absolutely crammed with eye-opening facts and figures, a hugely readable account of the part we individually play in a global problem. Highly Recommended'" (Publishing News)

"Hungry City is a sinister real-life sequel to Animal Farm with the plot turned upside down by time in ways even George Orwell could not have foreseen" (Observer)

"Exuberant, provocative ... her desire that we understand better and think more about our food, how much we waste, how much energy it consumes and how we dispose of it - is in the real sense of the word - vital" (David Aaronovitch The Times)

"Hungry City is a smorgasbord of a book: dip into it and you will emerge with something fascinating" (Independent)

"She can précis her specialist sources briskly, and her own direct research (e.g. a mega kitchen for cooking ready meals) is lively" (Vera Rule Guardian)


`lively, wide-ranging, endlessly inquisitive book'

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Carolyn Steel has developed a well-exposed analysis of the inherent tension in the relationship between cities and their sources of, consumption of, and ultimately disposal of food products. The book draws towards a final conclusion that we are getting closer and closer to the breaking point in that tension as more people round the world continue their exodus to cities.

Throughout the book, she uses fascinating examples from our distant and not so distant history to illustrate the effects that she describes. The book is made rich by her examination of so many different aspects of the relationship between cities and food, from the role of government, to the architecture and structure of cities, to the role of cooking and the way that waste is treated.

Steel's analysis is an eye-opener, and has put into context for me the role of urban planning with regard to globalisation and sustainability.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By housing hound on 15 Jun. 2008
Format: Paperback
Whatever its mercurial promise of bright lights, shared experiences and multicultural exoticism, the city can be an isolating place. However: everyone's got to eat - and therein lies the opportunity both for life-enhancing human engagement and for equally life-sapping process-led commercialism. Carolyn Steel's book, which interprets the city through food, highlights both the despair and the hope implicit in the idea of the city. By her clever tracing of food's journey from land to urban table and thence to sewer, Steel makes us reflect on past and present social satisfactions and injustices which our most basic human need can inspire.

Contrast the image of joyless contemporary supermarket shoppers - strip-lit lone prowlers debating forlornly with themselves about which highly packaged factory offering to microwave tonight - with the heady possibility of outdoor urban market-goers discussing food, tasting and learning. It's clear which one we'd all rather participate in, and yet Steel urges us not to be misty-eyed about the turn of the 21st century emerging market culture either. London's Borough Market is described as `food tourism' - laudable, but not affordable - a middle class aberration rather than a sustainable way of life for most of us. This typifies Steel's approach to her two-pronged subject: she is not afraid to slaughter sacred cows in her search for authenticity and meaning. This search takes her from London to the Middle East, from high flown ritual to domestic minutiae and from the mediaeval dining table to McDonalds without exhausting or overwhelming the reader.

As I read through Steel's journey, many similar food-inspired conflicts on the despair/hope axis spring to mind and make me feel at once revolutionary and impotent.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mr Fipple on 1 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback
"Once you start to see the world through food, everything changes. Seemingly unconnected things turn out to be closely linked; apparently confusing relationships spring into relief. Food is one of the greatest forces shaping the world." (Hungry City; p308)

From the final pages of this book the above is a quote that really resounded with me. From a different line of reasoning upon different aspects of the human relationship to food I had come to think upon very similar lines to this summation of Ms Steels view but could never had articulated matters so succinctly.
Hungry City is a thoroughly researched and insightfully compiled commentary upon the relationship of food, food provisioning, and urban development. It is thought provoking and well grounded in analysis of historical associations and quotations that add gravitas to the arguments that are presented, and in so doing expands the potential range of viewpoint and interest that a reader might adopt.

I'd agree with the four foregoing complimentary reviews. People could take an interest in 'Hungry City' for quite different reasons and could derive great satisfaction from it for equally diverse reasons. It is a book that deserves much positive comment and, though undoubtedly a minority interest, it is a book that would benefit humankind for reaching a wider readership. But the book did not entirely fulfill my own expectations. Something in some promotional material that drew my attention to it had raised them. Perhaps I anticipated a somewhat more robust thesis and analysis of contemporary challenges along with clearer suggestions about how to address them. These are features that are present but I felt presentation and structure did fully develop coherency in some of the themes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Caleb Wooding on 25 Nov. 2013
Format: Paperback
Most people in richer countries these days live in cities, and over half of all people worldwide live in an urban area. This represents a fundamental shift in the way that people relate to the land, and to the food that they eat. In the past most people were responsible for growing their own food, now most people, living in cities, are dependent on other people for this.

Hungry City isn't very much about hunger, which as one of my main interests was why I had picked it up. So it was full of surprises, but I wasn't disappointed because most surprisingly, it was a lot of fun. The author, Carolyn Steel, is an architect as well as a writer, but she seems mostly to be interested in a broad and hard to define area called urbanism, which is like a mash-up of all of the subjects ever but with a focus on cities. I'm into urbanism as well, it's one of my main interests. You can see why I was drawn to this book.

Carolyn takes us on a wide-ranging journey through the homes and markets of the city and the surrounding areas that support it (warning: terrible pun ahead). Food for thought: have you considered that until we were able to transport food long distances without it spoiling, with planes or trains or refrigerated trucks, cities were basically forced to only grow as far as the land around could support them, or had to be by the sea and get their food from ships. Ships at the time were like spaceships to us, probably some of the most advanced technology in the world, going to places people could barely dream of visiting, and the most expensive things many people would come into contact with. I digress. So does Carolyn in this book. It's immensely enjoyable.

Hungry City touches on environmental matters quite openly and consistently.
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