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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Stuffed and Starved: From Farm to Fork the Hidden Battle for the World Food System
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on 23 October 2017
interesting text, smooth transaction
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on 30 April 2010
I have just finished this remarkable book, and will never be able to look at a supermarket in the same way. I have tried to be an ethical consumer, but this book shows just how difficult that can be in the current market structures. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to look behind where there food comes from. It is very well written, coherently argued, and accessible for those of us with a moderate understanding of economics. Thank you Raj. I'm off to buy your new book now.
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I find this a difficult book to review. The first half is an excellent introduction to the economic and political realities of the food system. It wasn't new to me - I studied development economics & politics for my degree and have maintained an interest ever since - but provides a clear overview. The concentration of power within the agricultural sector, the impact of aid programmes that have been as much about dealing with surplus production in the developed world and creating new customers for its goods is set out, the human and environmental effect of 'development', cash crops for export, GM crops, the distortions created by farm subsidies in the developed world, etc., are all explored. Surprisingly there is little about the machinations of the World Trade Organisation. The tale overall is profoundly depressing.

Unfortunately beyond that, for me, the book was a disappointment. Whilst I don't disagree with much of what he writes, too much of Patel's approach is hopelessly idealistic. He provides a good insight to the politics of food but doesn't offer up any viable, practical solutions.

Patel's final chapter sets out his conclusions and what we need to do to change the situation. I have to say, this chapter made me angry because the proposed "solutions" are so completely unrealistic. He says he isn't calling for a "return to a bucolic past" but that is precisely what he wants. He says we need to transform our tastes i.e. eschew the sugar, fat and salt laden foods produced by agribusiness; that we should eat locally and support locally owned businesses. Too much of this simply doesn't combine well with modern life. Farm shops and farmers markets don't offer the convenient locations and opening hours of the supermarket for working people. There is much to abhor in how the supermarkets deal with their suppliers, but it is too simplistic to blame them for everything. Consumers are complicit too - everyone wants cheap food.

It was with relief that after reams of discussion about our food choices, the Slow Food movement, etc that Patel finally mentions probably the most salient features in the rise of the supermarket: "The amount of time spent cooking and eating in UK homes, as elsewhere, has fallen dramatically. This has happened as a function of women's changing roles in the home...longer working and commuting hours, the availability of food that's quicker to prepare, and the strong sense that there are better things to be doing than making food." Later he writes of "the pace and rhythm of a world of work and leisure that cannot be sustained". He doesn't actually say it, but you are left with the feeling that women should return to the kitchen (all the evidence shows that women do the bulk of domestic work in the home so the burden will fall largely upon them).

Just a few pages from the end, the full extent of his flight from reality became obvious - "Challenging a local food architecture means re-thinking open space, and sprawl. Houses, schools, hospitals, offices and prisons would all have to change." This is the sort of student polemic that most people leave behind after exposure to the mess, ambivalence and compromise of real life. The upshot of his solution is to unravel the social changes of the last seventy years and completely change the world economic & social system. Whilst that system is flawed, wholesale change is simply not going to happen and we need to find ways of addressing the worst of the problems from within the existing system. Anything else is wishful thinking and almost certainly doomed to fail.
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on 22 January 2008
Superbly written, well researched, and ambitious in its scope, Stuffed and Starved is an eye-opening exploration of capitalism's logic when it comes to food.
The title comes from the striking fact that Patel takes as his starting point - that there are 800 million hungry people in the world, and a billion overweight people. He proceeds to unpack this fact in the rest of the book, touching on the rise of ubiquitous ingredients such as soy or corn syrup, supermarkets, genetic engineering, and the economics at work behind these developments. I found the sections on the supply chain particularly good.
Patel doesn't need to ram his points home or play the guilt card. He presents the facts and the need for change is evident. Those changes, he suggests, include eating locally, rediscovering food as a pleasure, breaking the power of supply monopolies, and ensuring a living wage for everyone along the chain of production.
As a writer based in South Africa who has worked for the World Bank, Raj Patel is well placed to speak to both sides of the development debate. He has done so compellingly, and I will keep an eye out for anything he writes in the future.
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on 5 December 2007
I've found this book amazing. I've read it, and read it again, and got it for the Christmas socks of those who are willing to see beyond the shelves of the supermarkets. If you are a supermarket customer, if you have an opinion on GM crops, whatever this opinion is, if you would like to know more about what you eat and drink, where it comes from and why you eat and drink it, then this book is definitely for you!
Extremely well documented, this is a life-changing experience. I can't wait for the next one. Good on you Raj!
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on 5 October 2007
Having read some of Patel's very highly regarded journalism and academic work in South Africa I ordered this book with high expectations. I wasn't disappointed. This book is exceptionally well written and an absolute pleasure to read. But, more importantly, is is one of the very few of the popular anti-globalizations books written from the global South - this book is genuinely internationalist. That's a very welcome relief.

It also brings together a dazzling range of facts and stories, perhaps a little bit like Mike Davis in its sometimes just plain awesome ambitions and scope.

And the actual content of its analysis, the politics of the global food system, is undertaken brilliantly. As far as I know this is the first serious internationalist critique of the global food system and its devastating. But its not just bleak - the stories of resistance are inspiring. It seems that this book will become something like the 'No Logo' for a new generation of activists and critical thinkers. I certainly hope so.

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on 4 May 2010
This is a brilliant book...details how the food corps direct and manipulate the systems they have set up in order to control prices,distribution and choice and have a direct impact on the evironment, indigenous peoples around the world, soil erosion, dangerous levels of pesticide use, starvation levels, obesity etc etc....
If you eat food...read this book....:-)
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on 25 September 2007
I searched hard for this book because I couldn't wait for it to come out in the USA. Normally when I work that hard to find a book, it doesn't live up to my expectations. S&S exceeded my wildest hopes for astonishment. Patel's radical hypothesis is that 1 billion starving and 1 billion fat is inevitable to the market logic of capitalism where a small number of corporations control the entire food growing, distribution, and selling network. Poor people are squeezed for every hour of labor, and rich countries are squeezed for every dollar they will spend, leading to an efficient system that runs poor farmers to the edge of starvation, and markets high-fat, cheaply made, poisoned food to the rest of us. Patel marshals an extraordinary range of evidence to show how this works at every level, and where the soft underbelly of this system is susceptible to positive change by grass roots movements. This would make an excellent documentary TV series. Much more enlightening than the other books I've read on this subject. I come away convinced that the greatest moral choice I can make is not how I vote or what I drive, but what I chose to eat.
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on 18 February 2008
A sweeping and passionate exposition of the global food system, 'Stuffed and Starved' is a masterly work that underlines why what we eat is so fundamental to who we are.

Patel's book lucidly and comprehensively deconstructs the idea that our current system is the only way, and the supermarket the only viable purveyor, to put food on our tables. He tracks the global food industry from grower to exporter, retailer to consumer, highlighting the many points at which the system is unsustainable, desperately exploitative, and, ultimately, frighteningly vulnerable.

Whether Patel is writing about urban gardening in south central Los Angeles, soy plantations in South America or the tragic plight of rural farmers in India, his voice is one suffused with a deep and lyrical compassion. And it's this humanity - and his hope that, however unlikely, another way lies within our reach - that makes 'Stuffed and Starved' truly special.

The best thing I've read since Naomi Klein's 'No Logo', Stuffed and Starved will shock, fascinate, anger and inspire you.
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on 29 August 2011
For me, Raj Patel is one of the greatest food-issues writers around because of the way he combines top-notch research with a patent personal investment in the justice issues at hand. This book is, besides from being important in theme and loaded with well-supported data, very 'readable'. Highly recommended on all counts.
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