angela's Reviews > Stuffed And Starved: Markets, Power And The Hidden Battle For The World Food System

Stuffed And Starved by Raj Patel
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's review
Aug 16, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: politics, non-fiction, favorites
Recommended for: Everyone
Read in August, 2008

Saying: READ THIS BOOK! is the most logical place to begin this review. Seriously. Read it.

This is an incredibly nuanced look at the global food market. He addresses everything from rural poverty, failure, and farmer suicide (in the Global North and Global South) to the bottlenecks in our global food chain (mostly at the distributor and retailer level, where distributors are increasingly the same people as the retailers) to supermarkets to worker's rights and movements to obesity to monoculture farming.

It sounds all pretty routine, but the way he addresses them are incredibly nuanced and compelling. For instance, he addresses the rise of supermarkets and megastores in the Global South. On the one hand, they spell ruin for local stores and markets. But on the other hand, in rural South Africa it means convenience for poor women who will no longer have the time-consuming (and apparently unpleasant) task of traditionally preparing corn by hand and instead can buy it. Given these two options, women opt for the supermarket when they really wish for the means to process (mill?) the corn with machinery available to them.

Also, for instance, in addressing obesity his analysis goes beyond what we popularly read about "poor food choices" and "lazy people", etc. Instead, he takes aim at the ways in which the global food system is what reduces individual choice through a global system of low wages forcing people to work two jobs, double-shifts, overtime, etc. and rely on convenience foods, buy the cheapest foods, and the fact that supermarkets are less likely to locate in poor neighbourhoods and that when they do the food they stock are more likely to be those tied to obesity. I can't explain his entire argument here but rest assured, this is not a fatphobic analysis. In fact, he takes aim at bulimia and anorexia and gives a nod to the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.

He offers a range of examples for making change but is not blindly supportive of even the more positive choices we have. He criticizes the organic farming in so far as it's a primarily corporate affair and leads to monoculture, conventional industrial, low-wage farming practices, and food still being transporting over long distances. He is critical of fair trade practices supporting all of the above and additionally possibly only have the effect of throwing a "few extra pennies" at fair trade farmers without changing the global food market system and principally only allows farmers to hang on "a little longer". And he offers limited criticisms of Community Supported Agriculture Programs (CSAs), the kind that typically deliver a "basket" of fruits and vegetables coming from local farms to those who subscribe to the service. He finds examples of CSAs (I think he uses a mostly Californian examples) that tragically underpay undocumented workers who have no job security and often unsafe or illegal work conditions such as 12 hour days with minimal breaks.

He doesn't argue that we shouldn't support organics, Fair Trade practices (he often purchases fair trade, himself) or CSAs (he's a huge supporter of CSAs as a model for change throughout his book) but instead gives what I think is a fair critique of all of these things. And these things that need to be discussed or else the problems cannot be addressed.

The only critique I have about this book is that while he pays a great deal of attention to gender and women's rights/women's roles when it comes to production of food (and shows some amazing examples of how women can be further empowered through new farming practices and new food market models), I think he could stand to pay more attention in his discussion of the growing reliance on convenience foods to the fact that women primarily carry the multiple burdens of working, buying the food, preparing the food (in addition to caring for children) alone (or quite unequally). And for there to be a shift to more fresh ingredients, it will require more than "families" (a word that he uses frequently, without much discussion of what that means in practice) wanting to switch. It will require a shift in gender roles.

I have a secondary critique. He very briefly addresses industrial meat practices and the way they hurt individuals and the environment (never mind the animals) and he gives only a small mention and a footnote to the idea that perhaps vegetarianism (or greatly reduced consumption of meat) might also greatly improve our lot when it comes to global food markets, environmental resources, and food security. But given that he probably wants this book to remain accessible to the great number of people who cannot imagine being vegetarian (or don't buy the arguments), I can understand (but not quite forgive) this omission.

I'll end the same way I began this review. READ IT. Buy it. Visit the website (
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Calvin (new) - added it

Calvin I too have that book on my list of "to-read"...

angela I've gone the step of picking it up at the bookstore and I think I will start on it after World War Z (which is turning out to be fantastic!)

angela Calvin, did you ever read this? I have finally started reading it and I have to say, I like it so far.

message 4: by Calvin (new) - added it

Calvin I haven''s still being borrowed by other people at the library...

message 5: by E (new)

E Wow, this looks really great! It's been a long time since I've read anything comprehensive about food politics, since my second year at Trent I think. It's something I've been thinking about recently though as I'm trying to be better at actively promoting wealth redistribution in my own life - and food is a weak area for me. Even the organic/local stores in my neighbourhood aren't perfect since they're clearly one of the driving forces behind the blatant gentrification of the area. I'll have to read this sometime.

message 6: by Calvin (new) - added it

Calvin Well, that comment convinced me that this will be the next non-fiction book I read...

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