Books

Nick Rose (ed.)
Fair Food

Anyone who has looked closely at the network of farms, supply chains and retailers from which we get our food will find it difficult to disagree with Nick Rose’s assertion in Fair Food that the global food system is broken. The facts outlined in this edited collection are sobering: the world produces enough food to feed 12 billion people, yet millions go starving; it takes (on average) 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to grow and deliver one calorie of food energy; Australian farmers suicide at twice the national average; agriculture is a major driver of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Fair Food is just part of Rose’s attempt to change this picture: he is also a founder and the national co-ordinator of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, and the animating force behind the food politics documentary also titled Fair Food. Indeed, this book in many respects acts as an adjunct to the documentary: its introduction is the text of a speech delivered by Rose prior to screenings, and to an extent the book assumes readers are already convinced we need to change the way we grow, transport, sell and eat food.

Fair Food’s structure – a series of chapters by different authors, each introduced by Rose – vitiates its message, principally because Rose, as the book’s editor, has not imposed an overall shape to its argument. Instead, each chapter treads over similar ground: usually starting with an autobiographical section about how each author came to care about food politics, then a sprinkling of facts to demonstrate how broken the current system is, and wrapping up with a summary of the work each contributor is doing to change the system. This formula, repeated so often, rapidly becomes wearying.

It’s a pity, because each chapter contains some startling insights, sometimes delivered with real verve. Michael Croft links the brokenness of our food system to the logic of capitalism and neoliberalism, Angelo Eliades rhapsodises about the transformative potential of permaculture, and Tammi Jonas documents her transformation from a vegetarian to an ethical pig breeder and butcher with sparkling wit.

There is much to savour – political theory, memoir, passionate writing about food and eating. The collection’s organisation sometimes obscures its virtues, but Fair Food ultimately rewards readers who have the patience to search for them.  SZ

UQP, 304pp, $29.95

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 5, 2015 as "Nick Rose (ed.), Fair Food". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: SZ

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