This review is of another engaging account of our current food system and its major Achilles’ heel (s). Food Wars by Tim Lang and Michael Heasman is the most comprehensive review of the modern food production and the ways it affects and is affected by food policy and law, public health, economy and environment I have read to this date. The name of the book reflects its major premise – three food paradigms are currently at war for the privilege to shape and govern our future food ways. Within the Productionist Paradigm, informed by the post–World War II experience of food shortages and fear of undersupply, increased agricultural output and abundance of food is an overarching goal. Although successful in achieving food cornucopia for the most of the world population, the paradigm with its emphasis on quantity over quality of food has led to drastic consequences for public, societal and environmental health. Authors argue that productionism has outlived itself and the future food provision strategy will be shaped by either the Life Sciences Integrated paradigm celebrating the application of new biological technologies to food production (genetic modification is an example) or the Ecologically Integrated Paradigm underscoring the interconnections of agriculture, nutrition and health (organic agriculture, sustainable consumption, localism all fall within the logic of this perspective). Each Paradigm is considered in terms of the challenges it faces, benefits it promises to deliver and, importantly, its approach to public and global health.
One of the major themes in the book is an issue of public health and nutrition: the roots of present-day population health challenges are traced back to the inadequate approach to food provision and agriculture which has resulted in over-production, overabundance and overconsumption of products with ever decreasing nutritional qualities. Obesity as a major public health issue as well as policy and industry responses to it are discussed in details. The book also informs a deep understanding of the structure of industrial food supply system, its origins and transformations it has gone and is currently going through. The book also takes a close look at the other end of the food chain – consumers – with consumer culture being the subject of a separate chapter.
Finally, authors outline and thoroughly consider the multitude of issues that are to be addressed by the future food policy: biodiversity, ecological balance, environmental sustainability, public health, economic well-being – all at the mercy of the food paradigm that will win the global Food Wars and will come to govern the future of our food.
My strong feeling is that no one’s view of our food environment can remain undisturbed by this book and no one can escape a recognition that what matters today is not only what we eat and how much, but where and how it has been produced, manufactured and distributed and what implications this will have for the generations to come.