Feeding Frenzy: The New Politics of Food by Paul McMahon

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Feeding Frenzy: The New Politics of Food by Paul McMahon

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Buy Feeding Frenzy: The New Politics of Food by Paul McMahon at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A very readable and important book about the availability of food. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 356 Date: March 2013
Publisher: Profile Books
ISBN: 978-1781250341

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It's predicted that the world's population will reach nine billion by 2050 and given that there are regular appeals for money to relieve a famine in some part of the world it's not unreasonable to wonder whether or not we will be able to feed nine billion people. Recent turmoil in food markets adds to the worry, but the truth is that we could feed that number people now if different approaches were taken and there was cooperation rather than an unseemly scramble to secure access to food even if this results in starvation for the neighbour. Paul McMahon looks at how in this very readable book.

To know where we're going you have to know where we've come from and there's a comprehensive history of the global food system which clearly points up the yawning gaps in where we are today. There's a fascinating look at exactly where the world's food comes from and then a look at why there's a crisis. It's not down to one single factor - richer diets, more extreme weather events, the advent of biofuels and ecological limits have all had an effect of the price of food. Explanations are clear and there's absolutely no jargon: all you need to read this book is interest in the subject.

There's an interesting look at the doom mongers of the past, such as Malthus, along with a stock take of the planet's resources. I liked the fact that what seemed like obvious solutions were examined in some depth and there's a rational look at the world's resources. I was terrified when I read about reactions to the current situation: common sense should dictate that we can cope if we cooperate but instead of that countries are indulging in land grabs (or frequently 'water grabs') and panic buying. It's a classic example of how it shouldn't be done. There's a lot of information on trading in futures, which might sound dry, but it's the best explanation I've read and everyone should be aware that there are a lot of people making money NOT out of producing food but out of gambling on the price.

The suggestions as to better ways to feed the world are sensible. Effort and good will could make a great difference - but I'm afraid that's something I certainly wouldn't gamble on.

I do have a quibble with the book though and although it didn't spoil my enjoyment it meant that I couldn't relax into reading it in quite the way I would have wished. It's on page 89 that the author cautions us about falling for dodgy statistics and this crystallised my worry. Very early in the book (page 20) McMahon tells us that A dairy cow in 1900 could produce 2,000 litres of milk a day; now, with enough feed, she can yield up to 10,000 litres. Somehow, I don't think this can be right. Average yields in the UK are in the region of 7,000 litres per annum. I read it - mentally wrote it off as being wrong (or if not wrong certainly lacking sufficient explanation) but it left me uneasy in other areas where the situation with regard to statistics wasn't quite so obvious.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

You'd think that we could learn from history - but anyone who isn't certain about what playing food politics can do should think about the Irish Potato Famine of the nineteenth century.

Buy Feeding Frenzy: The New Politics of Food by Paul McMahon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Feeding Frenzy: The New Politics of Food by Paul McMahon at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Feeding Frenzy: The New Politics of Food by Paul McMahon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Feeding Frenzy: The New Politics of Food by Paul McMahon at Amazon.com.

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Paul McMahon, the author said:

Thank you for your excellent review of my book. I wanted to clarify the factual error that you point out towards the end of the review. The correct statistic is, of course, that a dairy cow can produce between 2,000 and 10,000 litres of milk a year, not per day. This error somehow crept into the text during the drafting phase, but it will be corrected in the next edition of the book. Congratulations on spotting it - a sign of a very thorough review!

Regards,

Paul McMahon