From hunting and gathering to GMOs and ultraprocessed foods, this tour of human history rewrites the story of our species—and points the way to a better future. A century ago, food was industrialized. Since then, new styles of agriculture and food production have written a new chapter of human history, one that's driving both climate change and global health crises. Best-selling food authority Mark Bittman offers a panoramic view of the story and explains how we can rescue ourselves from the modern wrong turn.
... matches our moment — evincing a necessary sense of urgency but also making no bones about the challenge before us ... Just recognizing the awe-inspiring scale of the problem has persuaded most writers to take on some narrower slice and go deep. But Bittman clearly relishes the mad ambition of his undertaking, often buoying the reader across waves of information with the sheer momentum of his narrative. If it feels a bit breathless at first, Bittman settles into his story soon enough, delivering a clear and compelling compendium of modern agriculture ... In particular, his rendering of the early mechanization of the American farm is epic and engrossing. We feel swept up in the promise and possibility of all that new technology, so much so that the turn from agriculture to agribusiness, though we know it’s coming, still delivers a crushing blow ... He doesn’t lapse into the polemic of some policy wonks who too often want to make every error seem foreseeable or the product of some unforgivable flaw ... These nuances not only allow us to approach policy issues with more complexity, they also temper our moral certainty. By the time Bittman reaches his final section, simply titled 'Change,' he has earned the right to damn the evident flaws of our system. He has the wisdom not to dwell on the shortsighted ambition that brought us here but rather to offer an equally evenhanded assessment of several failed attempts to undo our errors ... I’m freshly persuaded by Bittman’s framing.
Food maven Bittman (How to Cook Everything, 2019; How to Eat, 2020) turns his wide-ranging attention to how foods arrive on the nation’s home and restaurant tables. What he discovers is not appetizing ... Little in the present food world escapes his critical eye, but Bittman cautions against deterministic analysis, noting that food is inextricably interwoven with cultural, economic, geographic, and political issues ... Bittman advocates for agroecology, attentiveness to nature’s interlocking components by producers and consumers alike. Bittman’s work is certain to increase controversy over the future of food.
Animal, Vegetable, Junk covers the scope of human history, yet the historian’s hat doesn’t quite fit Mr. Bittman. Chapters lack narrative cohesion and central characters to help ground and guide the story. The Irish potato famine, the Indian cotton bubble and the effects of the Opium Wars on Chinese grain reserves are all stuffed into three consecutive pages. Less would have added more to the author’s argument.