Sustainable Agriculture, Can We Do It? Mark Bittman’s Discussion in ‘Animal, Vegetable, Junk’

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“We are what we eat,” that much is true when we talk about what constitutes us as human beings (at least, organically). I personally think that this book will be a nice complement to Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel in explaining the history of mankind. Many pieces of literature start analysing the history of mankind through the lenses of politics, geography and culture, but little of those which treating the roles of foods as the defining factor which constitute our civilisation.

According to many works of literature, our daily consumption began to change as humans began to practice agriculture which favours monoculture practices and sedentary lives, which finally contributed to the rise of the human population as well as more technological and cultural innovations. And this is the central theme repeated throughout this book, that we are basically f*cked-up with our current food system, whose purpose is no longer to provide nourishment to the people, but rather generating more profits for the actors behind the heavily-industrialised food industry. Capitalism is one thing to blame in this book as it promises everlasting economic growth, an idea that at times threaten the sustainability of nature.

Basically, Mark Bittman has two proposals in this book. First and foremost, there is the need for the whole agricultural and food industry to change their system, by relying less on technology and follows the traditional practices in many parts of the world that have been proven more sustainable. At times, this first proposal would need the backing of government support or some powerful local actors who are able to influence government decision in passing some legislation that could benefit small and local farmers. The second proposal is addressed more on the consumers, to change their habits and eating fewer junk foods which contribute to many of our chronic diseases. This is less sound, and the author himself acknowledges that changing our habits is not an easy task especially when we are educated in a culture that favours instant edible foods and there are countless supplies from the industry.

Most of Mark Bittman’s ideas in this book are depressing. And it will be more depressing if you read it while eating your big burger procured from the closest McDonald’s franchise while drinking ultra-sugared Diet Coke (I wouldn’t recommend both). Mark Bittman tries to avoid statistics in his book, but each paragraph speaks volume about the danger we have been in and the need to advocate for more sustainable agricultural practices which cause fewer harms to nature and farmers. If you are afraid that this book will all be on the negative sides of our food security, there will be a penultimate chapter which discusses the positive achievements in some parts of the world to regulate better foods for society, which I think deserve more mention in this urgent discussion.

Overall, this is a really enjoyable book for me and changed my view regarding the food industry and our daily food consumptions. However, it remains curious as to how the author’s ideas could be implemented in influencing several parties that have been benefited from the status quo in the food industry. I could easily imagine there will be many parties whose positions will be threatened by the existence of this book (maybe they will hire some researchers to publish books or articles to counter the ideas).

Disclaimer: I received the electronic Advance Readers Copy from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Title: Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal (by Mark Bittman)

ISBN: 9781328974624

Edition Language: English

Published: 2 February 2021 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Format: Hardcover, 384 pages

A creature who refuses to be who he is, is still in the process of learning the art of losing, speaks Newspeak unless specified otherwise