The Food System - a guide

Geoff Tansey & Tony Worsley: The Food System – a guide, Earthscan 1997, £13.95 (although also available for £2.16), 259 pages

Although this excellent book is now 8 years old it is still a good introduction to the food system. The basics are still the same today. However, it would be worth updating the book as certain things have changed since it was written: like the spread of food banks and the growth of community food businesses.

Our food system is now a global market, with the biggest and richest players setting the rules. The book explains how this global food system is primarily aimed at benefitting the rich countries and a few global food corporations.

There is a good description of how the food system interacts with the biosphere (water, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and minerals), how soil is over-intensively used and depleted at an alarming rate across the world. “Throughout the world’s arid zones, half a million hectares of irrigated lands become desertified each year…”

The book gives a short history of how humans obtained food – from the first hunter-gatherers to today, what they ate when. It describes the first, second and third food revolution.

Food is not just eaten for its nutrias value. It is very much related to our culture and certain food affects the brain (like a feeling of pleasure – which can lead to addiction) Social status also affects what you eat.

The second part of the book looks at the key actors – from production, transport, processing and retailer to consumer. The general trend is toward concentration into fewer bigger players: bigger farms, bigger corporations, and bigger retailers. In such a system the consumers have limited powers.

Part three of the book looks at food control, tool for control, food law and policies and what new policies should include.

Although the book describes the global food system there is also a lot of details on the specific UK situation. It is a book than can empower the reader.