13 October 2016

(A kind of) Review: Not On the Label by Felicity Lawrence

Genre: Food writing.
Reading challenge:  The 2016 Nonfiction Reading Challenge, hosted by The Introverted Reader
Challenge tally: 4 books.

I love to read food books, both foodie memoirs and cookbooks, but this is a different kind of food book - one designed to inform and make you think about what you eat and how you shop for it.

The subtitle of this book is "What really goes into the food on your plate". It might lead you to believe that it's all about food additives and such (they are mentioned occasionally, and discussed - stomach churningly - in some detail in the last chapter) but it is actually an investigation of the whole system of mass food production, from crop to factory to distributors to shop to consumer, with a focus on intensively grown/farmed foods like vegetables, fruit, coffee, chicken and shrimp.

The situation Lawrence describes is that of the UK, but much of it is valid for any western country, and I have no doubt it is at least partially true for Iceland. I know I will not look at chicken, salads and apples the same way again after reading this book, nor at supermarket chains and processed food.

Lawrence describes wide-spread human rights abuses in the food industry, dubious, unethical and sometimes downright crooked food production practices (additives are only part of it), how food retailers have a stranglehold on food distributors who in turn have a stranglehold on food producers who have a power of almost life and death over the itinerant workers they need to harvest and sometimes process their products, and practices by the world's largest food producers that have a huge negative impact on the lives of farmers in poor countries.

It's all anger-inducing, and one feels helpless in the face of such entrenched and widespread bad practices, but in the afterword she does offer some ways in which ordinary people can try to work against the systematic abuses detailed in the book, such as buying organic - not from supermarkets - buying fair trade - again, not from supermarkets - and buying local.

Would I read it again? No, I don't think so, but I would definitely read a more recent book on the same subjects, to find out if there have been any developments since Lawrence was researching this subject.

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