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When it comes to food, Americans seem to have a pretty great deal. Our grocery stores are overflowing with countless varieties of convenient products. But like most bargains that are too good to be true, the modern food system relies on an illusion. It depends on endless abundance, but the planet has its limits. So too does a healthcare system that must absorb rising rates of diabetes and obesity. So too do the workers who must labor harder and faster for less pay.
Through beautifully-told stories from around the world, Kevin Walker reveals the unintended consequences of our myopic focus on quantity over quality. A trip to a Costa Rica plantation shows how the Cavendish banana became the most common fruit in the world and also one of the most vulnerable to disease. Walker's early career in agribusiness taught him how pressure to sell more and more fertilizer obscured what that growth did to waterways. His family farm illustrates how an unquestioning belief in "free markets" undercut opportunity in his hometown.
By the end of the journey, we not only understand how the drive to produce ever more food became hardwired into the American psyche, but why shifting our mindset is essential. It starts, Walker argues, with remembering that what we eat affects the wider world. If each of us decides that bigger isn't always better, we can renegotiate the grand food bargain, one individual decision at a time.
Part I: Taking Stock
Chapter 1. The Third Relationship
Chapter 2. My Food, My Way
Part II: Forces Driving More
Chapter 3. More is Never Enough
Chapter 4. An Infinite Supply of Finite Resources
Chapter 5. Expecting More, Committing Less
Chapter 6. Science À La Carte
Chapter 7. Becoming a Market Society
Part III:Unexpected Consequences
Chapter 8. The World’s Safest Food
Chapter 9. The Perfect Formula
Chapter 10. Controlling Nature
Part IV: Decisions You'll Make
Chapter 11. Live and Learn
Chapter 12. To Lead or Be Led?
Kevin D. Walker grew up farming, worked in agribusiness, at the US Department of Agriculture, internationally with not-for-profit organizations, and as a professor at Michigan State University. He has served on two committees with the National Academies Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, and collaborates with foreign governments and the World Trade Organization on meeting health requirements in international trade.
"Former farmer, agriculture and agribusiness expert, and professor Walker reveals the truth about this presumed never-ending food abundance [...] Ultimately, Walker emphasizes the fact that people do have the power to shift the scales back to quality food choices, which will positively affect farming, economic development, and the environment around the world. An enlightened view of global food policies and the changes necessary for a viable future."
"Compelling and revelatory. Kevin Walker combines decades of on-the-ground experience as an agribusiness expert with the sweeping analysis of a historian. What emerges is an urgent and entirely new understanding of our modern food supply."
Christopher Leonard, author of The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business
"A former USDA insider's account of what our Grand Food Bargain – a system focused on ever-increasing production of cheap food – actually costs Americans in poor health, environmental degradation, and loss of agrarian values and community. Walker's views are well worth reading for his insights into how our food system needs to be transformed."
– Marion Nestle, Professor Emerita at New York University and author of Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat
"The Grand Food Bargain by Kevin Walker pokes a hole in our Red Barn Syndrome, America's romantic notion of farming. Walker calls out Big Ag and its self-assigned duty to 'feed the world', which justifies practices that aren't environmentally or scientifically sound. The Grand Food Bargain is a call to rethink everything we think we know about what we eat."
– Peggy Lowe, Investigations Editor at Harvest Public Media and NPR-affiliate KCUR
"This book is downright brilliant. Walker's deep insights and analysis steer the reader to positive and unforetold conclusions. He shows us that food markets are not inexorable, that consumers have choices, and that societal deals we eaters have settled for in the past need not be the nutrition milieu we bargain for in the future."
– Paul Terry, CEO and President, Health Enhancement Research Organization and author of Well-Advised: A Practical Guide to Everyday Health Decisions