cover image The End of Food

The End of Food

Paul Roberts, . . Houghton Mifflin, $26 (390pp) ISBN 978-0-618-60623-8

This potentially interesting investigation into the challenges of global food production and distribution is marred by the burial of its argument at the end of the book. Beneath a history of food (old news to any reader of Michael Pollan), factoid avalanches and future-tense fretting, Roberts (The End of Oil ) makes a familiar plea for rethinking food systems. When the author illustrates his points with actual players, the narrative becomes affecting and memorable: a French meat packer shows how retail powerhouses dictate prices; a Kenyan farmer demonstrates how “hunger-ending” technologies are often poorly suited to the climates, soils and infrastructures in malnourished regions. Unfortunately, these anecdotes are overshadowed by colorless recitations of Internet research and data culled from interviews. Roberts worries about our “vast and overworked [food] system” and proffers the usual solutions: eat less (land-based) meat, farm more fish, support regional (not just local) agriculture and pressure food policy makers to fund research into more sustainable farming methods (including genetic modification). Despite the undeniable urgency of the issue, Roberts’s arguments are as commonplace as his prescriptions. (June 4)