“Outside the Box…” Discussion

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ATTACHED FILE(S)
Outside the Box: The Story of Food Packaging
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36
2
Born in the U.S.A.
The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture
Peter A . Cocl anis
These are fast times for foodies, salad days for farmers markets, boutique
producers, locavores, vegans, and the like. The words “local,” “organic,” and
“slow” have assumed the status of mantras among many pious eaters, ostensi-
bly facilitating spiritual transformations, even as “local,” “organic,” and “slow”
in the real world generally translate into inflated food prices and plummeting
agricultural productivity. There is a Food Network on TV; a lavish and lush
journal devoted to food, Gastronomica; and wildly popular websites such
as yelp.com, whose reviews can make or break restaurants anywhere in the
country. The study of obesity has become phat, and an entire new book genre
has emerged: commodity studies. Virtually every grain, spice, drink, and
tuber now has its historian. I can’t get too snide here, of course, for I myself
am working on rice! And in Chapel Hill, where I live, when the abbreviation
“CSA” is mentioned, more people—dollars to doughnuts (Krispy Kreme or
otherwise)—think of Community-Supported Agriculture than of the Con-
federate States of America. Who would have thunk it?
Not long ago, things were far, far different. Indeed, in the late 1980s agri-
culture seemed like yesterday’s news and the study of agricultural history
atavistic. Around that time I began compiling a list of stories, anecdotes, and
assorted (sordid?) facts suggestive of the diminishing hold of agriculture on
the cultural imagination in this advanced postindustrial country. In 1988, for
example, the venerable farm youth organization Future Farmers of America,
founded in 1924, officially changed its name to FFA, in part to appeal to a
broader “food system” constituency, in part, I suspect, because farming qua
farming seemed off-putting and somewhat déclassé to modern teens. Inter-
estingly enough, just a few years later—in 1991—Kentucky Fried Chicken
officially changed its corporate name to KFC for much thesamereasons: the
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
http://yelp.com
The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 37
company didn’t want to be associated too closely with the adjective “fried,”
which at the time was becoming similarly déclassé, at least among some
small but influential segments of the population. One intriguing, maybe even
hopeful countertrend: in 2007, the company began using the old name, Ken-
tucky Fried Chicken, as part of a corporate rebranding process in the United
States. We’ll see where it leads: stay tuned.
On the whole, though, the evidence I kept coming across suggested that
farming and farmers were long ago and far away. In 1998 a graduate-student
columnist wrote in the Daily Tar Heel, UNC–Chapel Hill’s student newspa-
per, that college was the time for young people to “sew” their wild oats, spell-
ing the infinitive s-e-w. The troubling fact that the grad student was in history
should be noted as well. In that same year, the actress Mary Frann—best
known for her role as Bob Newhart’s wife on the TV show Newhart—died.
In her New York Times obituary, a friend was quoted as saying that in the last
few years before her death, Frann had had “a hard road to hoe.” Asphalt or
concrete would prove quite difficult to hoe, I suppose.
Later in that same year, Auburn University changed the name of its
Department of Agricultural Engineering to the Department of Biosystems
Engineering. The Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled “Auburn Seeks to
Revamp Aggie Image” specifying the reasons for the name change. Accord-
ing to the piece, the old name wasn’t very appealing to prospective students,
who increasingly viewed agriculture in negative terms as “an unsophisticated,
low-technology field.” When an institution such as Auburn—Alabama’s
land-grant school since 1874—is embarrassed by its connection with farm-
ing, you know agriculture is in trouble.1
Before quitting the 1990s, one last gem. I myself recall, ruefully, a break-
fast gathering sponsored by the Agricultural History Society at a meeting
in Chicago of the Organization of American Historians. The crowd at the
meeting was modest. All ten or so of us in attendance were middle-aged or
aged white males—although I promise I was not wearing a string tie like two
or three others at the breakfast. Anyway, the meeting was going full bore (if
you know what I mean) when two very chic, well-dressed young women
slipped in and sat down at adjacent empty seats. They sat for about ten or
fifteen minutes, listening politely to us old white guys, when one of them
asked, again very politely, “Is this the Oral History Association breakfast?”
Alas, we said no, and helpfully pointed them to a room across the hall and
they were off, leaving us to gum the rest of our oatmeal and transact other
difficult business in the manner in which we had long—too long—been
accustomed.
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
38 Peter A. Coclanis
As I suggested at the outset, however, over the last fifteen years or so
things have changed—at least on the surface. Studying food has become
hot. Work on agriculture and agricultural history has picked up, even though
much of it relates not to the agricultural mainstream, but to fringe groups and
movements, outliers and anomalies, alternative practices and traditions, and
what is rather more environmental history than agricultural history per se.
And although interest in agriculture has grown of late, there is still evidence
out there that not everyone has gotten the message. In 2002 I was second
reader on a senior honors thesis in history, the writer of which stated at one
point that “in a capitalist society . . . one man weeps, the other sows.”2 At least
he spelled sow s-o-w. A few years back one of my senior colleagues in history
at UNC–Chapel Hill told me that he leaves farmers completely out of his
U.S. History since 1865 survey because they interfere with his course’s narra-
tive thrust; and historian Louis Ferleger has recently demonstrated that cov-
erage of agriculture (particularly southern agriculture) is steadily decreasing
in U.S. history texts. And in 2010, the American Farm Bureau Federation
(a.k.a. the Farm Bureau), then in its ninety-first year of existence, sold off its
web domain name, FB.com. Since the buyer was Facebook, and the price $8.5
million, we can perhaps cut the FB—the largest general farm organization in
the United States—some slack.3 But no breaks for the historians!
So what is the upshot of these introductory remarks? Just a throat-
clearing exercise or is there deeper intent? Although the author is never
the sole arbiter of these things, I am opting for the latter interpretation. I
started this piece by juxtaposing the rising interest in food, food studies,
and certain epiphenomenal features of agriculture with some evidence
regarding the lack of knowledge about or at times even interest in the
basics ofAmerican agriculture. W hy? Because disarticulation of this sort
hasdeleterious consequences, perhaps the most serious of which for
our purposes relate to interpretative distortions of various kinds about
American agriculture’s history, present condition, and future prospects.
Not that the surging interest in food is a bad thing in and of itself, but
without deeper grounding, the outgrowth of such interest, whether inten-
tionally or unintentionally, can be misleading and result in serious misin-
terpretation. In this regard the landscapes of Henri Rousseau, with their
distortions in scale and perspective, are somewhat analogous: they are
enriching, offering insights, but not closely related to material realities, to
the facts on and in the ground, as it were.
With these points in mind, what I hope to do in this chapter is to
make the case that despite the relative lack of interest today in normative
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
http://FB.com
The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 39
dimensions of American agriculture or in core themes in American agri-
cultural history, such topics are still important for many, many reasons.
The most notable of these reasons is that America’s development into a
postindustrial superpower, the world’s hyperpower to use a formulation
the French like to throw around, has been inextricably connected to our
country’s formidable record of success in the agricultural sector over the
centuries. My argument comprises four parts. First, I’ll try to generalize a
bit about the historical character of American agriculture and the principal
factors responsible for the robust performance of the American agricul-
tural sector over the past 350 or so years. The contours of American agri-
culture, as it were. Second, I’ll present some historical data illustrating the
long-term decline in the relative importance of the American agricultural
sector. Third, I’ll make the case that despite its declining relative impor-
tance the agricultural sector has proved central to American urbanization
and industrialization, indeed, to the process of economic development
more generally in the United States. Fourth, I’ll try to contextualize the
(growing) place of alternative farming in the American agricultural system.
In so doing I’ll spell out some of the impediments to its expansion and
establish its proximate bounds and limits.
The readers of this volume all are interested in food and agriculture and
likely have some degree of commitment to sustainable development. None-
theless, it is important to recall now and then that even in our voluntaristic
times there are a range of structural factors that circumscribe our actions,
however well-intended, if at times unrealistic and, I believe, self-righteous
they may be. In other words, then, with respect to food, Marx may have had
it about right when he wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
that “men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they
please.”4
With these considerations in mind, let us turn to the subject at hand:
the contours of American agriculture, so to speak. First, to the explanatory
factors, or, more properly, sets of factors most responsible for our agricul-
tural success over time. And here I’ll be adopting the rhetorical style of
economics rather than history, that is, privileging analysis over narration,
patterns over variations, and explanatory parsimony over thick description.
W hen we employ this m.o., four categories of variables come immediately
to mind in explaining our agricultural success over time: (1) resources;
(2) markets; (3) sociocultural values; and (4) institutions. Generally
speaking, all four categories of variables were extremely propitious for
agricultural success throughout most of our history; taken together, the
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
40 Peter A. Coclanis
patterning of these variables goes a long way toward explaining America’s
position of power and preeminence in the world today.
America’s resource “endowment” has been exceptionally favorable for
agricultural development throughout our history. With a huge inventory
of fertile, well-watered, and varied land, a person-to-land ratio very condu-
cive to productivity and prosperity, good access to financial capital most of
the time, and a heterogeneous population mix—European, African, Native
American, Asian—possessed of different and often complementary forms
of proprietary knowledge about farming, America’s agricultural sector has
generally been extremely well-positioned for farm-building, technological
advance, and development.5
For much of our history, moreover, the conjuncture of supply and
demand possibilities for most American agriculturalists has been conducive
to growth. With markets widening and deepening in the West over the past
three centuries as a result of increases in population and levels of urban-
ization and wealth, improvements in transportation, storage, distribution,
and communication, and the greater commercialization of human values,
demand for American foodstuffs has generally been strong, not only domes-
tically, but often internationally as well. It should be noted, moreover, that in
recent decades much of the growth in international demand for American
farm products has come from Asia. Even as Engel’s law began to kick in and
American families spent a smaller percentage of their income on food when
their incomes increased, American farmers were able to adjust by shifting
their output mixes to varying degrees toward agricultural products of greater
income elasticity (higher-quality meats, dairy products, and specialty fruits
and vegetables).6 The result of the conjuncture of strong demand and Amer-
ican farmers’ relatively elastic supply response—we shall outline some of
the reasons for the elasticity of supply momentarily—has generally been a
high-output, high-price equilibrium in American agriculture over sustained
periods of time in U.S. history.7
The elasticity of agricultural supply in the United States has histori-
cally been related closely to our last two categories of explanatory variables:
sociocultural values and American institutions, both of which have helped
to condition responsiveness to market signals and signs. From the time of
initial colonization and settlement, American farmers, by and large, have
been of an entrepreneurial bent and have responded pretty vigorously and
in what conventional economists would refer to as rational ways to price sig-
nals. There was seldom a backward-bending labor supply curve in American
agriculture, and most American farmers have pursued utility-maximizing
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
42 Peter A. Coclanis
industries is greater today than ever before, reaching an all-time high of
$992billion—5.5% of GDP—in 2015.9 What may be less clear, at least on
the surface, however, is the manner in which agriculture has supported,
underpinned, and reinforced urbanization, industrialization, and American
development more generally even as farmers and farming have receded both
from the fields themselves and from the American historical imagination.
There are, at the very least, four important ways in which agriculture
has played a crucial role in shaping, if not conditioning or even determin-
ing the pace and pattern of American economic expansion over the last few
centuries.10 First, because of our favorable factor endowment and the steady
stream of productivity gains in agriculture over time, food and fiber prices
in America have generally been very low in comparative terms. As a result,
Americans have traditionally spent a very modest proportion of disposable
personal income on food—in 2014 the figure was less than 10%, with about
5.5% spent on food consumed at home, and another 4.3% on food consumed
away from home. In percentage terms, Americans spend less of their incomes
on food than almost any nation in the world. Most people in developed coun-
tries spend twice as much in percentage terms, and in less-developed coun-
tries (LDCs) four to eight times as much.11 For the United States, low food
Table 1. agriculTure’s share of u.s. labor force
Year Percent
Ca. 1750 75–85
1800 74.40–83.30
1850 55
1900 40.02
1950 12.04
2016 1.37*
*Workers involved in crop production, animal production, and aquaculture
Sources: Edwin J. Perkins, The Economy of Colonial America (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1980), 41; Edwin J. Perkins, The Economy of Colonial America,
2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 57; Stanley Lebergott, The
Americans: An Economic Record (New York: W. W. Norton, 1984), 66, Table 7.3;
Thomas J. Weiss, “U.S. Labor Force Estimates and Economic Growth, 1800–1860,”
in American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War, ed. Robert
E. Gallman and John Joseph Wallis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992),
19–78, esp. 22, Table 1.1; Historical Statistics of the United States, Earliest Times to the
Present, Millennial Edition, ed. Richard Sutch and Susan B. Carter, 5 vols. (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2006), 2:101, Table Ba652–669; U.S. Department of
Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population
Survey, Household Data, Annual Averages,18b, Employed Persons by Industry
and Age, last modified February 8, 2017, https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18b.htm,
accessed May 18, 2017.
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18b.htm,accessed
The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 43
Table 2. agriculTure’s share of u.s. gross DomesTic ProDucT
Year Percent
1800 46
1840 40
1870 33
1900 18
1930 8
1945 7
1970 2
2006 0.9
2012 1
2015 1
Sources: Marvin Towne and Wayne Rasmussen, “Farm Gross Output and Gross
Investment in the Nineteenth Century,” in Trends in the American Economy in the
Nineteenth Century, ed. William Parker, Conference on Research in Income and
Wealth, National Bureau of Economic Research, vol. 24, Studies in Income and Wealth
(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1960), 255–312, esp. 265, Table1, Farm
Gross Product, Decade Years, 1800–1900; Historical Statistics of the United States,
Earliest Times to the Present, Millennial Edition, ed. Richard Sutch and Susan B.
Carter, 5 vols. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 3: 23–28, Table ca9–19,
Gross Domestic Product: 1790–2002, esp. 23; Robert E. Gallman, “Economic Growth
and Structural Change in the Long Nineteenth Century,” in The Cambridge Economic
History of the United States, ed. Stanley L. Engerman and Robert E. Gallman, 3 vols.
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996–2000), 2 (2000): 1–55, esp. 50, Table
I.14, The Sectoral Distribution of GNP 1840–1900; Carolyn Dimitri, Anne Efflund, and
Neilson Conklin, The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy,
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Economic Information
Bulletin, Number 3, June 2005 (Washington, D.C.: 2005), 2; U.S. Department of
Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Chart Gallery, What is Agriculture’s Share
of the Overall U.S. Economy?, November 25, 2014, http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-
products/chart-gallery/detail.aspx?chartId=40037&embed=True, accessed January
20, 2015; “Agricultural Output Climbed in 2013, Recovering from Drought,” New York
Times, June 20, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/business/economy/after-
a-drought-agriculture-climbs.html?_r=0, accessed June 30, 2015; U.S. Department
of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Ag and Food Sectors and the Economy
[2015], https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-
the-essentials/ag-and-food-sectors-and-the-economy.aspx, last updated May 5,
2017, accessed May 18, 2017. The author would like to thank Paul W. Rhode of the
Department of Economics at the University of Michigan for help in calculating the
estimate for1800.
costs mean that a large proportion of American income is “freed” for other
uses, whether for consumption of manufactured goods and services, leisure
activities, or investment of one type or another. To be sure, some would
argue that this percentage is too low, that negative externalities need to be
factored in via environmental accounting, but I assure you, almost every
other country in the world would love to start with our alleged problem.
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
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AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/detail.aspx?chartId=40037&embed=True
http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/detail.aspx?chartId=40037&embed=True


https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/ag-and-food-sectors-and-the-economy.aspx
https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/ag-and-food-sectors-and-the-economy.aspx
44 Peter A. Coclanis
Second, because many of the productivity gains in America have been
labor-saving (whether through mechanization or productivity-enhancing
biological inputs such as improved seeds, herbicides, and pesticides), many
workers were rendered redundant relatively early on in the agricultural sec-
tor. Although this often posed assorted short-term traumas and difficulties
for the affected workers themselves, technological change of this sort helped
create the labor pool necessary for America’s massive industrialization pro-
cess between 1850 and about 1960.
Third, the agricultural sector has proven to be a strong source of demand
for American industrial goods over time. Indeed, many urban factories across
the United States have kept busy producing machinery, implements, tools,
biological inputs, and transport, storage, and distribution facilities deployed
in/for the farm sector.
Finally, another huge part of the U.S. manufacturing sector has tra-
ditionally been involved in the processing of food and fiber produced on
American farms. Many of our biggest industries, historically and even
today— meatpacking, other food products, textiles, paper and pulp, liquor
and alcohol, leather, and so on—are all essentially processing industries for
raw materials produced in America’s farm sector.
If the American experience reveals anything at all about the general
process of economic development, it has, in fact, been the importance of
the linkage, the organic interaction, as it were, between the urban and rural
sectors, between factories and fields. In no place was this truer, historically,
than in the so-called manufacturing belt of the United States: broadly speak-
ing, the northeastern quadrant of the United States (the area east of the
Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River). In this region, commercial,
agriculture developed simultaneously with cities and manufacturing. Over
time, as agriculture developed (sending agricultural surpluses to the region’s
villages, towns, and cities), the urban centers and factories in the region
began to supersede outside suppliers of manufactures to meet the needs of
the region’s increasingly prosperous farmers as well as other denizens in the
region. Moreover, as the region’s farmers and manufacturers improved in
productivity and grew in scale over time, they themselves began to export
their products successfully to other parts of the United States and abroad. In
so doing, this process brought sustained prosperity to the region as a whole,
creating what has sometimes been referred to as our agro-industrial complex.
The agro-industrial complex, once created, spread to the Great Plains, before
jumping to California, a state that in agricultural terms drew inspiration
Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
01
9.
T
he
U
ni
ve
rs
it
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of
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o
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ab
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ig
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l
aw
.
EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 45
from—and in many ways came to resemble—Iowa and other midwestern
states for a considerable period of time.
For a century and a half this growing complex was the envy of the world
and in some ways still is. If the experience of the manufacturing belt was not
exactly a textbook case of what some development experts today call Agri-
cultural Development-Led Industrialization (ADLI), it was at the very least
an example of a “virtuous economic circle” established through the simul-
taneous and balanced interactions between market agriculture and regional
urban and industrial constellations.
The case of the U.S. manufacturing belt, and, to some extent, the case
of America more generally, should give pause to historians, economists,
and planners devising developmental strategies even today. The position of
agriculture may no longer be as visible here as it once was, but without a
prosperous rural sector—which in my view itself depends on a stable insti-
tutional setting with enforceable property rights—sustained and sustainable
industrialization, let alone development anywhere will be less a reality than a
hope and a dream.12 It is a hopeful sign, then, that over the past few years, two
of the world’s most powerful forces—the World Bank (whose 2008 devel-
opment report focused on agriculture) and the Gates Foundation—have in
the first case rediscovered agriculture and in the second case started paying
systematic attention to it for the first time.13
Now let us situate alternative agriculture and what some call the L-O-S
movement—local, organic, and slow—in this historical context. In order
to do so, let me start, perhaps a bit counterintuitively, by reiterating and
reemphasizing the close historical relationship in America between agricul-
ture and industry. Indeed, if we take our cue from historians of technology
and define industrialization broadly—and not equate it with machines or
even with manufacturing—what we need to focus on is a particular way of
thinking about and acting in the material world. Conceived in such terms,
industrialization can profitably be defined as the achievement and institu-
tionalization of historically high rates of productivity through the systematic
employment of scientific knowledge to transform the material environ-
ment into a flow of economically useful goods and services.14 Over time,
the employment of such knowledge in the material world has led to drastic
increases in economic productivity (the relationship of inputs to output),
which is the key to growth and development. Note also that when industri-
alization is conceived of in this way, one can talk without contradiction of
industrial agriculture emerging simultaneously with—or even as a precursor
Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
01
9.
T
he
U
ni
ve
rs
it
y
of
N
or
th
C
ar
ol
in
a
Pr
es
s.
A
ll
r
ig
ht
s
re
se
rv
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.
Ma
y
no
t
be
r
ep
ro
du
ce
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in
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ny
f
or
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wi
th
ou
t
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rm
is
si
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fa
ir
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se
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d
un
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r
U.
S.
o
r
ap
pl
ic
ab
le
c
op
yr
ig
ht
l
aw
.
EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 41
(if not profit-maximizing) strategies with method and vigor whenever
possible. In so doing, they have been helped by the institutional frame-
work in which they found themselves embedded: a framework, that is to
say, informed by strong legal support for contracts, private property, and
individual liberties and freedoms, and concerted governmental support
for prodevelopmental policies, broadly conceived (including agricultural
research and infrastructure). Indeed, the entire institutional apparatus in
America—constitutional arrangements, property laws, court decisions,
governmental fiscal and monetary policies, efficiency-enhancing levels of
regulation, and so on—has proven hospitable to bold developmental ini-
tiatives by farmer-entrepreneurs (nascent agribusiness people) across the
United States.
In America, then, we find enterprising farmers with adequate farm
finance situated on fertile, but relatively inexpensive land, operating for
the most part in a favorable market environment with strong institutional
support from the legal system and political/governmental order. Such
farmers were aided over time by increasingly taut supply chains marked
by ever- improving logistical systems and storage/processing facilities, and
by increasingly sophisticated financial/insurance mechanisms, the last of
which served important risk-reduction and income-smoothing functions.8
In such an economic and institutional climate, it is not surprising that
American farmers have been extraordinarily productive over time, regu-
larly bringing in impressive “harvests” of marketable crops and livestock
via increasingly efficient means. In so doing, they have enriched themselves,
gratified consumers, and greatly facilitated the economic development of
the United States. Even when taking into consideration the negative exter-
nalities associated with agriculture—ground and water pollution, aquifer
depletion, and so forth—one cannot gainsay the fact that over the centuries
the performance of the farm sector on balance has proved a terrific boon to
the United States.
The startling changes in the role and position of America’s agricultural
sector over time are captured well in some data, arrayed in tables 1 and 2,
on agriculture’s share of the American labor force and agriculture’s share
of U.S. domestic product. Although these data are rough, they do establish
some broad levels of magnitude.
As these data demonstrate, agriculture’s share of both the labor force
and gross domestic product has declined dramatically over the past two
centuries. Of course, in absolute terms—whether measured in dollars
or in sheerquantity—the market value of agriculture, food, and related
Co
py
ri
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t
©
2
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9.
T
he
U
ni
ve
rs
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of
N
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A
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s
re
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rv
ed
.
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no
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be
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ep
ro
du
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in
a
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or
m
wi
th
ou
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pe
rm
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si
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
42 Peter A. Coclanis
industries is greater today than ever before, reaching an all-time high of
$992billion—5.5% of GDP—in 2015.9 What may be less clear, at least on
the surface, however, is the manner in which agriculture has supported,
underpinned, and reinforced urbanization, industrialization, and American
development more generally even as farmers and farming have receded both
from the fields themselves and from the American historical imagination.
There are, at the very least, four important ways in which agriculture
has played a crucial role in shaping, if not conditioning or even determin-
ing the pace and pattern of American economic expansion over the last few
centuries.10 First, because of our favorable factor endowment and the steady
stream of productivity gains in agriculture over time, food and fiber prices
in America have generally been very low in comparative terms. As a result,
Americans have traditionally spent a very modest proportion of disposable
personal income on food—in 2014 the figure was less than 10%, with about
5.5% spent on food consumed at home, and another 4.3% on food consumed
away from home. In percentage terms, Americans spend less of their incomes
on food than almost any nation in the world. Most people in developed coun-
tries spend twice as much in percentage terms, and in less-developed coun-
tries (LDCs) four to eight times as much.11 For the United States, low food
Table 1. agriculTure’s share of u.s. labor force
Year Percent
Ca. 1750 75–85
1800 74.40–83.30
1850 55
1900 40.02
1950 12.04
2016 1.37*
*Workers involved in crop production, animal production, and aquaculture
Sources: Edwin J. Perkins, The Economy of Colonial America (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1980), 41; Edwin J. Perkins, The Economy of Colonial America,
2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 57; Stanley Lebergott, The
Americans: An Economic Record (New York: W. W. Norton, 1984), 66, Table 7.3;
Thomas J. Weiss, “U.S. Labor Force Estimates and Economic Growth, 1800–1860,”
in American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War, ed. Robert
E. Gallman and John Joseph Wallis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992),
19–78, esp. 22, Table 1.1; Historical Statistics of the United States, Earliest Times to the
Present, Millennial Edition, ed. Richard Sutch and Susan B. Carter, 5 vols. (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2006), 2:101, Table Ba652–669; U.S. Department of
Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population
Survey, Household Data, Annual Averages,18b, Employed Persons by Industry
and Age, last modified February 8, 2017, https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18b.htm,
accessed May 18, 2017.
Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
01
9.
T
he
U
ni
ve
rs
it
y
of
N
or
th
C
ar
ol
in
a
Pr
es
s.
A
ll
r
ig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.
Ma
y
no
t
be
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ro
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ce
d
in
a
ny
f
or
m
wi
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ou
t
pe
rm
is
si
on
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ro
m
th
e
pu
bl
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he
r,
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xc
ep
t
fa
ir
u
se
s
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rm
it
te
d
un
de
r
U.
S.
o
r
ap
pl
ic
ab
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yr
ig
ht
l
aw
.
EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18b.htm,accessed
The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 43
Table 2. agriculTure’s share of u.s. gross DomesTic ProDucT
Year Percent
1800 46
1840 40
1870 33
1900 18
1930 8
1945 7
1970 2
2006 0.9
2012 1
2015 1
Sources: Marvin Towne and Wayne Rasmussen, “Farm Gross Output and Gross
Investment in the Nineteenth Century,” in Trends in the American Economy in the
Nineteenth Century, ed. William Parker, Conference on Research in Income and
Wealth, National Bureau of Economic Research, vol. 24, Studies in Income and Wealth
(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1960), 255–312, esp. 265, Table1, Farm
Gross Product, Decade Years, 1800–1900; Historical Statistics of the United States,
Earliest Times to the Present, Millennial Edition, ed. Richard Sutch and Susan B.
Carter, 5 vols. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 3: 23–28, Table ca9–19,
Gross Domestic Product: 1790–2002, esp. 23; Robert E. Gallman, “Economic Growth
and Structural Change in the Long Nineteenth Century,” in The Cambridge Economic
History of the United States, ed. Stanley L. Engerman and Robert E. Gallman, 3 vols.
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996–2000), 2 (2000): 1–55, esp. 50, Table
I.14, The Sectoral Distribution of GNP 1840–1900; Carolyn Dimitri, Anne Efflund, and
Neilson Conklin, The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy,
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Economic Information
Bulletin, Number 3, June 2005 (Washington, D.C.: 2005), 2; U.S. Department of
Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Chart Gallery, What is Agriculture’s Share
of the Overall U.S. Economy?, November 25, 2014, http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-
products/chart-gallery/detail.aspx?chartId=40037&embed=True, accessed January
20, 2015; “Agricultural Output Climbed in 2013, Recovering from Drought,” New York
Times, June 20, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/business/economy/after-
a-drought-agriculture-climbs.html?_r=0, accessed June 30, 2015; U.S. Department
of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Ag and Food Sectors and the Economy
[2015], https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-
the-essentials/ag-and-food-sectors-and-the-economy.aspx, last updated May 5,
2017, accessed May 18, 2017. The author would like to thank Paul W. Rhode of the
Department of Economics at the University of Michigan for help in calculating the
estimate for1800.
costs mean that a large proportion of American income is “freed” for other
uses, whether for consumption of manufactured goods and services, leisure
activities, or investment of one type or another. To be sure, some would
argue that this percentage is too low, that negative externalities need to be
factored in via environmental accounting, but I assure you, almost every
other country in the world would love to start with our alleged problem.
Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
01
9.
T
he
U
ni
ve
rs
it
y
of
N
or
th
C
ar
ol
in
a
Pr
es
s.
A
ll
r
ig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.
Ma
y
no
t
be
r
ep
ro
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d
in
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or
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ou
t
pe
rm
is
si
on
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r
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ht
l
aw
.
EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/detail.aspx?chartId=40037&embed=True
http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/detail.aspx?chartId=40037&embed=True


https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/ag-and-food-sectors-and-the-economy.aspx
https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/ag-and-food-sectors-and-the-economy.aspx
44 Peter A. Coclanis
Second, because many of the productivity gains in America have been
labor-saving (whether through mechanization or productivity-enhancing
biological inputs such as improved seeds, herbicides, and pesticides), many
workers were rendered redundant relatively early on in the agricultural sec-
tor. Although this often posed assorted short-term traumas and difficulties
for the affected workers themselves, technological change of this sort helped
create the labor pool necessary for America’s massive industrialization pro-
cess between 1850 and about 1960.
Third, the agricultural sector has proven to be a strong source of demand
for American industrial goods over time. Indeed, many urban factories across
the United States have kept busy producing machinery, implements, tools,
biological inputs, and transport, storage, and distribution facilities deployed
in/for the farm sector.
Finally, another huge part of the U.S. manufacturing sector has tra-
ditionally been involved in the processing of food and fiber produced on
American farms. Many of our biggest industries, historically and even
today— meatpacking, other food products, textiles, paper and pulp, liquor
and alcohol, leather, and so on—are all essentially processing industries for
raw materials produced in America’s farm sector.
If the American experience reveals anything at all about the general
process of economic development, it has, in fact, been the importance of
the linkage, the organic interaction, as it were, between the urban and rural
sectors, between factories and fields. In no place was this truer, historically,
than in the so-called manufacturing belt of the United States: broadly speak-
ing, the northeastern quadrant of the United States (the area east of the
Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River). In this region, commercial,
agriculture developed simultaneously with cities and manufacturing. Over
time, as agriculture developed (sending agricultural surpluses to the region’s
villages, towns, and cities), the urban centers and factories in the region
began to supersede outside suppliers of manufactures to meet the needs of
the region’s increasingly prosperous farmers as well as other denizens in the
region. Moreover, as the region’s farmers and manufacturers improved in
productivity and grew in scale over time, they themselves began to export
their products successfully to other parts of the United States and abroad. In
so doing, this process brought sustained prosperity to the region as a whole,
creating what has sometimes been referred to as our agro-industrial complex.
The agro-industrial complex, once created, spread to the Great Plains, before
jumping to California, a state that in agricultural terms drew inspiration
Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
01
9.
T
he
U
ni
ve
rs
it
y
of
N
or
th
C
ar
ol
in
a
Pr
es
s.
A
ll
r
ig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.
Ma
y
no
t
be
r
ep
ro
du
ce
d
in
a
ny
f
or
m
wi
th
ou
t
pe
rm
is
si
on
f
ro
m
th
e
pu
bl
is
he
r,
e
xc
ep
t
fa
ir
u
se
s
pe
rm
it
te
d
un
de
r
U.
S.
o
r
ap
pl
ic
ab
le
c
op
yr
ig
ht
l
aw
.
EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 45
from—and in many ways came to resemble—Iowa and other midwestern
states for a considerable period of time.
For a century and a half this growing complex was the envy of the world
and in some ways still is. If the experience of the manufacturing belt was not
exactly a textbook case of what some development experts today call Agri-
cultural Development-Led Industrialization (ADLI), it was at the very least
an example of a “virtuous economic circle” established through the simul-
taneous and balanced interactions between market agriculture and regional
urban and industrial constellations.
The case of the U.S. manufacturing belt, and, to some extent, the case
of America more generally, should give pause to historians, economists,
and planners devising developmental strategies even today. The position of
agriculture may no longer be as visible here as it once was, but without a
prosperous rural sector—which in my view itself depends on a stable insti-
tutional setting with enforceable property rights—sustained and sustainable
industrialization, let alone development anywhere will be less a reality than a
hope and a dream.12 It is a hopeful sign, then, that over the past few years, two
of the world’s most powerful forces—the World Bank (whose 2008 devel-
opment report focused on agriculture) and the Gates Foundation—have in
the first case rediscovered agriculture and in the second case started paying
systematic attention to it for the first time.13
Now let us situate alternative agriculture and what some call the L-O-S
movement—local, organic, and slow—in this historical context. In order
to do so, let me start, perhaps a bit counterintuitively, by reiterating and
reemphasizing the close historical relationship in America between agricul-
ture and industry. Indeed, if we take our cue from historians of technology
and define industrialization broadly—and not equate it with machines or
even with manufacturing—what we need to focus on is a particular way of
thinking about and acting in the material world. Conceived in such terms,
industrialization can profitably be defined as the achievement and institu-
tionalization of historically high rates of productivity through the systematic
employment of scientific knowledge to transform the material environ-
ment into a flow of economically useful goods and services.14 Over time,
the employment of such knowledge in the material world has led to drastic
increases in economic productivity (the relationship of inputs to output),
which is the key to growth and development. Note also that when industri-
alization is conceived of in this way, one can talk without contradiction of
industrial agriculture emerging simultaneously with—or even as a precursor
Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
01
9.
T
he
U
ni
ve
rs
it
y
of
N
or
th
C
ar
ol
in
a
Pr
es
s.
A
ll
r
ig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.
Ma
y
no
t
be
r
ep
ro
du
ce
d
in
a
ny
f
or
m
wi
th
ou
t
pe
rm
is
si
on
f
ro
m
th
e
pu
bl
is
he
r,
e
xc
ep
t
fa
ir
u
se
s
pe
rm
it
te
d
un
de
r
U.
S.
o
r
ap
pl
ic
ab
le
c
op
yr
ig
ht
l
aw
.
EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
46 Peter A. Coclanis
of and catalyst for—the changes in mining and manufacturing technology
typically associated with the so-called Industrial Revolution.15
In America we can see the roots of industrial agriculture centuries ago.
Indeed, the industrialization of our economy as a whole began early on,
and the various sectors over time have shared many of the same character-
istics. For example, the first “big business” in America, as Alfred D. Chan-
dler Jr. pointed out long ago, was the southern plantation, and many of the
organizational and managerial strategies and structures developed on large
plantations—specialization, division of labor, scale economies, middle man-
agement positions, consolidated accounting—were adopted and refined in
the manufacturing sector later in the nineteenth century.16 Abstracting a
bit, it is undeniable that America’s most original historical contributions to
production technology over time have involved large units, and the efficient,
capital-intensive mass production of standardized products of low/average
quality at cheap prices. This is so whether we are talking about the produc-
tion of milling machines in New England in the early nineteenth century or
cotton production in the antebellum South, or about the “disassembly” lines
in the Cincinnati and Chicago meatpacking industries in the second half of
the nineteenth century, wheat production on the bonanza farms of North
Dakota in the 1880s and 1890s, or Model Ts at Henry Ford’s plant in High-
land Park, Michigan, in 1914.17 Or about the labor-deskilling innovations in
meatpacking introduced in the Midwest in the 1980s by IBP (now Tyson
Fresh Meats), the bête noire of labor unions, or about the “assembly” of food
at Taco Bell, Applebee’s, or Mickey D’s.18 What we traditionally do well is
bulk not batch, quick not slow, cheap not luxury, big box not boutique. Our
“industrial agricultural” system today involves much the same thing, to the
chagrin of Eric Schlosser, Morgan Spurlock, Michael Pollan, Ted Genoways,
and Barry Estabrook—and to the pocketbook advantage, if not delight, of
many hard-pressed consumers at home and abroad.
Now why do I pay so much attention to these matters in a section of a
chapter ostensibly devoted to alternative agricultures and L-O-S? Simply
put, in order to get readers to think realistically about food politics—politics
in a Bismarckian sense as “the art of the possible.” To underscore this point,
let’s do the numbers, as Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal might say. While boutique
farms and farmettes are all the rage with food romantics, the mean size of an
American farm in 2012 was 434 acres (168 in my home state of North Caro-
lina).19 Size and scale matter in American agriculture. Over 64% of cropland
harvested is produced on farms of over one thousand acres, and almost 80%
on farms of five hundred acres or more.20 The vast majority of American
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The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 47
farms make little difference in the marketplace. The smallest 75% of farmers
accounted for only 3% of the value of agricultural products sold in 2012, with
97% of farm sales in that year coming from the largest 25%. And that’s not the
half of it. The largest 4% accounted for 66% of the total value of agricultural
output in 2012, with the top 0.5% alone accounting for 32%.21
The small farmers at my local farmers market notwithstanding, boutique
farms are in the aggregate pretty much irrelevant to American agriculture as
a whole. Most small farmers today derive very little income from agriculture,
in any case: almost all income of so-called “farm” households actually comes
from nonfarm employment of one kind or another. Indeed, even consider-
ing all farmers in America—that is, even including large ones—on average
only 11% of household income for farm families in 2010 was estimated by
the USDA to come from agriculture.22 Without the largest farms, in other
words, America doesn’t really have a significant commercial agricultural sec-
tor, certainly not one capable of both feeding the U.S. population affordably
and exporting over $135 billion worth of agricultural products in calendar
year 2016, near our greatest total ever.23 So while I’m really not trying here to
channel Earl Butz, who as U.S. secretary of agriculture in the 1970s famously
challenged American farmers to “get big or get out,” I am trying to inject a
much-needed dose of realism into debates over farming in this country.
While many of us in North Carolina are enamored of our farmers mar-
kets, our custom producers, and our CSAs, what the Old North State is
important for, agriculturally speaking, is its pioneering factory hog farms
(“hog integrators”) and being among the nation’s leaders not only in hog pro-
duction (#2), but also in the production of tobacco (#1), sweet potatoes (#2),
poultry and eggs (#2), turkeys (#3), Christmas trees, and cucumbers; it’s a
leading producer of strawberries, bell peppers, upland cotton, and broiler
chickens as well.24 North Carolina is also important for being the site of the
Open Grounds Farm, which I doubt that many readers of this piece have
heard of. This low-profile, Italian-owned farm in Carteret County near the
coast produces huge quantities of corn, soybeans, and winter wheat, and at
roughly fifty-seven thousand acres in size is the largest farm east of the Mis-
sissippi River.25 Again, who would have thunk it?
At this point, some readers might be asking what about organic agri-
culture? To be sure, the sector has grown rapidly since the 1980s, albeit
from an infinitesimal base, and organic farmers on average are younger than
farmers practicing conventional agriculture. But in a macro sense organic
agriculture even today comprises a tiny share of American agriculture and
is of only marginal importance to most Americans. To be more specific,
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48 Peter A. Coclanis
according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistical Service, organic
food accounted for about 5.5% of the total value of agricultural sales in the
United States in 2014.26
And from my perspective, it’s not a bad thing that the organic sector is
tiny, because if it grew much larger it would not only raise food costs and
reduce the overall efficiency of the agriculture sector but would also lead
to potentially catastrophic environmental problems. As the distinguished
agricultural expert Robert Paarlberg of Wellesley College pointed out in 2010
in an influential article in the journal Foreign Policy, a complete switch-over
to organic agriculture would be nothing short of disastrous.27 To replace
the synthetic nitrogenous fertilizer currently used on American farms with
“natural” organic fertilizer, we’d have to increase the U.S. cattle stock fivefold.
If these animals were raised on organic forage, we’d have to convert much of
the land in the lower forty-eight states to pasture. Because the yield of organic
field crops is generally much lower on average than nonorganics—studies
published in journals such as Nature and Science and data compiled by the
U.S. Department of Agriculture put the shortfall at between 5% and 38% for
various crops under different tillage conditions—much more land would
have to be converted to crops.28
Paarlberg estimates that if Europe tried to feed itself organically, it would
need an additional 28 million hectares (one hectare is equal to 2.47 acres) of
cropland—69 million acres—equal, in his words, “to all the remaining for-
est cover in France, Germany, Britain, and Denmark combined.” And why?
Probably not for nutritional purposes. Although one can certainly find stud-
ies proclaiming the nutritional superiority of organic food, the most compre-
hensive study ever done on this subject was published in 2010 in the American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In this study the research team conducted a “sys-
tematic review” of studies done over the past fifty years on the health benefits
of organics, finding no nutritional advantage of organics over conventionally
grown food. Other studies, including studies done by the Mayo Clinic and
by Stanford University researchers, largely concur.29 Moreover, according
to the FDA, even the highest dietary exposures to pesticide residues found
on foods grown conventionally in the United States are so small—less than
one one-thousandth of toxicity levels—that the purported safety gains from
buying organic are trivial. To be sure, exposure to pesticides remains a seri-
ous problem in the LDCs, where pesticide use is not well regulated, but,
according to Paarlberg, even there the problem is mainly for the unprotected
sprayers rather than for consumers.30
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The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 49
Ironically, if organics ever become a major commercial presence in the
United States, it will likely be due to “big box” stores, including Walmart, the
bugbear of food snobs everywhere. In a highly publicized move a few years
back, the Bentonville behemoth made a commitment to ramp up its organic
offerings and to sell them at reasonable prices. Mon dieu! It is now one of the
largest sellers of organics in the United States—either first or second behind
Costco—but we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds.31
And what about the production of meat in small-scale, nonindustrial
settings? According to a piece a few years back by James E. McWilliams—a
vegan critic of both meat-eating and industrial agriculture—this is a non-
starter too, for the negative environmental impact of small-scale production
is even greater (particularly regarding global warming), small-scale produc-
tion is not necessarily “more natural,” and the economics of small-scale pro-
duction are untenable.32
In the face of all this, people like Michael Pollan still want us to go local
and organic. In 2010 he upset even some of his fans when he put some specific
numbers behind his “pay more, eat less” mantra, and stated that we should
be willing to pay $8 for a dozen eggs and $3.90 for a pound of peaches!33
Numbers like that make me wonder just what type of organic output Pollan
is ingesting!
In 2006 Dave Eggers published an interesting novel titled What Is the
What, which leads me to ask of Pollan, who is the “we”? In a country wherein
the median income has basically been stagnant for thirty years—where,
in 2015, 13.5% of the population (43.1 million people) was living beneath
the poverty line—just who does he mean?34 In this regard, it is worth not-
ing as well that over the past twenty-five years, the bottom quintile (20%)
of households has spent between 29% and 46% of household income on
food.35 In unsettled times like this, many, if not most, Americans are thank-
ful that this country’s food—produced industrially—is so cheap, at least at
Walmart, Costco, Lidl, and Aldi, if not at Whole Foods. Most of the world’s
population would relish the opportunity of dealing with the problem of
food that is too cheap.
Now I’m being intentionally provocative here. There are many problems
with what some call scientism, and with the type of top-down technocratic
approaches—what James Scott calls “high modernism”—that have shaped
our industrial agricultural system over time.36 I don’t particularly like the way
that chickens are raised either, for example. And in this regard I am certainly
joined by many other Americans. Indeed, in this volume, Steve Striffler has
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50 Peter A. Coclanis
carefully laid out both the calls for reform and the outright opposition that
industrial agriculture have often occasioned. But the answer is not to apothe-
osize preindustrial agriculture and to sanctify local-organic-slow regimes, as
Ken Albala seems to do in his contribution to this volume, but to improve
and render more humane our industrial agricultural system (which is cur-
rently being done, by the way). You want local, organic, and slow? The closest
thing to that regime in the world, as Paarlberg points out, is that prevalent in
Africa, the least productive agricultural regime in the world, a place whose
largely L-O-S regime hasn’t been able to feed its population of a billion peo-
ple in decades.37
No, the answer in my view is not boutique L-O-S agriculture—however
beneficial to small, well-heeled populations and to gentleman farmers–cum–
Jefferson lecturers such as Wendell Berry—but rather a better, more egali-
tarian and accommodating industrial regime, one still predicated on high
technology and the systematic employment in the agricultural realm of the
best scientific knowledge.38 Over the past fifty years developments in this
regime have brought us not only the Green Revolution, which allowed the
world to cope with massive increases in population in the 1960s, 1970s, and
1980s, but also, more recently, impressive biological innovations (GMOs,
most notably), and so-called precision farming—with “no-till” planting,
drip irrigation, advanced agricultural analytics, GPS/sensor systems for
chemical dispensing, and so on—that together have significantly reduced
farming’s environmental footprint. The OECD’s 2008 review of the “envi-
ronmental performance of agriculture” in the world’s thirty most advanced
countries—the countries characterized most by capital-intensive, high-
tech agriculture—demonstrates that production had grown substantially
between 1990 and 2004, while negative environmental impacts had fallen
in every category and biodiversity had increased. And subsequent updates
have shown that progress has continued since that time.39 And many other
studies have demonstrated that the food systems of the OECD countries are
the safest in the history of the world, whatever people such as Mark Bittman
would have us believe. As I pointed out in a piece in the Wall Street Journal in
2011, in this country one’s chances of dying from ingesting bad food or water
at an individual “eating event” is about 1 in 125 million: pretty good odds, it
seems to me.40
The biggest food, agriculture, and sustainable development problem
we will face over the next two generations is not that posed by bad food,
cheap food, excessive food-miles, or the horrors of HFCS (high-fructose
corn syrup)—oops, corn sugar—although each of these poses formidable
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The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 51
challenges in its own way. The biggest problem, as the FAO, the UNDP,
and other international agencies know well, is somehow finding a way to
feed the roughly 9.7 billion people who will be living on earth in 2050—a
third more than are living on earth today—on less land, worse land, with
less water, fewer herbicides and pesticides, and almost certainly in a higher-
temperature climatic regime. The fact that this population, on balance, will
be wealthier and likely demand more foods of higher income elasticities
(meats, dairy products, and the like) will make the above challenge even
greater.41 Clearly, many adjustments will have to be made—changes in diet,
and reductions in food waste come immediately to mind—if we are to be
food secure in 2050. But in my view food security will come about—if it does
come about—mainly via the continued development of high- technology,
scientific, industrial agriculture, which will certainly include GMOs, gene
editing through techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9, synthetic biology, and
microbiomes, among other things.42 The fact that there is at least some
possibility that in the future industrial agriculture will literally be sited in
factories— European and American biotech companies are currently exper-
imenting with lab-grown meat and milk—adds a mordant, even sardonic
twist to things. Although the last scenario isn’t all that appealing on the
surface—even to me—the African adage “Human rights begin with break-
fast” trumps aesthetics, especially if nutritious lab-produced food uses fewer
resources and is priced cheaply.43
One must, of course, always be wary of the exaggerated claims often
associated with new technology, scientific “breakthroughs,” and so on—as
Margaret Mellon makes clear in her insightful essay in this volume—but,
as an economic historian, I ask where precisely would we be today without
earlier episodes of “scientific progress” in agriculture? Without irrigation?
Without crop rotation and clover? Without the Mendelian revolution?
Without hybrids? Without Haber-Bosch? And, in my view, without GMOs,
gene editing, and the like? Where? Simply put, L-O-S, or, more to the point,
LOST! It is possible, of course, that in the future we might be able to bring
together in more significant ways GMOs and organics—as Pamela C. Ron-
ald and Raoul W. Adamchak have provocatively proposed—but, if it hap-
pens, it will for the most part be scientific progress that will bring such a
melding about.44
Notwithstanding the above considerations, in late October 2010 a
major private research university in Durham, North Carolina, celebrated
“Food Week,” but found no place on the program for issues relating to the
need to increase food production or for any consideration of mainstream
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52 Peter A. Coclanis
agriculture per se. The program found time for a Duke Iron Chef 2010 com-
petition, using pumpkins and “sustainable ingredients,” but no place for
discussions of the pros and cons of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds (or
of glyphosates, for that matter) or of so-called golden rice, enriched with
beta- carotene (vitamin A).
Hope springs eternal and is sometimes rewarded. In February 2012
another food conference was held in the Triangle area—“Shared Tables”—
that included a bit more balance regarding speakers and perspectives. To be
sure, its promotional materials also included a precious recipe for “rosemary
garlic goat cheese scones,” and after the festivities the conference website
included the following self-righteous and self-indulgent proclamation: “The
conference also had a practical impact on the environment as we composted
a total of 16.5 bags of waste, while only sending 4 bags of garbage to the land-
fill. Additionally, many attendees utilized public transportation, and carbon
offsets were purchased for those who travelled to attend.” Let’s give it up for
the Triangle’s bourgeoisie!45
And then there are events like the conference out of which this volume
grew—dealing with serious issues relating to food in an open way, no decks
stacked, no party line, no PC. Which is as it should be for food systems
are so complex that multi- and cross-disciplinary approaches, a variety of
perspectives, and, above all, balance and realism—a sense of the possible—
are needed if real progress is to be made regarding the challenges ahead.
Thus, essays in this volume by scholars with views so different as Striffler
and Mellon, on the one hand, and yours truly, on the other. In essence, then,
what I’m getting at here is that while we must acknowledge the important
contributions made by people such as Alice Waters, Marion Nestle, and,
yes, Michael Pollan, we must acknowledge too that we live in a world of
cheese fries and flavor-blasted Doritos, of Roundup, of GMOs, and, if I had
my way, of DDT.46 And a world, I can’t help but point out, wherein a recent,
well-crafted survey found that about 80% of Americans surveyed support
“mandatory labels on food containing DNA.”47 Go for it.
Another case in point: Clearly, it is important to note that a small pro-
portion of American adults are vegetarians or vegans: 3%, according to a 2008
report in Vegetarian Times, and 7%, according to a 2012 survey conducted
by Gallup. Fair enough, but it is also important to remember that the other
93–97% eat meat.48 While there is a place in our world for edible school-
yards, for locavores, for food purists, and, yes, for food snobs, there should
be places, too, for the pretty good and even for the not-so-good, especially
when reasonably priced. In other words, places for the expanding French
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The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 53
(semi-fast-food) café/bakery chain Paul, for In-N-Out Burger, and even for
the much-criticized Hostess Twinkie, which, after a brief absence from the
market, returned with a splash in 2013.49
The food world is complicated, in other words. W ho in 2017 hasn’t
heard the story of Jared Fogel, the (in)famous and now-imprisoned Subway
Guy? How else can one explain the fact that in 2010 a college professor—
indeed, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University—spent
two months on a “convenience store” diet composed for the most part of
Oreos, Doritos, and Twinkies, and in so doing lost twenty-seven pounds,
improved his health, and got his BMI down to the normal range? Or the
Iowa science teacher who in 2013 lost thirty-seven pounds and saw his
cholesterol level drop significantly after eating nothing but McDonald’s
food for three months? Or consider the robust health and physical stature
of former UNC football star Bruce Carter, now on the New York Jets, who,
according to ESPN Magazine in 2010 was arguably the most gifted athlete in
college football, a player with a “freakish” physique: at 6 foot 3, 235 pounds,
with 2% body fat, he ran 40 yards in 4.39 seconds, had a 40.5-inch vertical
leap, and bench pressed 440 pounds. Carter himself attributed his prowess
in large part to Mickey D’s. “I eat a lot of McDonald’s and fast foods . . .
[al]most every day. I usually get three double cheeseburgers, medium fries,
large tea, and six-piece McNuggets. I don’t think eating healthy as far as
eating salads and that stuff really works for me.” Or the fact that Usain
Bolt stated in his autobiography that he ate approximately one thousand
Chicken McNuggets while in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, where he
won gold medals in both the 100-and 200-meter races and a third in the
4-by-100-meter relay? How does one explain examples such as these with-
out acknowledging that food and food systems are complex subjects of
inquiry?50
Yes, yes, I know that, generally speaking, too much fast food is strongly
and positively correlated with “markers” of poor health such as obesity and
high BMIs, and also with diabetes, elevated blood pressure, arteriosclerosis,
incidence of strokes, and so on. But I also know that the fast food, which is
“energy-dense,” as nutritionists say, provides a considerable caloric bang for
a buck. “Dollar meals” may not appeal much to affluent consumers, but to
groups further down the food chain, as it were, they hit the spot. To be sure,
too many dollar meals may lead to health problems down the line, but, in
economics lingo, the “pure time preference” for poor people is the present.
They have every right to apply heavy discount rates to the future, which may
not be all that great in any case.51
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
54 Peter A. Coclanis
As I said, things are complicated. And we haven’t even mentioned the
Farm Bill, decried if not despised by the food police, even though 80% of the
outlays in the 2014 iteration (PL 113-79), which ran through 2018, went to
nutrition-assistance programs of one kind or another, most notably SNAP,
formerly known as food stamps.52 As Sarah Ludington points out in her
article (chapter 8), those are precisely the same reasons that economic liber-
tarians and social conservatives also despise the Farm Bill. Nor have we men-
tioned the recent questions raised about—and powerful challenges made
to—narratives regarding “food deserts” in America’s inner cities.53 Those are
difficult subjects, too, but subjects better tackled another day.
Notes
1. See Peter A. Coclanis, “Agriculture as History,” Historically Speaking 4 (November
2002): 3–4.
2. Robert Vic, “The Portland Canal” (senior honors thesis, history, University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2002), 54.
3. Louis A. Ferleger, “Agriculture’s Last Stand: A Note on the Missing South,” Journal
of the Historical Society 12 (March 2012): 97–106; Leslie Horn, “Facebook Dropped
$8.5M for FB.com,” PC Magazine.com, 12 January 2011, http://www.pcmag.com/
article2/0,2817,2375643,00.asp.
4. Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (New York: International
Publishers, 1964; originally published in German in 1852), 15.
5. On the mixed, “mestizo” character of early American agriculture and the important
contributions made by various groups, see, for example, Russell R . Menard, “Colonial
America’s Mestizo Agriculture,” in The Economy of Early America: Historical Perspectives
and New Directions, ed. Cathy Matson (University Park: Pennsylvania State University
Press, 2006), 107–23.
6. This observation, named after nineteenth-century German statistician Ernst Engel,
states that, after income rises above subsistence levels, the relative proportion spent on
food rises more slowly than income. Data on demand and income elasticities for food
around the world in the contemporary era can be found in Andrew Muhammad, James
L. Seale Jr., Birgit Meade, and Anita Regmi, International Evidence on Food Consumption
Patterns: An Update Using 2005 International Comparison Program Data, TB-1929, U.S.
Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, March 2011, revised February
2013, http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/129561/tb1929.pdf.
7. My interpretation of U.S. agricultural history is based on a lifetime of studying the
topic. For excellent surveys of American agriculture and its history, see, for example,
R . Douglas Hurt, American Agriculture: A Brief History, rev. ed. (West Lafayette, Ind.:
Purdue University Press, 2002); Bruce L. Gardner, American Agriculture in the Twentieth
Century: How It Flourished and What It Cost (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
2002). For classic analytical treatments, see William M. Parker, “Agriculture,” in American
Economic Growth: An Economist’s History of the United States, ed. Lance E. Davis et al.
(New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 369–417; Willard W. Cochrane, The Development of
American Agriculture, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
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AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
http://FB.com
http://Magazine.com
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2375643,00.asp
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2375643,00.asp
http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/129561/tb1929.pdf
The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 55
8. Hurt, American Agriculture; Gardner, American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century;
Parker, “Agriculture”; and Cochrane, The Development of American Agriculture.
9. See U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Ag and Food Sectors
and the Economy (Washington, D.C.: USDA, 2015, last updated 5 May 2017), https://www
.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/ag-and-food-
sectors-and-the-economy.aspx.
10. See Parker, “Agriculture,” 372–75.
11. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Food Prices and
Spending (Washington, D.C.: USDA, 2014, last updated 25 April 2017), https://www
.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/food-prices-
and-spending/; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Food
Expenditure Series, last updated 1 December 2014, Table 7, Table 97, http://www.ers
.usda.gov/data-products/food-expenditures.aspx. Note that table 97 is titled “Percent of
Consumer Expenditures Spent on Food, Alcoholic Beverages, and Tobacco That Were
Consumed at Home, by Selected Countries, 2013.”
12. For a brief introduction to ADLI, see United Nations Economic and Social Council,
“The Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI) Strategy,” Development
Strategies That Work series (2010), http://webapps01.un.org/nvp/indpolicy
.action?id=124, accessed 17 January 2015. On agriculture’s role in the development of
the U.S. manufacturing belt, see, for example, Brian Page and Richard Walker, “From
Settlement to Fordism: The Agro-Industrial Revolution in the American Midwest,”
Economic Geography 67 (October 1991): 281–315.
13. See World Bank, World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development
(Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2007). For an introduction to the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation’s agricultural development programs, see http://www.gatesfoundation.org/
What-We-Do/Global-Development/Agricultural-Development, accessed 17 January 2015.
14. On this broad usage, see, for example, Nathan Rosenberg, Technology and American
Economic Growth (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 1–24.
15. On the importance of revolutionary breakthroughs in agricultural history, see, for
example, Peter A. Coclanis, “Two Cheers for Revolution: The Virtues of Regime Change
in World Agriculture,” Historically Speaking 10 ( June 2009): 2–7.
16. Alfred D. Chandler Jr., The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American
Business (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1977), 64–67.
Note that Caitlin Rosenthal has recently argued that southern plantations were much
more “modern” in terms of business strategy and practices than Chandler believed. See,
for example, Rosenthal, “From Memory to Mastery: Accounting for Control in America,
1750–1880,” Enterprise and Society 14 (December 2013): 732–48; Rosenthal (interviewed by
Scott Berinato), “Plantations Practiced Modern Management,” Harvard Business Review
91 (September 2013): 30–31; Rosenthal, “Slavery’s Scientific Management: Masters and
Managers,” in Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development, ed. Sven
Beckert and Seth Rothman (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 62–86.
17. On the evolution of the U.S. manufacturing “regime,” see, for example, David A.
Hounshell, From the American System to Mass Production, 1800–1932: The Development of
Manufacturing Technology in the United States (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1984).
18. Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 2001), esp. 149–90; Karl Taro Greenfeld, “Taco Bell and the Golden
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
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https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/ag-and-food-sectors-and-the-economy.aspx
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56 Peter A. Coclanis
Age of Drive-Thru,” Bloomberg Businessweek, 5 May 2011, http://www.businessweek.com/
magazine/content/11_20/b4228064581642.htm; Ilya Leybovich, “What Manufacturers
Can Learn from Fast Food,” IMT: Industry Market Trends, 24 May 2011, http://news
.thomasnet.com/imt/2011/05/24/what-manufacturers-can-learn-from-fast-food. For a
provocative new critique of factory meat production—focusing on Hormel Foods and
Spam—see Ted Genoways, The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food (New York:
HarperCollins, 2014).
19. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2012 Census of Agriculture, vol. 1, chapter 1, U.S.
National Level Data, Table 64, Summary by Size of Farm: 2012, http://www.agcensus
.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_US/st99_1_001_001
.pdf, accessed 25 November 2018; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2012 Census of
Agriculture, vol. 1, chapter 1, State Level Data [North Carolina], Table 1: Historical
Highlights: 2012 and Earlier Census Years, http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/
Publications/2012/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_State_Level/North_Carolina/
st37_1_001_001.pdf, accessed 18 January 2015. Note that by 2015 the average-size farm in
North Carolina had grown to 170 acres. Note, too, that between 2011 and 2015 the number
of farms in North Carolina fell from 50,800 to 48,800. See U.S. National Agricultural
Statistics Service and the N.C. Department of Commerce and Consumer Services, North
Carolina Agricultural Statistics 2016 (Raleigh, 2016), 10.
20. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2012 Census of Agriculture, vol. 1, chapter 1, U.S.
National Level Data, Table 9, Land in Farms, Harvested Cropland, and Irrigated Land,
by Size of Farm: 2012 and 2007, http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/
Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_US/st99_1_009_010.pdf, accessed 18 January
2015. Note that the U.S. Census of Agriculture is taken every five years, the last in 2012.
Questionnaires for the 2017 census will be mailed out in December 2017, and the results
for the 2017 census will begin to be released in February 2019. See U.S. Department of
Agriculture, Census of Agriculture, https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Help/FAQs/2017/,
accessed 18 May 2017.
21. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2012 Census Highlights, Farm Economics, ACH12-2,
May 2014, http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/
Highlights/Farm_Economics/.
22. William Neuman, “Strong Exports Lift U.S. Agriculture Sector,” New York Times, 1
September 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/01/business/economy/01exports
.html?_r=0.
23. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service, Value of U.S.
Agricultural Exports, 1990–2016, https://www.fas.usda.gov/data/value-us-agricultural-
exports-1990–2016, accessed 18 May 2017. Note that in 2014 the value of U.S. agricultural
exports peaked at about $150 billion. The strong dollar, lower prices for commodities, and
increased international competition all played roles in the modest U.S. decline since 2014.
24. U.S. National Agricultural Statistics Service and the N.C. Department of Commerce
and Consumer Services, North Carolina Agricultural Statistics 2016, 9; U.S. National
Agricultural Statistics Service and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer
Services, North Carolina Agricultural Statistics 2013 (Raleigh, 2013), 9; North Carolina
Agricultural Statistics 2011 (Raleigh, 2011), 11.
25. For a good overview of the Open Grounds Farm, see Edward Martin, “High-
Yield Investment,” Business North Carolina, 12 January 2012, http://businessnc.com/
high-yield-investmentcategory/.
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_20/b4228064581642.htm
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http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Full_Report/Volume_1
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https://www.fas.usda.gov/data/value-us-agricultural-exports-1990�2016
https://www.fas.usda.gov/data/value-us-agricultural-exports-1990�2016


http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Full_Report/Volume_1
http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Full_Report/Volume_1
The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 57
26. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Organic Farming : Results from the 2014
Organic Survey (ACH12-29/September 2015), 2, https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/
Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/Organics/2014_Organic_Survey_
Highlights.pdf, accessed 19 May 2017.
27. Robert Paarlberg, “Attention Whole Foods Shoppers,” Foreign Policy, May/June
2010, http://foreignpolicy.com/2010/04/26/attention-whole-foods-shoppers/.
28. Of the differential in yields between conventional and organic farming, see, for
example, Paul Maeder et al., “Soil Fertility and Biodiversity in Organic Farming,” Science
296 (31 May 2002): 1694–97; Verena Seufert, Navin Ramankutty, and Jonathan A. Foley,
“Comparing the Yields of Organic and Conventional Agriculture,” Nature 485 (10 May
2012): 229–32; Jayson Lusk, The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto about the Politics of Your
Plate (New York: Crown Forum, 2013), 92–93, 209.
29. Alan D. Dangour, Karen Lock, Arabella Hayter, Andrea Aikenhead, Elizabeth Allen,
and Ricardo Uauy, “Nutrition-Related Health Effects of Organic Foods: A Systematic
Review,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 92 ( July 2010): 203–10, http://ajcn
.nutrition.org/content/92/1/203.long; Paarlberg, “Attention Whole Foods Shoppers”;
Crystal Smith-Spangler et al., “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional
Alternatives? A Systematic Review,” Annals of Internal Medicine 157 (4 September 2012):
348–66, http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1355685. Note that even those studies
arguing for the nutritional superiority of organic food generally find only modest
nutritional differences between organics and nonorganics.
30. Paarlberg, “Attention Whole Foods Shoppers.” See also Lusk, The Food Police, 81–99.
31. See Andrew Martin, “Walmart Promises Organic Food for Everyone,” Bloomberg
Businessweek, 6 November 2014, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-11-06/
wal-mart-promises-organic-food-for-everyone; Angel González, “Largest Organic Grocer
Now Costco, Analysts Say,” Seattle Times, 4 April 2016.
32. James E. McWilliams, “The Myth of Sustainable Meat,” New York Times, 13 April
2012, A23. For a recent defense of meat production and its sustainability, see Nicolette
Hahn Niman, Defending Beef: A Case for Sustainable Meat Production (W hite River
Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green, 2014). Note that McWilliams is quite critical of the
foodie fetish for localism. See McWilliams, Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong
and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly (New York: Little, Brown, 2009). For a very
spirited critique of food localism and locavores, see Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko
Shimizu, The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet (New York: Public
Affairs, 2012).
33. Ben Worthen, “A Dozen Eggs for $8? Michael Pollan Explains the Math of Buying
Local,” Wall Street Journal, 5 August 2010. See also Virginia Postrell, “No Free Locavore
Lunch,” Wall Street Journal, 25–26 September 2010, C10; Ronald Bailey, “Chipotle Treats
Customers Like Idiots,” Reason 47 (August/September 2015): 16–17.
34. U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Income and Poverty in the
United States: 2015, by Bernadette D. Proctor, Jessica L. Semega, and Melissa A. Kollar,
13 September 2016, Report Number P60-256, https://www.census.gov/library/
publications/2016/demo/p60-256.html.
35. See U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, “Percent of
Income Spent on Food Falls as Income Rises,” by Charlotte Tuttle and Annemarie
Kuhns, Amber Waves, 6 September 2016, https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2016/
september/percent-of-income-spent-on-food-falls-as-income-rises/.
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a
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/Organics/2014_Organic_Survey_Highlights.pdf
https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/Organics/2014_Organic_Survey_Highlights.pdf
https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/Organics/2014_Organic_Survey_Highlights.pdf

Attention Whole Foods Shoppers


http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/92/1/203.long
http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/92/1/203.long
http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1355685
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-11-06/wal-mart-promises-organic-food-for-everyone
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-11-06/wal-mart-promises-organic-food-for-everyone
https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2016/demo/p60-256.html
https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2016/demo/p60-256.html
https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2016/september/percent-of-income-spent-on-food-falls-as-income-rises/
https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2016/september/percent-of-income-spent-on-food-falls-as-income-rises/
58 Peter A. Coclanis
36. On “high modernism,” see James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes
to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press,
1998), 4–6 and passim.
37. Paarlberg, “Attention Whole Foods Shoppers.” See also Manitra A. Rakotoarisoa,
Massimo Iafrate, and Marianna Pacchali, Why Has Africa Become a Net Food Importer?
Explaining Africa Agricultural and Food Trade Deficits (Rome: Food and Markets Division,
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011), http://www.fao.org/
docrep/015/i2497e/i2497e00.pdf.
38. For a provocative argument proposing a fusion of organic farming and genetic
engineering, see Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak, Tomorrow’s Table: Organic
Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).
39. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),
Environmental Performance of Agriculture in OECD Countries since 1990
(Paris: OECD, 2008), http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/agriculture-and-food/
environmental-performance-of-agriculture-in-oecd-countries-since-
1990_9789264040854-en; OECD, OECD Compendium of Agri-environmental
Indicators (Paris: OECD, 2013), http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/agriculture-and-food/
oecd-compendium-of-agri-environmental-indicators_9789264186217-en.
40. Peter A. Coclanis, “Food Is Much Safer Than You Think,” Wall Street Journal, 14 June
2011, A13.
41. On ways to reduce food waste, particularly postharvest loss, see, for example,
Peter A. Coclanis, “Low-Hanging Fruit: The Fight for Food Security,” Le Monde
Diplomatique (English edition), 29 December 2015, http://mondediplo.com/outsidein/
low-hanging-fruit-the-fight-for-food-security; Coclanis, “There Is a Simple Way to
Improve the World’s Food Systems,” Aeon, 27 February 2017, https://aeon.co/ideas/
there-is-a-simple-way-to-improve-the-worlds-food-systems.
42. On some of the advantages of GMO crops, see, for example, Marc Van Montagu,
“The Irrational Fear of GM Food,” Wall Street Journal, 23 October 2013, A15; Lusk, The
Food Police, 101–13; Joel Mokyr, “What Today’s Economic Gloomsayers Are Missing,” Wall
Street Journal, 8 August 2014.
43. See, for example, Ronald Bailey, “The End of Farming,” Reason 47 ( June 2015):
22–23; Nicholas Kristof, “The (Fake) Meat Revolution,” New York Times, 19 September
2015. It is both ironic—and telling—that Tyson Foods (of all food companies) has
recently taken ownership of 5% of Silicon Valley synthetic meat producer Beyond Meat,
one of the leaders in this rising field. See Stephanie Strom, “Tyson Foods, a Meat Leader,
Invests in Protein Alternatives,” New York Times, 10 October 2016.
44. On the Haber-Bosch process (for synthetically fixing nitrogen in plants through
the production/processing of ammonia), see, for example, Vaclav Smil, Enriching
the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production
(Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000). Smil, a noted historian of technology, considers
the Haber-Bosch process the most important technological innovation of the twentieth
century. Again, on the potential union of GMOs and organic agriculture, see Ronald and
Adamchak, Tomorrow’s Table.
45. On Food Week at Duke in October 2010, see https://foodatduke.wordpress.com/,
accessed 19 January 2015. On the “Shared Tables” symposium, 28–29 February 2012, see
https://sharedtablessymp.wordpress.com/, accessed 19 January 2015.
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s.
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.
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y
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ep
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in
a
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ou
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is
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on
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u
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it
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d
un
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U.
S.
o
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pl
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ab
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l
aw
.
EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/i2497e/i2497e00.pdf
http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/i2497e/i2497e00.pdf
http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/agriculture-and-food/environmental-performance-of-agriculture-in-oecd-countries-since-1990_9789264040854-en
http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/agriculture-and-food/environmental-performance-of-agriculture-in-oecd-countries-since-1990_9789264040854-en
http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/agriculture-and-food/environmental-performance-of-agriculture-in-oecd-countries-since-1990_9789264040854-en
http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/agriculture-and-food/oecd-compendium-of-agri-environmental-indicators_9789264186217-en
http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/agriculture-and-food/oecd-compendium-of-agri-environmental-indicators_9789264186217-en
http://mondediplo.com/outsidein/low-hanging-fruit-the-fight-for-food-security
http://mondediplo.com/outsidein/low-hanging-fruit-the-fight-for-food-security
https://aeon.co/ideas/there-is-a-simple-way-to-improve-the-worlds-food-systems
https://aeon.co/ideas/there-is-a-simple-way-to-improve-the-worlds-food-systems
https://foodatduke.wordpress.com/,accessed
About
The Americanness of Industrial Agriculture 59
46. For more on my perspective regarding agriculture, see Peter A. Coclanis, “Food
Chains: The Burdens of the (Re)Past,” Agricultural History 72 (Fall 1998): 661–74;
Coclanis, “Breaking New Ground: From the History of Agriculture to the History of
Food Systems,” Historical Methods 38 (Winter 2005): 5–13; Coclanis, “Two Cheers for
Revolution: The Virtues of Regime Change in World Agriculture,” Historically Speaking 10
( June 2009): 2–7.
47. Jayson Lusk, Food Demand Survey, 15 January 2015, http://jaysonlusk.com/
blog/2015/1/15/food-demand-survey-foods-january-2015; Brandon R . McFadden and
Jayson L. Lusk, “What Consumers Don’t Know about Genetically Modified Food and
How That Affects Beliefs,” FASEB Journal: The Official Journal of the Federation of American
Societies for Experimental Biology (30 September 2016): 3091–96, http://www.fasebj.org/
content/30/9/3091. Note that in the McFadden and Lusk survey, 32% of those surveyed
did not think that vegetables contained DNA!
48. Tara Parker-Pope, “Hard Road for Those Who Seek Veganism,” New York Times, 17
April 2012, D1; Frank Newport, “In U.S., 5% Consider Themselves Vegetarians,” Gallup,
Well-Being, 26 July 2012, http://www.gallup.com/poll/156215/consider-themselves-
vegetarians.aspx.
49. Steve Bertoni, “Sweet Investment: How Dean Metropoulos Made Billions
Saving the Hostess Twinkie,” Forbes, 28 February 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/
stevenbertoni/2017/02/28/sweet-investment-how-dean-metropoulos-made-billions-
saving-the-hostess-twinkie/#62c36fbc1f50. For another valuable assessment, particularly
regarding the declining position of workers at Hostess Brands, see Rick Wartzman,
“What Hostess Brands’ Return to the Stock Market Says about the State of U.S. Workers,”
Fortune, 25 July 2016, http://fortune.com/2016/07/25/hostess-twinkie-ipo/.
50. Rebecca Leung, “The Subway Diet,” CBS News, 48 Hours, 2 March 2004, http://
www.cbsnews.com/news/the-subway-diet-02-03-2004/; “Twinkie Diet Helps Nutrition
Professor Lose 27 Pounds,” CNN.com, 8 November 2010, http://www.cnn.com/
2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/; Samantha Grossman, “Teacher
Loses 37 Pounds after Three-Month McDonald’s Diet,” NewsFeed, TIME.com, 5
January 2014, http://newsfeed.time.com/2014/01/05/teacher-loses-37-pounds-
after-three-month-mcdonalds-diet/; Bruce Feldman, “UNC’s Carter Heads
‘Freaks’ List,” Bruce Feldman Blog, ESPN Insider, 24 June 2010, http://insider.
espn.go.com/ncf/blog/_/name/feldman_bruce/id/5322140/north-carolina-lb-
bruce-carter-biggest-athletic-freak-game; Laurie Stampler, “Usain Bolt Ate 100
Chicken McNuggets a Day in Beijing and Somehow Won Three Gold Medals,”
NewsFeed, TIME.com, 4 November 2013, http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/11/04/
olympic-gold-medalist-reveals-beijing-diet-of-1000-chicken-mcnuggets-in-10-days/.
51. See Peter A. Coclanis and Fitz Brundage, “Fast-Food Region: Cheap, ‘Energy-Dense’
Eats in a Poor, Unhealthy Part of the United States” (paper presented at conference “State
of the Plate: Food and the Local/Global Nexus,” University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill, 27 March 2015).
52. See Renee Johnson and Jim Monke, What Is the Farm Bill?, Congressional Record
Service, CRS Report 7-5700, 8 February 2017, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22131.pdf.
See also Peter A. Coclanis, “One Man’s Pork Is Another Man’s Bacon,” Durham Herald-
Sun, 20 September 2015, C4. Federal involvement in agriculture goes back a long way in
the United States, as Sarah Ludington details in her essay in this volume.
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no
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d
in
a
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f
or
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ou
t
pe
rm
is
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on
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xc
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un
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S.
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aw
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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005
http://jaysonlusk.com/blog/2015/1/15/food-demand-survey-foods-january-2015
http://jaysonlusk.com/blog/2015/1/15/food-demand-survey-foods-january-2015
http://www.fasebj.org/content/30/9/3091
http://www.fasebj.org/content/30/9/3091
http://www.gallup.com/poll/156215/consider-themselves-vegetarians.aspx
http://www.gallup.com/poll/156215/consider-themselves-vegetarians.aspx
https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenbertoni/2017/02/28/sweet-investment-how-dean-metropoulos-made-billions-saving-the-hostess-twinkie/#62c36fbc1f50
https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenbertoni/2017/02/28/sweet-investment-how-dean-metropoulos-made-billions-saving-the-hostess-twinkie/#62c36fbc1f50
https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenbertoni/2017/02/28/sweet-investment-how-dean-metropoulos-made-billions-saving-the-hostess-twinkie/#62c36fbc1f50
http://fortune.com/2016/07/25/hostess-twinkie-ipo/
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-subway-diet-02-03-2004/
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-subway-diet-02-03-2004/
http://CNN.com
http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/
http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/
http://TIME.com

Teacher Loses 37 Pounds After Three-Month McDonald’s Diet

Teacher Loses 37 Pounds After Three-Month McDonald’s Diet


http://insider.espn.go.com/ncf/blog/_/name/feldman_bruce/id/5322140/north-carolina-lb-bruce-carter-biggest-athletic-freak-game
http://insider.espn.go.com/ncf/blog/_/name/feldman_bruce/id/5322140/north-carolina-lb-bruce-carter-biggest-athletic-freak-game
http://insider.espn.go.com/ncf/blog/_/name/feldman_bruce/id/5322140/north-carolina-lb-bruce-carter-biggest-athletic-freak-game
http://TIME.com

Usain Bolt Ate 100 Chicken McNuggets a Day in Beijing and Somehow Won Three Gold Medals

Usain Bolt Ate 100 Chicken McNuggets a Day in Beijing and Somehow Won Three Gold Medals


https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22131.pdf
60 Peter A. Coclanis
53. Gina Kolata, “Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity,” New York
Times, 18 April 2012; John McWhorter, “The Food Desert Myth,” New York Daily News,
22 April 2012; Joe Cortright, “Where Are the Food Deserts?,” City Observatory, 5 January
2015, http://cityobservatory.org/food-deserts/. Note that a 2009 systematic review of
the literature on food deserts concluded that they do exist in parts of the country but that
their patterning and effects are complex. See Julie Beaulac, Elizabeth Kristjansson, and
Steven Cummins, “A Systematic Review of Food Deserts, 1966–2007,” Preventing Chronic
Disease 6 ( July 2009): http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2009/jul/08_0163.htm; Penny
Gordon-Larsen, “Food Availability/Convenience and Obesity,” Advances in Nutrition 5
(November 2014): 809–17. For an excellent—realist—primer on today’s food world, see
Robert Paarlberg, Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2013).
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.
EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/1/2020 2:44 PM via HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC
UNIV
AN: 2240985 ; Ludington, Charles, Booker, Matthew Morse.; Food Fights : How History Matters to
Contemporary Food Debates
Account: s3890005

Where are the food deserts?


http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2009/jul/08_0163.htm

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