Book reviews and endorsements

Review by Robert Brinkman, former Director of Land and Water Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

In 1898, Alfred Russell Wallace published ‘The wonderful century’, describing the increasing wealth of the rich and the increasing numbers of poor people  remaining in misery, and ‘…during the whole century, --applying small plasters to each social ulcer as it became revealed to us … ‘The struggle for wealth, and its deplorable results, … accompanied by a reckless destruction of the stored-up products of nature, … irretrievable.’ In the 120 years since Wallace’s prescient warning, scientific knowledge and total wealth vastly increased, but so did the concentration of wealth and power in few hands, the number of poor, the incidence of diseases, damage to the land and to biodiversity,...

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Review by Dr Theodore Friedrich, former Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Resident Representative in Bolivia and Cuba

The book is a holistic review of our current food and agriculture systems, discussing the origins, the actual problems, and approaches towards a badly needed sustainability of this issue which is determinant for the survival of humans on our planet. In 20 chapters, written by recognized leading experts and brilliant minds in very different areas related to food and agriculture, the book shows the origins of our food culture, the ethics of our behaviour and the positioning of mankind within nature, the influence of religions, and the developments under different economic systems, starting from colonial times towards our actual globalized food chains. It sheds light on the problems of...

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Review by Dr Rachid Mrabet, Research Director at Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA, Morocco)

This unique and outstanding book is treasure trove of knowledge and discusses the ways and urgency of changing to and implementing new paradigms related to recovery, resilience, and rebuilding food systems to tackle new as well emerging land challenges and elevated environmental risks and impacts. The editors have gathered eminent authors and world-leading scholars to deal with these issues and propose more holistic approaches and schemes for transforming agricultural and food systems, revitalising livelihoods, and expanding awareness across scales and actors. The book reviews with great pertinence and momentum the historical and philosophical development of conventional agriculture and...

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Review by James O’Donovan for The Vegan Society and Vegan Sustainability Magazine

The book highlights the urgent need to ‘rethink’ the food and agriculture system and highlights ‘new ways forward’, including alternative paradigms of agriculture, human nutrition and political economy that are more ethical, sustainable and just.  Contributors include Robert Chambers, David Jenkins, Tony Juniper, Dr. Shireen Kassam, David Montgomery, Vandana Shiva and many others.  It’s a wonderful contribution to the science and philosophy supporting the urgent need to transition to a non-violent vegan food system and restore a right relationship with ourselves, other species and nature. The book outlines how the multiple health, climate and biodiversity crises we are facing are...

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Review by Dr Chris Johansen, Consultant in Agricultural Research and Development, Australia

This book addresses the evolution of global agriculture, and consequent supply and consumption of food. It assembles the thoughts of a range of renowned thinkers and activists in this sphere, pointing out the ultimate unsustainability of the predominant pathways followed and proposing remedial action. Early on the book makes the point that development of agricultural practices from hunter-gatherer times has progressively alienated humanity from the planet’s ecology, the continued basic functioning of which is essential to life as we know it. Further, the incentive to acquire more land area for agricultural pursuits has unleashed some of humanity’s most undesirable behaviours, such as wars...

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Review by David Dent, published in. the International Journal of Environmental Studies

It may be surprising to see agriculture being held responsible for many of the perils that mankind has brought upon itself and the planet. The editors’ aim is to reassess and reimagine the food system. In their own words, this requires ‘uncovering the historical, ethical, eco- nomic, social, cultural, political and structural drivers and root causes of unsustainability, degradation of the agricultural environment, destruction of nature, shortcomings in science and knowledge systems, inequality, hunger and food insecurity, and disharmony’ and, also, ‘past and present efforts towards sustainable development, including food security and production, and whether these efforts have been and/or...

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Review by Dr Mark Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, published in Psychology Today

I recently read a most important book edited by Drs. Amir Kassam and Laila Kassam called Rethinking Food and Agriculture: New Ways Forward.1,2 The table of contents and chapter abstracts can be seen here. I fully realize that this landmark book is extremely pricey and I hope most if not all of its 20 chapters will soon become available. One essay that is available that might be of special interest to many readers because of its focus on topics including nonhuman animal (animal) sentience, speciesism, human exceptionalism, and social justice is California State University's Robert Jones' piece "Animal ethics as...

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Review by Andrew MacMillan, Former Director of FAO’s Field Operations Division and co-author of “How to End Hunger in Times of Crises – Let’s Start Now”

At first sight, one of the greatest achievements since the second world war has been to produce enough food to be able feed all people in the world even in a period of unprecedented population growth. But, as this book and its admirable website explain, this is a hollow victory. It is now abundantly clear that the ways in which most food is being produced and consumed are destroying the world’s finite natural resources and are damaging human health. The very rapid rise in food production has caused huge damage to nature – especially to forest cover, soil quality, water quality, biological diversity and the environment, with farming also becoming a major contributor to the process of...

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Review by Kollibri terre Sonnenblume, organic farmer and writer, published in CounterPunch and The Greanville Post

This review is based in part on my interview with one of the editors, Laila Kassam, which you can listen to here. Agriculture is at the root of multiple crises facing humanity today. Environmentally, it is responsible for habitat destruction, topsoil loss, aquifer depletion, pesticide and fertilizer pollution, ocean dead zones, dubious genetic experimentation, and a tremendous amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Socially, its practice depends on a permanent underclass of slave-like labor controlled by monopolistic corporate forces with pernicious political influence. Philosophically, it reduces non-human life—plants, animals, fungus, etc.—to objects to be controlled and manipulated rather...

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Johan Rockström

“Few people can talk of a globally broken food system, of the urgent need for a global food transformation, of the fact that food alone can destabilise the planet, without getting trapped in a dystopian future. Even if efforts are made to list solutions. Why? Because it is a rare gift to stand solidly rooted in both the evidence of catastrophic risks and the empirical evidence of scalable solutions for health, resilience and equity. Amir and Laila Kassam manage to be stewards of both, a result of their own wealth of knowledge and experience, and the incredible group of assembled co-authors. A book to guide our future on Earth.”

Professor Johan Rockström
Professor of Earth System Science at University of Potsdam, and Director Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research

Professor Joy Carter

“All life on this planet is in danger. One important part of the solution is thinking urgently about how we produce and consume food. This new book is a hugely welcome, timely and eye-opening contribution to help shape the thinking and actions needed to really make a difference. Education plays such an important role in bringing about real change; this wonderful new book will be a hugely rich resource.”

Professor Joy Carter CBE DL Cgeol FGS
Vice-Chancellor, University of Winchester, UK

Dawn Moncrief

“An absolute powerhouse! Cogent and compelling, Rethinking Food and Agriculture is transcendent in synthesizing broad and seemingly discrete aspects of the global food system to create a foundation for positive, structural change. Insights and nuances abound in this paradigm-shifting collection that uniquely and urgently insists on the inescapable interconnectedness of human, nonhuman, and planetary wellbeing, and then culminates with the much-needed concept of “inclusive responsibility.” I found myself energized (even a bit awestruck) by the depth and breadth of Amir and Laila Kassam’s research and the top notch experts they assembled. This book is a true treasure and a new addition to my favorites list.”

Dawn Moncrief
Founder and President of A Well-Fed World

Neal D. Barnard

“Many people are now rethinking where their food comes from. From the standpoint of human health, the welfare of animals, or environmental health, current systems could not be worse, and this book is the very welcome light at the end of the tunnel. Rethinking Food and Agriculture: New Ways Forward takes an optimistic and practical approach to fixing a system gone awry. I heartily recommend it.”

Neal D. Barnard, MD, FACC
President, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Washington, DC

Andrew Knight

“Our planet is in peril, along with the collective future of ourselves and many other species. Modern agriculture, especially animal agriculture – with its vast use of land, water, fossil fuels, pesticides, herbicides, and greenhouse gas production – bears much of the blame. If we are to have any hope of a future in a clean, green world, enriched by other many living species, we really have to change. Comprehensively researched, and clearly written, Rethinking Food and Agriculture describes both the causes of our current planetary predicament, and provides a clear pathway out of it – should we choose to take it. This highly recommended book should be required reading for all interested in a viable future for our planet.”

Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics, & Founding Director, Centre for Animal Welfare, University of Winchester, UK
Adjunct Professor, School of Environment and Science, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia

Trent Grassian

“Rethinking Food and Agriculture is an excellent and timely book. It helps us to understand the central role of the current food and agriculture system in contributing to the many connected crises we are facing and the potential it holds for being part of the solution. The wide ranging chapters and interdisciplinary nature of the book help us gain a richer and more holistic understanding of the underlying forces and worldview driving the food and agriculture system down an increasingly industrial and destructive path. At the same time the emphasis on highlighting ways forward that are already being implemented and hold such potential for transformation gives a great deal of hope. The framework of ‘inclusive responsibility’ proposed in the final chapter is exactly the paradigm and mindset shift we need to guide us in transforming the food and agriculture system in to one which is truly sustainable and just, and can enable humans, animals and the planet to thrive. A must read for anyone interested in creating a fairer and more sustainable world for all!”

Dr Trent Grassian, MPA, PhD
University of Kent

James O’Donovan

“…a wonderful contribution to the science and philosophy supporting the urgent need to transition to a non-violent vegan food system and restore a right relationship with ourselves, other species and nature.”

James O’Donovan
Vegan Sustainability Magazine

“Amir and Laila Kassam have assembled a diverse and highly articulate team of specialists in food-related matters who all share a common concern that most of the elements of our ‘modern’ food management systems – from production to consumption and waste – are non-sustainable and seriously damaging to both natural resources and human health. They also are boosting the processes of climate change and, in many cases, they involve the exploitation of labour and cause suffering to animals.

The Kassams acknowledge the complexities of food management but make a powerful case for combining changes in the dominant agricultural production paradigm and in eating habits in ways which are already proving valid in many parts of the world. They call for speeding up the global shift away from any form of tillage and heavy dependence on high-input arable crop production by the widespread adoption of the principles of Organic Farming and Conservation Agriculture. And they appeal to all of us as consumers to make big cuts in eating meat and to shift towards vegetarian diets – ideally to a whole food plant-based or vegan food system.

Going forwards hand-in-hand, these two sets of changes alone will put an end to most of the harmful effects now attributable to our current food systems. This book provides ample evidence that changes in both these directions are gathering pace, driven mainly by farmers and consumers acting in their own interest while also creating important public benefits – for instance through reducing the pace of climate change through raising levels of carbon storage in farmed soils, and by improving the quality of the human diet, thereby reducing the pressure imposed by nutrition-related illnesses on public sector health services. If governments reward the main actors through paying them fairly for their generation of such public goods, this could greatly speed up the transition to more sustainable food systems. But, as the Kassam’s argue, this will only come about through a decentralisation of power in food systems management that puts producers and consumers, rather than corporate interests, in the driving seat.”

Andrew MacMillan
Former Director of FAO’s Field Operations Division and co-author of “How to End Hunger in Times of Crises – Let’s Start Now”