Hungry City

Issue section: 
(327)

Carolyn Steel, Chatto and Windus, £12.99

Our most basic need has been turned into just another commodity that most of the world is struggling to afford. So it's not surprising that there have been dozens of new books on all aspects of the politics of food in the last couple of years. This one begins with a potted history of the development of cities, from their beginnings as trading settlements into seething cauldrons of humanity as methods of transporting food over long distances developed.

There is lots of interesting detail about London and its markets, Chicago and its pigs, Paris and its sewers, and ancient Rome. We get a real sense of people grappling with new productive forces shaping their surroundings.

The problem is that as well as a very basic introduction to a materialist understanding of urban development, the back of the book asks important questions about world hunger and obesity but is too thin on detail and analysis to answer any of them.

As usual, when capitalism is guilty it wants to blame the victims, so the New York Times lectures the Haitians on sound governance when the US-led IMF has forced Haiti from poverty to starvation.

We need books on food and its production to understand the forces shaping our world now - a better start would be to read Raj Patel's book, Stuffed and Starved.