• Animal, Vegetable, Junk

  • A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal
  • By: Mark Bittman
  • Narrated by: Mark Bittman
  • Length: 12 hrs and 53 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (198 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"Epic and engrossing." —The New York Times Book Review

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author and pioneering journalist, an expansive look at how history has been shaped by humanity’s appetite for food, farmland, and the money behind it all—and how a better future is within reach.

The story of humankind is usually told as one of technological innovation and economic influence—of arrowheads and atomic bombs, settlers and stock markets. But behind it all, there is an even more fundamental driver: Food.

In Animal, Vegetable, Junk, trusted food authority Mark Bittman offers a panoramic view of how the frenzy for food has driven human history to some of its most catastrophic moments, from slavery and colonialism to famine and genocide—and to our current moment, wherein Big Food exacerbates climate change, plunders our planet, and sickens its people. Even still, Bittman refuses to concede that the battle is lost, pointing to activists, workers, and governments around the world who are choosing well-being over corporate greed and gluttony, and fighting to free society from Big Food’s grip.

Sweeping, impassioned, and ultimately full of hope, Animal, Vegetable, Junk reveals not only how food has shaped our past, but also how we can transform it to reclaim our future.

©2021 Mark Bittman (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

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What listeners say about Animal, Vegetable, Junk

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Mostly Junk

Despite my considerable interest and excitement to listen to this book, I found that it was difficult to work my entire way through to the end. Author Mark Bittman claims in the preface that his work was "perhaps too ambitious" and, sadly, this was to be one of his more insightful comments. The book spans the idea of agriculture from the fertile crescent to modern day agribusiness and is almost unrelentingly negative about every element of the advances in practice and technology that have led to the state of farming as we see it today.

Before I go further, let me say that I am a lifelong Democrat, vegetarian inching towards vegan, weekly attendee of my local farmers market, a scientist working towards environmental sustainable technologies, avid gardener, and member of a local CSA. All of which is to say that I should be in the center of the "strike zone" for this work.

Perhaps the most grating aspect of this book is the unrelenting smugness the author brings as he criticizes every agricultural practice all the way back to the decision to move from a hunter gatherer society to farming over 10,000 years ago. I should mention that at times, the narrator for this book does Bittman no favors by subtly over-emphasizing the sneering tone, but the way that the words themselves are written leaves little doubt the condescension was already there. We get the impression from the tone and unrelenting focus on the negative aspects of everything that (with the benefit of hindsight) Bittman knows better than all of humanity.

The writing is so one-sided and needlessly political. Agriculture, in one way or another, is to be blamed for all that ills humanity. All major wars trace back to food insecurity. Sexism traces back to the division of labor in early agrarian households. Bittman claims that slavery and racism are even the inevitable outgrowths of the increasing dependence of humankind on large-scale farming. Nevermind, of course, that evidence for all of these practices in tribal societies is abundant, both past and present. The coupling of agriculture to free market economics is an even more toxic stew, Bittman says, nevermind that even he is forced to gloss over some of the biggest famines of modern history that were caused by corruption and mismanagement of centralized farming plans.

Given the excesses of our modern lifestyle and the undeniable damage being done to our planet in the name of ever expanding population and farmlands, the problems that Bittman skims over in the latter half of the book are certainly real and in need of discussion. I would have loved to have heard a balanced perspective of the costs of different farming practices against some of the tradeoffs that they come with (for example, the transfer of backbreaking, poorly compensated labor over to machines). It would have been nice if the data presented were trustworthy and not already outdated (for example, farms that are part of "big food" are already well on the way to a shift towards solar and other renewables to fuel their massive energy costs, a process Bittman claimed would "never happen if renewables aren't subsidized over fossil fuels")

Overall, I am sad to say that I found little Food for Thought here, and the nuggets that were offered up were Mostly Junk.

17 people found this helpful

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A very important book!

For anyone who cares how our vast array of climate changing, junk filled agribusiness has come to be, I highly recommend this book! Mark Bittman traces the history of food from when we were all hunter gatherers through the domestication of animals and the tilling of our fields all the way to the present day. The book is filled with anecdotes and humor and ends with an uplifting chapter of hope, detailing the efforts of many countries and groups trying and succeeding to produce food in a sustainable and non polluting way. Very highly recommended!

3 people found this helpful

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Learn why you eat what you eat

An amazing book about the history of food and how we got here. So many major events in human history were shaped by food and how we eat it. Bittman’s narration is warm and easy to listen to. Highly recommended!

3 people found this helpful

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Wish I had purchased in print

This book covers a lot of ground.
I have no right to critique because the author is clearly very intelligent and accomplished and thoughtful.
Just a personal opinion is that I felt the book wandered wider and editorialized more than I expected. Myself I think I would have benefited from having this in print and being able to read and skim.

3 people found this helpful

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Great overview of global agriculture

This was awesome, so much good information about the history and future of global agriculture, current dietary requirements and future possibilities.

1 person found this helpful

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Worth your time!

This was a well researched book and has a comprehensive thesis. It’s delivery is well balanced between facts and a story driven narrative. If you want to find out more about the things we take for granted as consumers, this is a really good analysis. I enjoyed every minute even though the truth is hard to hear sometimes!

1 person found this helpful

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Horrible listening experience

Very raspy quiet voice, very difficult to focus on the story. It’s unfortunate. Authors who want to narrate their books should listen to Bill Bryson or Stanley Tucci and then decide for the sake of the listeners: I don’t sound like these two examplary narrators, so I will leave this job to professionals. Another Audible credit went to waste due to the impossible narration.

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sad tale of the woes of consumption

I struggled to finish. This book was well researched and read, just very depressing! It felt somewhat repetitious.

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I was turned off by his progressive bias

Paints our US history with the drippings of critical race theory without calling it by name. Says solution to all the world's food "problems" is the Green New Deal among other socialist ideas.

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very interesting and insightful.

This must've taken awhile to compile. It does a sound job of covering agricultural history.