Robyn S. Metcalfe – Food Routes

In Food Routes, Robyn Metcalfe explores an often-overlooked aspect of the global food system: how food moves from producer to consumer. She finds that the food supply chain is adapting to our increasingly complex demands for both personalization and convenience – but, she says, it won’t be an easy ride.

Networked, digital tools will improve the food system but will also challenge our relationship to food in anxiety-provoking ways. It might not be easy to transfer our affections from verdant fields of organic tomatoes to high-rise greenhouses tended by robots. And yet, argues Metcalfe – a cautious technology optimist – technological advances offer opportunities for innovations that can get better food to more people in an increasingly urbanized world.

Metcalfe follows a slice of New York pizza and a club sandwich through the food supply chain; considers local foods, global foods, and food deserts; investigates the processing, packaging, and storage of food; explores the transportation networks that connect farm to plate; and explains how food can be tracked using sensors and the internet of things.

Future food may be engineered, networked, and nearly independent of crops grown in fields. New technologies can make the food system more efficient – but at what cost to our traditionally close relationship with food?

Author: Robyn S. Metcalfe
Narrator: Donna Postel
Duration: 8 hours 45 minutes
Released: 19 May 2003
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Language: English

User Review:

merit torn

This book broached a wonderful topic, with a writing style that was difficult -but in the end somewhat possible- to get used to and enjoy.

The authors phrasing often left me wondering what relationship one comment had with another or after listing to a series of ideas, left me questioning what, if any, meaning the comments had. Here are two typical examples:

Warehouses are being built every day, but their uses may change in the future

What? What is the connexion between these -what is the point here? That todays warehouses will be re-purposed in the future? Why is the author talking about this -if this is even really the authors intended point. Surely no one thinks that todays warehouses will remain unchanged forever; why is this a worthwhile fact with regards to food routes? The author should explain, or leave out material that at least prima facie seems a non-sequitor.

And, on-line shopping, the shift to smaller inventories and just-in-time fulfillment, and the development of direct-to-customer commerce may, or may not, make large warehouses another artifact of the industrial revolution.

Well, may, or may not certainly covers all the bases. This couldve been a sensible observation if it led to the exploration of each avenue, but it only led to more conjecture about what else may or may not occur, and then on to myriad disparate details.

The author moves from great generality and fanciful conjecture to concrete minutia with poetic flourish, over and over, in a painful, inconsistent way. As I got further through the book, I learnt to listen to it as more of a stream-of-consciousness pondering, it then became less frustrating and more enjoyable.

But in the end, even trying to go thru it at 2-3x speed, the author’s ramblings on future lettuce dropping to earth from space, and what used to be our food waste generating our power and being turned into our clothing, the statist fawning over the US military food distribution (no mention of costs to coerced taxpayers), interspersed with puns like ‘routes and roots’ (pronounced the same -groan) and semantic gems like ‘the only thing we’re certain of is that we’re not certain of anything’, were not engaging enough in ideas, information, or style to hold my attention in the way that many other books have.