French Beans and Food Scares: Culture and Commerce in an Anxious Age

By Susanne Freidberg | Go to book overview

Preface

From the time I first had the idea to write this book until I submitted the manuscript in mid-2003, mad cow disease seemed to most Americans a distant and exotic danger. Certainly the United States had a few late twentieth-century food scares: E-coli in hamburgers and apple juice; hepatitis on Guatemalan berries; scattered salmonella outbreaks. But these episodes passed quickly from the public eye, as individual companies issued apologies and recalls, and the government slapped temporary bans on suspect imports. These scares caused nothing near the level of public outrage and political controversy that followed the British government's 1996 announcement that, contrary to previous claims, the brain-eating bovine disease known as BSE might actually endanger humans too. Americans, for the most part, continued to trust their own government's claim that the United States' food supply was the safest in the world. They did not demand dramatic changes in laws or food industry practices, and did not get them.

One result was that European food politics and policies in the post–mad cow era appeared, to many Americans, stranger than ever. Not even the British could be considered as allies when it came to negotiations over, say, trade in genetically modified crops. Another result was that Americans could more easily ignore the broader implications of their collective power to demand safe, highquality food. Supermarkets provided them with relatively little information about where their food came from, just as the media provided relatively little coverage of the questions raised by the mad cow crises in other countries— questions that had important consequences for the places and people featured in this book.

These were questions about how, for example, to make an increasingly complex food supply more traceable and transparent without wiping out small producers and traditional production methods; about the true costs of cheap groceries; about the ethics of supporting farmers at home versus those in former colonies; about exactly what it takes to build trust in the face of inevitable foodborne risks. All these concerns received so little attention from the American

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French Beans and Food Scares: Culture and Commerce in an Anxious Age
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents xi
  • 1: The Global Green Bean and Other Tales of Madness 3
  • 2: Feeding the Nation - The Making of Modern Food Provisioning 33
  • 3: Burkina Faso - Rural Development and Patronage 61
  • 4: Zambia - Settler Colonialism and Corporate Paternalism 93
  • 5: France - Expertise and Friendship 127
  • 6: Britain - Brands and Standards 167
  • Conclusion 211
  • Notes 223
  • Works Cited 235
  • Index 261
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