My Maiden Bloggingheads asked me to talk with Robert Paarlberg, author of the new Food Politics, and just posted the 45-minute conversation here, video below. Aside from swiping the title of Marion Nestle's modern classic and her website, which I'll charitably attribute to his publishers, Paarlberg has written a useful guide to and history of international food aid and the way it has often caused, or worsened famines. In fact his history of famines in the past several hundred years, and how they have invariably resulted from government, might be the most interesting chapter in the book.

As I say on the video, Paarlberg, a professor of political science at Wellesley who specializes in international agriculture and economic policy, has written the book in a Socratic method of one, choosing questions and answering them in pithy fashion. This makes the book easy to read, but it of course also means that he gets to frame every argument—a device that's fairly innocuous until he gets to GMOs and the history of organic agriculture, which he tends to dismiss as an elitist, fringe offshoot that won't really help feed people in large numbers. He's too careful, though, to dismiss it outright.

And, because he's an academic, he gives careful, leisurely answers in our conversation, as you'll see if you click on any of the clips. But we both had fun in our first venture with a hybrid form—who actually watches him or herself listening at length? (It's not Skype—the debaters can't see each other as they speak.) The Times chose to feature a clip of us debating organic vs. conventional; there's a livelier exchange in a shorter one of me on the hidden social cost of increasing crop yields; and of course you're welcome to watch all 46 minutes!

Presented by

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

What LBJ Really Said About Selma

"It's outrageous what's on TV. It looks like that man is in charge of the country."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


What LBJ Really Said About Selma

"It's going to go from bad to worse."


Does This Child Need Marijuana?

Inside a family's fight to use marijuana oils to treat epilepsy


A Miniature 1950s Utopia

A reclusive artist built this idealized suburb to grapple with his painful childhood memories.


Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her school. Then the Internet heard her story.

More in Health

From This Author

Just In