Bloggingheads.tv 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!