#7CheapThings: Cheap Lives

excerpted from A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore

Welcome to the seventh post in our #7CheapThings blog series! Raj Patel & Jason W. Moore’s A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things focuses on seven areas that are the foundation of modern commerce: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. How has the cheapening of these things made the world safe for capitalism? Follow along to find out.

#7CheapThings care book coverIn the case of every cheap thing so far, we’ve seen organized acts of resistance. Women, wageworkers, Indigenous People, and even those members of the ruling class on whose fortunes the sun has set—all have fought, more or less successfully, against the requirement of their subservience. In response, capitalists developed new strategies to forge new frontiers and to deepen existing ones. This cat-and-mouse game of resistance, strategy, and counterstrategy has been the history of capitalism’s ecology. Governments, merchants, and financiers scaled new heights of creativity and destruction in the search for profit. But capitalism’s ecology has also expanded and consolidated itself through prodigious experimentation in the arts and science of social order. Among the more durable and flexible technologies of social control is one that has become so familiar that it’s easy to forget its novelty and peculiarity: the nation-state.

The argument of this chapter is that capitalism’s ecology has shaped the modern nation-state and vice versa, through the colonial frontier, through the interactions between early capitalists and “savages,” and through the technologies of communication that capitalism fostered at its inception. The ordering and reordering of Society through cheap things has always proceeded by both force and suasion, coercion and consent. To maintain hegemony is, as Antonio Gramsci observed, to recruit and maintain forces from across society in a bloc that is able to continually outmaneuver its rivals. In the pursuit of order and control, the idea of “the nation” became affixed to the state in ways that few could predict and which continue to shape the planet.

Keeping things cheap is expensive. The forces of law and order, domestic and international, are a costly part of the management of capitalism’s ecology. We’ve titled this chapter “Cheap Lives” and not “Expensive State” because we want to focus not on the institutions of government but on their processes and consequences. Technically, lives aren’t a cheap thing in the way that the others are—but it would have made for an infelicitous title to admit this earlier. Understand how capitalism has made “cheap lives” a strategy of cheap nature, and you understand not only the forces required to keep money, work, care, food, and energy cheap but also how the most sophisticated and subtle modern institution, the nation-state, still draws on early modern roots and natural science to manage modern life. More important still, as states confront the limits of their ability both to manage the lives in their charge and to provide conducive environments for liberal capitalism, we’re reaching the end of an era of cheap lives. We make this argument not with relish for the successor to the liberal nation-state but out of concern for what may follow. We’re astute enough students of history to know that what comes next might be far worse.


Raj Patel care author photoRaj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin and a Senior Research Associate at the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing.

Jason W. Moore author photo careJason W. Moore teaches world history and world-ecology at Binghamton University, and is coordinator of the World-Ecology Research Network. He is the author of several books, including Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, and numerous award-winning essays in environmental history, political economy, and social theory.


The Culinary Sphere as a Political Arena

by Nir Avieli, author of Food and Power: A Culinary Ethnography of Israel

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

In a recent talk on my book Food and Power: A Culinary Ethnography of Israel during a visit to the US, I was asked whether my findings were not in contradiction with Jewish morality, and whether my text would not make for ammunition in the hands of anti-Semitic critics of Israel. For example, wasn’t my definition of the Israeli cuisine characterized by large, cheap portions of low quality resonating with the classic anti-Semitic perceptions of “the Jew” as stingy and greedy? And wasn’t my argument that the accusations by Israelis of Thai migrant workers for systematically hunting and eating Israeli pet dogs implying that Israelis were racists?

Food and Power is indeed a political project. It deals with the misuse and abuse of power in modern-day Israel, and exposes antidemocratic, xenophobic, and racist tendencies that taint the political and public arenas. In this sense, it is a stern critique of contemporary Israeli society. It is not, however, a post-Zionist or anti-Israeli project. Rather, it is a critical analysis of an extremely important cultural realm: The Israeli culinary sphere, which has not been approached thus far as a political sphere, enmeshed in power relations.

Do my findings contradict Jewish morality? While I could have argued that academics were not an authority when it comes to moral standards, I responded that there is no monolithic or agreed upon Jewish morality but, rather, multiple interpretations of what Jewish morality was, some of which can only be described as contradictory. And oddly enough, this is exactly what my findings indicate; that different people in different contexts understand and enact Jewish morality in very different ways: Eating as much as you can no matter the quality may be understood as a manifestation of greed, but also as an expression of vulnerability and fear. Accusing the Thais of eating Israeli dogs may be pure racism, but my findings suggest that this myth has emerged as a partial solution for the shame many Israelis feel regarding the employment of foreign workers in a country that cherished “Jewish labor”.

So while Food and Power approaches some of the negative features of Israeli society, including gluttony, greed, ethnocentrism, racism, patriarchal machismo, and other forms of power abuse, I have dedicated this book to my children,  hoping that the prevailing ethno-messianic and neo-liberal ideologies which have been increasingly dominant since the mid 1990’s will eventually collapse due to their essential immorality, internal contradictions, and lack of practical solutions for the problems and difficulties Israel faces.


Nir Avieli is a Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben Gurion University, Israel.


Making The “Meat and Two Veg” for Sunday Dinner and Why it Matters

by Amy B. Trubek, author of Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

Making Modern Meals cooking book coverThe discipline of anthropology has always paid close attention to everyday life, relying on ethnography as the method par excellence. Observations of how we live work like a microscope of the social. Anthropologists take notes on the small and telling details because each one means something, revealing our values, our perceptions, our social selves. Everyday life certainly matters. In this telling, food, for anthropologists, should be a matter par excellence: everybody eats. And to a certain extent this is true. Anthropology, of all the social science disciplines, probably contains the broadest and deepest set of fine grained studies of the complex and contradictory relationship humans have with food. Over the past ten years, a number of ethnographies have looked at the significance of special ritual meals, the meanings of an artisan product, food ways as means for social distinction and social power, the global journeys of ingredients, and more, all resulting in fascinating analyses.

But we have yet to give food its due, especially given the commitment of anthropologists to everyday life and everyday experience. What about all the processes involved in answering that mundane and necessary question addressed fifty years ago by Mary Douglas: What should we have for dinner? As David Sutton, a committed ethnographer of cooking points out, even in Douglas’s famous consideration of the British meal, in this brilliant analysis of the structure of her meal why was “no concern expressed about how the ingredients might be assembled, processed and cooked to create these dishes (“Cooking in Theory” in Anthropological Theory, 2017)?” It is tempting to focus on the finished product, the object of consumption as what matters most. But there is more to put under the microscope. There is eating Sunday dinner but there is also making it. What items must she purchase in order to create the two veg on the side? Where did she get her ingredients? How did she learn how to make that roast? Over the course of my research on everyday cooking in the United States, I realized that so much tacit knowledge stays just below the surface, buried, rarely the focus of attention. What is known but not understood is the next journey anthropologists of food should take. The tiny, the trivial, the barely conscious are in fact grand, powerful and significant. As I witnessed, while dinner gets made – and planned, and eaten, and cleaned up – so to do our social lives and social selves.


Amy Trubek author cooking Making Modern MealsAmy B. Trubek is Associate Professor of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Vermont. She is the author of Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession and The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir.


#7CheapThings: Cheap Energy

excerpted from A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore

Welcome to the sixth post in our #7CheapThings blog series! Raj Patel & Jason W. Moore’s A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things focuses on seven areas that are the foundation of modern commerce: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. How has the cheapening of these things made the world safe for capitalism? Follow along to find out.

#7CheapThings care book coverCapitalism’s ecology has a distinctive pyrogeography, one that is part of the fossil record. Indigenous People had thoroughly modified New World landscapes through fire. In eastern North America, they coproduced the “mosaic quality” of forest, savannah, and meadow that Europeans took for pristine nature. Between Columbus’s arrival and around 1650, disease and colonial violence reduced Indigenous populations in the Americas by 95 percent. With fewer humans burning and cutting them down, forests recovered so vigorously that the New World became a planetary carbon sink. Forest growth cooled the planet so much that the Indigenous holocaust contributed to the Little Ice Age’s severity. By the middle of the seventeenth century, some of the early modern era’s worst winters were being recorded across Eurasia and the Americas. Not coincidentally, it was an era of bitter war and political unrest, from Beijing to Paris. To reprise an idea from the introduction, it would be wrong to characterize this episode of genocide and reforestation as anthropogenic. The colonial exterminations of Indigenous Peoples were the work not of all humans, but of conquerors and capitalists. Capitalogenic would be more appropriate. And if we are tempted to conflate capitalism with the Industrial Revolution, these transformations ought to serve notice that early capitalism’s destruction was so profound that it changed planetary climate four centuries ago.

For many commoners in Europe and beyond, forests and woodlands were—and remain—as essential to survival as food. The destruction of the commons involved more than the creation of hunger. It also removed common rights to gather wood, imposing a poverty of fuel and construction material. In feudal Europe, demographic and settlement expansion in the eleventh and twelfth centuries led to conflict not just over farmland but also over access to forests, which had become lucrative income sources for nobles and kings. When England’s King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, it’s significant that he was also compelled to sign a second document at the same time: the Charter of the Forest. Where the Magna Carta turns on legal and political rights, the Charter of the Forest was about “economic survival”: securing for peasants something called estovers, a broad category of subsistence wood products. The Forest Charter was an assurance of English commoners’ access to fuel, food, and building materials.

In Germany, as Peter Linebaugh notes, “the first great proletarian revolt of modern history, the Peasants’ Revolt of Germany in 1525, demanded the restoration of customary forest rights.” These included rights to use “ ‘windfall wood, rootfall trees, and inbowes,’ where these latter were defined ‘also only to so much thereof as the bees do light on, and the honey that shall be found in the tree, but not to cut any main bough or tree itself by color thereof.’ ” People have been fighting for centuries over the fuel and construction material that wood can become. It’s worth mentioning all this because it’s too often forgotten that capitalism’s energy revolution began not with coal but with wood—and with the privatization that forest enclosure implies.

This is not to privilege a European and North American history of energy over the histories of deforestation in, say, China. Notwithstanding the moderating effects of the forest police, China’s great deforestation one thousand years ago had consequences that persist today: at ten cubic meters (353 cubic feet), the country’s per capita forest reserves are an eighth of the world average. But China’s world-ecology wasn’t committed to global conquest. Europe’s was.

The reason to look at energy in Europe lies in the different use of fuel—a kind of cheap nature—as an intrinsic part of capitalism’s ecology. Cheap energy is a way of amplifying—and in some cases substituting for—cheap work and care. If cheap food is capitalism’s major way of reducing the wage bill, cheap energy is the crucial lever to advance labor productivity. The two can function as a logical sequence, even if the actual history is more complex. First, peasants must be ejected from the commons. These new workers must find wage work in some form. Second, the workshops and factories that employ these workers have to compete with one another. And while there’s a long history of bosses’ overworking their employees, the competitive struggle between capitalists is ultimately decided by labor productivity. We normally think of labor productivity—that is, the production of more commodities per average hour of work—as something determined by machines. But capitalist machines function because they draw on the work of extrahuman natures, and these have to be cheap, because the demand is limitless. For this reason, the enclosure of terrestrial commons coincided with the enclosure of the subterranean world. At the very moment when peasant life was turned upside down in sixteenth-century England, the country’s great coal mines were pumping out coal by the thousands of tons. Here a new layer of cheapness emerges in our picture of the world: capitalism’s global factory requires not just a global farm and a global family, but a global mine as well.

In this chapter we explore how energy became one of capitalism’s cheap things through energy revolutions in Europe and the Americas, and what cheap energy means for the twenty-first century’s global ecology. Energy qualifies as a “thing” insofar as it is transformed from part of the web of life into a commodity to be bought and sold. Fossilized life becomes stuff for a fire and an engine’s fuel tank only through capitalism’s ecology. But capitalism’s energy system does several tasks at once. It makes both energy and inputs cheaper: cheap coal makes cheap steel; cheap peat makes for cheap(er) bricks. This reduces the costs of doing business and enhances profitability. Cheap energy also helps keep labor costs down, by controlling one of the largest costs (after food) in a family budget. While enclosure made energy more expensive for most peasants by removing their access to the commons—where, in many parts of the world, collecting resources had fallen to women—it also pulled workers into the cash economy, where they had to pay for their building materials and fuel. Controlling energy costs was another way to manage and sustain cheap work.


Raj Patel care author photoRaj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin and a Senior Research Associate at the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing.

Jason W. Moore author photo careJason W. Moore teaches world history and world-ecology at Binghamton University, and is coordinator of the World-Ecology Research Network. He is the author of several books, including Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, and numerous award-winning essays in environmental history, political economy, and social theory.


#7CheapThings: Cheap Meat, Cheap Labor, Cheap Food

excerpted from A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore

Welcome to the fifth post in our #7CheapThings blog series! Raj Patel & Jason W. Moore’s A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things focuses on seven areas that are the foundation of modern commerce: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. How has the cheapening of these things made the world safe for capitalism? Follow along to find out.

#7CheapThings care book coverTo those with a romantic view of where their food comes from, meat appears to be a raw ingredient rather than a processed one. Yet the industrial labor techniques of simplification, compartmentalization, and specialization first developed in sugar production have found their way into meat production too. Feed and oilseed crops, made possible in the Global South partly by the spread of the Green Revolution, form part of what Weis terms “the industrial grain-oilseed-livestock complex.” The creation of markets for uniform grain and meat commodities—such as the Chicago Board of Trade—made it possible for these commodities to become not only cheap food but the backing for financial instruments. These instruments in turn require the uniformity, homogenization, and industrialization of the crops they transform. Such industry demands the invention of new veterinary practices—from intensive breeding to hormonal supplementation to antibiotic use to concentrated animal feeding operations—which have had globally transformative effects on the quality of food, soil, water, and air. Raw meat in the supermarket is, in other words, cooked up by a sophisticated and intensive arm of capitalism’s ecology.

One result is a meat-production system that can turn a fertile egg and a nine-pound (four-kilogram) bag of feed into a five pound (two-kilogram) chicken in five weeks. Turkey production times almost halved between 1970 and 2000, down to twenty weeks from egg to thirty-five-pound (sixteen-kilogram) bird. Other animals have seen similar advances from a combination of breeding, concentrated feeding operations, and global supply chains. Half of the world’s pork is eaten in China, and its feed import sources are a planetary affair. As are the consequences: 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are from livestock production. One pound (about half a kilogram) of beef requires 1,799 gallons (6,810 liters) of water and seven pounds (three kilograms) of feed to produce.

The environmental consequences of meat production are, of course, external to the profit calculus of the industrial food system. This is one of the reasons why meat is so cheap. Cheap labor is another. The danger is to see “factory farming” as an environmental question and “factory production” as a social question. Given the centrality of cheap labor power in the US neoliberal meat-packing sector, we might also point out the centrality of Latino immigrants. The delivery of this cheap work was made possible by class restructuring on two fronts. One, in the United States, was a strong movement in the 1980s by newly aggressive meat-packing firms—such as Hormel—to destroy union power and replace unionized workers with low-wage immigrant labor. The other was the destabilization of Mexico’s agrarian order after 1994 by NAFTA, which resulted in flows of cheap immigrant labor, unemployed workers displaced by capitalism’s ecology from one side of the US border to the other.

Despite the considerable environmental and governmental subsidies afforded the meat industry, many people are unable to afford its products. For them the private sector and the international development community have offered an alternative: improved nutrition of industrially produced plant-based food. This is more than a little ironic: industrialization and the Green Revolution bred nutrition out of many of the staples in the food system. Those nutrients were casualties of the drive to maximize the yield, shelf life, and consumer acceptability of a standardized commodity. Reintroducing them is a means of increasing the profitability of an ultraprocessed food substance. In a way, the logic of cheap meat production comes full circle, with additives in food designed not to produce profitable animal flesh but to sustain cheap human labor, which, in its turn, will produce more profit further down the line.


Raj Patel care author photoRaj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin and a Senior Research Associate at the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing.

Jason W. Moore author photo careJason W. Moore teaches world history and world-ecology at Binghamton University, and is coordinator of the World-Ecology Research Network. He is the author of several books, including Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, and numerous award-winning essays in environmental history, political economy, and social theory.


A History of Cookbooks: Does the Cookbook Have A Future?

excerpted from A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries by Henry Notaker

This October we are celebrating National Cookbook Month by exploring the history of the cookbook genre. Check back each Wednesday for a new excerpt from Henry Notaker’s work.

A History of Cookbooks coverThe future of the cookbook is part of a broader question: What is the future of the book? When the cook Martino and the writer Platina met in the fifteenth century, the Gutenberg era had just begun. What will happen to the physical book as more and more information and texts of all kinds can be accessed via other media? According to the scholar David Greetham, we don’t know yet if this shift “from the printed book to hypertext is of a different order from previous shifts in medium (for example from manuscript to print, from roll to codex, from oral transmission to the written word).” It is possible that the primacy of print will be totally undermined by new technologies in the long run, but this does not necessarily signify the death of the book. Historians David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery point out that, “in fact, some have argued that new media has the potential to extend the life of the book through individual engagement with written texts.”

Printed cookbooks are still flooding the market, but more and more people are turning to the Internet to look for recipes. Is it only a matter of time before cookbooks follow the same path as reference works, with exclusively electronic editions? Or do cookbooks have other functions and needs than most reference works? The history of the cookbook dates back to the manuscript age, when single recipes were recorded; over time, these were compiled into recipe collections. After the introduction of modern printing, individuals continued to put together their own cookbooks made up of material from friends as well as recipes found in printed books. Some printed cookbooks even included blank pages so readers could write down their personal recipes. In the nineteenth century, recipes were printed in magazines, which meant that instead of copying recipes by hand, housewives (and perhaps some men) could cut them out and paste them into their private cookbooks, still a common activity today. Some publishers even invented new alternative forms for collecting recipes, such as systems with each recipe printed on a separate card or a separate sheet that could be put into a box or a ring binder.

In other words, cookbooks have a long tradition of being considered dynamic literature. In this context, using the Internet to search for and view recipes is just another step in the same direction. It is now possible to compile a personal electronic recipe collection and make the most of the new features this medium offers, such as hypertext and searchability. The Internet makes it possible to watch video clips of recipes being prepared, and recipes can also be introduced through the new medium of television cooking shows.

Illustrations have been printed in cookbooks since the incunabula era, but they were rarely pedagogically effective. Television brought a new type of approach, one that in many ways mimics the scenario in which a mother teaches her daughter or a master cook instructs his apprentice: words are followed by acts, or better, acts are explained by words. Normally, this is a one-way communication, from the television cook to the audience, but it is sometimes a dialogue between two people in a television studio. How is the host’s language created in this new setting? Are the sentences planned and drilled—in other words, are they written texts learned by heart? Is this a false orality compared to the original teacher-pupil scenario? Or is all teaching based on a certain degree of performance and therefore dependent on training? At any rate, modern television cooks most certainly have reminiscences of all the cookbooks they have read and all the cooking teachers they have listened to. The scholar Walter Ong has called this new orality a secondary orality: “This new orality has striking resemblances to the old in participatory mystique, its fostering of a communal sense, its concentration on the present moment, and even its use of formulas. But it is essentially a more deliberate and self-conscious orality, based permanently on the use of writing and print.”

Most people watch television cooking shows as a form of entertainment. The writer Neil Postman observed in 1984 that television transformed part of Western culture into an arena of show business; education became an “amusing activity.” But practical professions are learned not only by listening and watching but also by doing. This means that television kitchen shows are only superficially similar to the original mother-daughter and master-apprentice scenarios because the daughter and apprentice actually had to repeat the acts demonstrated by their teachers. This may change through the use of new electronic media, such as personal blogs, which allow for interactivity.

Despite their popularity, television shows and blogs have not made books superfluous. Some of the hosts of these programs have become celebrity chefs, and the recipes from their shows have been collected and published as books, many of which have become bestsellers. Today, the same is happening with food blogs, many of which have also been turned into popular cookbooks. The Internet has become a steppingstone to producing a printed work. This has brought about changes to the editorial process. Traditionally, at least since the early twentieth century, publishers had ideas for cookbooks, contacted qualified individuals, made marketing analyses, and so on. Now, much of this work is done on social media. At the same time, technological advances have opened the gates for self-publishing. The Mexican intellectual Gabriel Zaid warned that the number of books increases geometrically, while the number of readers increases arithmetically; so, if the passion for writing continues like this, we are heading toward a world with more authors than readers.

To answer the question of whether a cookbook is really necessary in this environment, we must begin with a discussion of function. Many television shows are available on the Internet, which means that the recipes can be watched repeatedly on a computer screen, but is this practical in the kitchen? There are still fumes and smoke in many kitchens, which can make electronic devices difficult or unsuitable to use. But even if these problems were to be solved, cookbooks would still be popular. The reason is that they don’t need to be read for practical purposes. When the great French poet Baudelaire complained about the lack of good restaurants in Belgium, he found comfort in reading a cookbook. That kind of pleasure is even more obvious today with the introduction of modern food design in the illustrations of beautiful editions of cookbooks in coffee-table format. The recipes in these books are meant to be leafed through and read sitting in a sofa or an easy chair rather than followed step by step over the kitchen stove. In this context, it is possible to see cookbooks as show business. When Postman refers to what he calls “television-oriented print media,” he mentions magazines such as People and US, but there is a similar interchange between television cooking shows and food blogs and coffee-table cookbooks.

As Angus Phillips has pointed out, books are also important for the authors themselves: “For an author, appearing in print remains better than being published on the Web. There is an affirmation of one’s worth as a writer, and receiving a beautifully printed hardback of one’s work is an undeniable pleasure.”9 This is particularly important if an author wants to be considered for prizes and awards, such as the annual Gourmand World Cookbook Award. Celebrity chefs can use their cookbooks to promote themselves, and cookbooks can be used to promote special products, foods, and kitchen appliances.

Finally, many cookbooks are conceived and written within the framework of a lifestyle ideology, representing new (and old) moral attitudes and practices. They are part of a self-help and self-development literature, to be studied mainly outside of the kitchen.


Notaker cookbook author photoHenry Notaker is a literary historian who taught courses in food culture and history for over a decade. He was a foreign correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and a TV host of arts and letters shows and documentaries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on European and Latin American contemporary history, food history, and culinary literature.


#7CheapThings: Raj Patel on World Ecology and More

Nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives: these are the seven things that have made our world and will shape its future. In making these things cheap, modern commerce has transformed, governed, and devastated Earth. In A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore present a new approach to analyzing today’s planetary emergencies. Read on below to learn more about world ecology and the importance of #7CheapThings in our current political climate.

What is world ecology?

Like all academic terms of art, it’s not quite what it appears. World-ecology isn’t the ecology of planet Earth – that’d just be ‘ecology’. World-ecology is an intellectual update of world-systems theory, which in its day was a new way to think about what unit of analysis to use to explain and understand social change. Rather than take individual states as molecules in a system interacting with one another, world-systems theory looked to the processes that produced those states, at how Britain wouldn’t be Britain except through its interactions with the rest of the planet. World-ecology goes one better. Rather than looking at humans and nature separately, world-ecology looks at how our understanding of human and nature have been produced together.

What is the capitalocene vs. anthropocene?

Understanding the answer to question 1 makes it easier to answer this question. World-ecology makes it harder to believe that there’s some timeless and unchanging set of things that constitute being human in the world. For the term ‘anthropocene’ to make sense, you have to believe that the current transformations of the planet, recorded in the earth as extinctions and radioactivity and plastic, are the inevitable outcomes of anthropos, of humans. The counterargument is that while humans have indeed been responsible for extinctions in the past 20,000 years, we also still have human civilizations – particularly indigenous ones – that are very good at living within the web of life without leaving a trail of destruction. The real uptick in planetary transformation has much less to do with being human and much more to do with capitalism. So rather than call it the anthropocene, it’s more accurate to call it the capitalocene.

How do we make sense of your book’s message during the current political climate?

We’re writing this book to help connect dots between different movements for change, to show how ideas of patriarchy and supremacy have always been intersectional. We’re already very excited about the international reception we’ve received for these ideas, and what we’re hoping is that they can help inform the theorizing and organizing for change that’s happening around the world, helping movements to connect with one another in ways that can make them stronger.

Read more posts in our #7CheapThings blog series here.


Raj Patel care author photoRaj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin and a Senior Research Associate at the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing.


A History of Cookbooks: How New Products Entered Cookbooks

excerpted from A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries by Henry Notaker

This October we are celebrating National Cookbook Month by exploring the history of the cookbook genre. Check back each Wednesday for a new excerpt from Henry Notaker’s work.

A History of Cookbooks coverThere was a great difference between the various products in the way they were integrated. When people were confronted with the new foods, they compared them to existing and well-known food categories. The product that was most easily accepted was turkey—at least for those who could afford to buy it. This animal was not too different from the other big birds that had traditionally been served at the tables of the European elite. Turkey could be used as a substitute for peacock or capon and was prepared the same way. Meat from birds was also considered to be healthy, so it did not risk being criticized by doctors, as many of the other new foods were.

It is consequently no surprise that cookbooks with recipes for turkey were published in the first century after Columbus arrived in the New World. In 1570, the Italian Bartolomeo Scappi suggested the same preparation for turkey pullets and ordinary pullets, and he compared the cooking of turkey with that of peacock. A decade later, the German Marx Rumpolt proposed twenty different ways to prepare turkey, all of them well-established methods for other meats. A taste for turkey soon spread from the aristocracy to the wealthy bourgeoisie, and prices went down. In France in 1538, turkey meat cost eight times more than meat from hens; in 1711, it was only twice as much.

The tomato is an example of a new food that was slow to become part of European food culture. For a long time appreciated only as an ornamental plant, the tomato was mentioned as food around 1600 in an Italian botanical treatise. As was the case with turkey, the fruit was compared with well-known ingredients in the kitchen; the author of the text explained that tomatoes could be eaten the same way as eggplants—with salt, pepper, and oil. But the first professional recipe for the food did not come until 1692, when Antonio Latini’s Italian cookbook gave a preparation for salsa di pomodoro, alla spagnuola (tomato salsa, Spanish style). In Spain, tomatoes were not included in any cookbooks published before 1611. After that year, there is unfortunately a period in which no new Spanish cookbooks were published that lasted until 1745, when we find a recipe for tomato sauces with garlic and oil, typical of the Mediterranean food culture we know today.

Tomato recipes in Spanish and Italian cookbooks surprise nobody, since the fruit could be grown in these countries. The situation was completely different in northern Europe, where effective cultivation came only in the twentieth century. The first tomato recipes from this region were from the last decades of the nineteenth century, and they suggested using canned tomatoes in soups and sauces. One of the Russian cookbooks written by Elena Molokhovets called for tomato purée in soups in early editions published in the 1860s and only gradually introduced fresh tomato dishes. As late as 1896, Charles-Emil Hagdahl wrote in his gourmet cookbook that he regretted that tomatoes in Sweden were mainly sold in the form of bottles of purée, imported from abroad. In Norway, a cookbook from 1888 included a series of interesting tomato recipes, but the book actually demonstrates why general conclusions about diet never should be drawn on the basis of one cookbook. The author had spent several years in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), where tomatoes were common by that point, and her book was the only one of its kind. A decade later, another Norwegian author did not give any tomato recipes in the first edition of her cookbook, published in 1897, and in a later edition, issued in 1912, she remarked that “tomatoes are seldom appreciated the first time they are tasted,” and wrote that in Norway, “tomatoes are still very expensive.”


Notaker cookbook author photoHenry Notaker is a literary historian who taught courses in food culture and history for over a decade. He was a foreign correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and a TV host of arts and letters shows and documentaries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on European and Latin American contemporary history, food history, and culinary literature.


Available Today: A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things

We live in precarious times. As we continue to step further into both our uncertain political climate and continuing late stage capitalist system, it is unclear both where we are headed and what things will look like in the near future.

Starting with Christopher Columbus and continuing through to the present day, Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore chart the history of our current economic system and suggest that it’s not too late to steer ourselves off of the increasingly capitalist and neoliberal path we are currently wandering down. Using the cheapening of seven key things—nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives—A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things shows how we made the world safe for capitalism and provides a radical new way of understanding—and reclaiming—the planet in our current turbulent times.

Read on to see what others have to say about the book, and use promo code 17W1863 to save 30% when you order the book on our website.


“Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore have transformed ‘cheapness’ into a brilliant and original lens that helps us understand the most pressing crises of our time, from hyper-exploitation of labor to climate change. As we come together to build a better world, this book could well become a defining framework to broaden and deepen our ambitions.”—Naomi Klein, author of No Is Not Enough and This Changes Everything

“It’s remarkably rare that authors manage to find a really useful new lens through which to view the world—but Patel and Moore have done just that, writing an eye-opening account that helps us see the startling reality behind what we usually dismiss as the obvious and everyday.”—Bill McKibben, author of Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance

“What a relief to read a bold, grand narrative of European colonialism/capitalism and its destruction of the environment as well as reducing whole civilizations to enslavement, impoverishment and ruin—just what is needed at this time to contextualize the many granular studies we now have access to. Patel and Moore have provided not only an elegantly written and insightful narrative, but also a path to imagine a noncapitalist future.”—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

“This book is a remarkable achievement: it makes the history of capitalism from Columbus to climate change into a page-turner. If you’ve been wondering how we got into this mess, what care work has to do with ecological crisis, why racism is intertwined with capitalism at the roots, Patel and Moore are the guides you need.”—Sarah Jaffe, author of Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt

Follow along with the rest of our #7CheapThings blog series here.


A History of Cookbooks: American Cookbooks and National Identity

excerpted from A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries by Henry Notaker

This October we are celebrating National Cookbook Month by exploring the history of the cookbook genre. Check back each Wednesday for a new excerpt from Henry Notaker’s work.

A History of Cookbooks coverIn 1776, many years before the aforementioned European nations started to fight for independence, a new independent country had been created in North America: the United States. After the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolutionary War, a growing national consciousness was observed among the inhabitants of the nascent state. This new patriotism was strengthened by new national symbols; before the turn of the century, the United States had a flag, the Great Seal, and a national bird, the bald eagle. The first cookbook written by an American is also from this period: American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons, was published in 1796. The subtitle claimed that the book was “adapted to this country.” There are recipes for Independence Cake and Federal Pan Cake, but more important is the use of indigenous foodstuffs, such as corn, squash, and Jerusalem artichoke.

The language of the book has many interesting features. For example, it introduced several Americanisms that had not yet been referred to in American dictionaries. One of them was “slapjack” (a corn pancake), a word probably based on a misreading of the English “flapjack”; at the time, the f and the long s (∫) were very similar in print. The book was also the first to use two words borrowed from Dutch: “cookey,” from the Dutch koekje, used for what English cookbooks called “little cakes,” and “slaw” from the Dutch sla, meaning “salad.”

The author—of whom we know nothing more than we can read in the book—presented herself on the title page as “An American Orphan.” Why did she give this peculiar biographical information? Some scholars have interpreted it as a national metaphor. The author had to support herself without any help from a parent, just as the United States needed to survive without England. If this interpretation is correct, the book is an even stronger proof of national attitudes.

It should be mentioned that not all the recipes in Simmons’s book are American. She included traditional English recipes, many of them taken verbatim from English books. But the American recipes in Simmons’s book were noticed by both readers and publishers; in the following years, new editions of old English books were printed with the addition of American recipes, many of them taken directly from American Cookery. The title of her book also heralded a period when the American angle was emphasized. In the years leading up to the Civil War, more than twenty cookbooks used the word “American” in their titles: for example, The American Housewife, American Domestic Cookery, American Receipt Book, and Modern American Cookery.

The United States was a society dominated by immigrants from many European countries, and one of the characteristics of cookbook publishing, like other fields of publishing, was the high number of books in languages other than English. The first French cookbook in the United States was published in 1840, the first Spanish in 1845, and the first German (Pennsylvania Dutch) in 1848, and they were followed by cookbooks in Italian, Yiddish, and Scandinavian languages, mirroring the country’s different immigrant groups. Some of the books were printed in two languages—for example, Yiddish and English, or French and English.

Most cookbooks in foreign languages catered to large immigrant groups who wanted to preserve their culinary heritage, but there were also foreign-language cookbooks with a very different intention. A particular genre consisted of works with recipes written in two parallel columns, one in American English and the other in Danish, Swedish, or Finnish. They were meant to help American housewives communicate with their Scandinavian servants—of which there were a large number in the United States around 1900. The housewife would point out the dish she wanted prepared (the dishes in these books were American, not Scandinavian), and the servant would then use the cookbook as a manual for cooking in addition to as a textbook for the English language.


Notaker cookbook author photoHenry Notaker is a literary historian who taught courses in food culture and history for over a decade. He was a foreign correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and a TV host of arts and letters shows and documentaries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on European and Latin American contemporary history, food history, and culinary literature.