#7CheapThings: What Is Cheap Money?

Welcome to the second 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.

If we want to understand the idea of cheap money, we have to first go beyond money and zoom out to take a look at the larger picture. At the core of capitalism is a cycle that expands beyond just money and encompasses commodities as well. Money flows into commodities which then flow back into money. It is here that the authors note:

A peculiar and very modern magic lies here. States wanted the loot of war, but needed money to pay the military. Without war, they couldn’t acquire riches which they needed, in part, to pay for the previous war. War, money, war. Bankers needed governments to repay them, and governments needed bankers to fund them. What’s new about capitalism and its ecology isn’t the pursuit of profit, but the relations between the pursuit, its financing, and governments. The planet was to be remade through these relations, and they are the subject of this chapter.

This cycle is fueled by the cheap money in question, specifically “a secure denomination of exchange that can be relied upon to facilitate commerce, controlled in a way that meets the needs of the ruling bloc at the same time.” Said cheapness includes two major characteristics: the appropriation of a primary commodity such as gold or oil and its regulation that allows interest to remain low and control over the wider cash economy which only states can provide.

In the end, however:

Cheap money means one thing above all – low interest. Even in today’s world of fast-moving container ships and high frequency stock trades, credit is the lifeblood of capitalism. If cheap work, food, energy, and raw materials are the necessary conditions for capitalist booms, cheap credit makes it all possible. Historically, there’s been a virtuous circle of cheap money and new frontiers. When opportunities for profit making contracted in established regions of production and extraction, capitalists took their profits and put it into money-dealing. That’s one reason why, after each great boom in world capitalism – the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, the British in the mid-nineteenth century, and the American postwar golden age – there’s been a curious process that scholars call financialization. We’re living in such a time at the moment, and history doesn’t reassure – such cycles of accumulation usually end in war, with the rise of new financial powers, as we’ll see below.

Two movements make financialization attractive and even useful for capitalism. One is that, as we’ve seen, when the world’s economic pie stops growing, leading powers tend to go to war, or at a minimum build up their warmaking capacity. As we will see modern states rarely self-finance their wars. They have to borrow money just like anyone else. The other thing that happens is that capital in the heartlands of the system begin to flow towards the frontiers. In the late nineteenth century, for example, gigantic sums of British capital, in the form of loans, flowed out of London and towards the rest of world, especially to build railroads. Thus the significance of financialization – relatively cheap British capital flowed out to make possible a global railway network, which in turn was central to the next century’s extraordinary food and resource extraction. This worked so long as there were bountiful frontiers, where humans and other natures could be put to work – or otherwise extracted – for cheap. When the boom made possible – in part – by the global railway network went bust, in the 1970s, a new era of financialization began. And though the neoliberal era owed it existence to precisely the inverse of cheap money – the 1979 Volcker Shock – a long era of cheap money followed. As Anwar Shaikh explains, the neoliberal “boom” — such as it was – that began in the 1980s was “spurred by a sharp drop in interest rates… Falling interest rates also lubricated the spread of capital across the globe, promoted a huge rise in consumer debt, and fuelled international bubbles in finance and real estate.” What’s different today is that, where once finance was a bridge to a renewed era of profitability, because of how finance, science, and empire cooperated to make new frontiers of cheap nature, there are no such frontiers today. In the twenty-first, money masks the underlying problems of socio-ecological crisis, magnifying the contradictions in the process.


Raj 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 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 Nature

Welcome to the first 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.

 

Raj & Jason, in their book, argue that humans in a capitalist system abuse the ecosystems that they are a part of, with the demand for profit outweighing detrimental effects on the environment. In this shift towards profit governing life, a split between the ideas of “Nature” and “Society” needed to occur. What exactly is meant by that is outlined in the excerpt below.

In the English language, the words nature and society assumed their familiar meanings only after 1550, over the arc of the “long” sixteenth century (c. 1450–1640). This was, as we shall see, a decisive period in England’s capitalist and colonial history. It marked the rise of the Spanish and Portuguese empires and their construction of massive New World production systems, worked by coerced Indigenous and African labor. These transformations were key elements of a planetary shift in the global center of power and production from Asia to the North Atlantic. That shift did not come fast. Europe was technologically and economically impoverished compared to civilizations on the other side of Asia, and only after 1800 did that change. China, recall, already had the printing press, a potent navy, gunpowder, and vibrant cities, and it was marked by both wealth and environmental crisis. Where European capitalism thrived was in its capacity to turn Nature into something productive and to transform that productivity into wealth. This capacity depended on a peculiar blend of force, commerce, and technology, but also something else—an intellectual revolution underwritten by a new idea: Nature as the opposite of Society. This idea gripped far more than philosophical minds. It became the common sense of conquest and plunder as a way of life. Nature’s bloody contradictions found their greatest expression on capitalism’s frontiers, forged in violence and rebellion—as the witch killing demonstrates.

We take for granted that some parts of the world are social and others are natural. Racialized violence, mass unemployment and incarceration, consumer cultures—these are the stuff of social problems and social injustice. Climate, biodiversity, resource depletion—these are the stuff of natural problems, of ecological crisis. But it’s not just that we think about the world in this way. It’s also that we make it so, acting as if the Social and the Natural were autonomous domains, as if relations of human power were somehow untouched by the web of life.

This means that we’re using these words—Nature and Society—in a way that’s different from their everyday use. We’re capitalizing them as a sign that they are concepts that don’t merely describe the world but help us organize it and ourselves. Scholars call concepts like these “real abstractions.” These abstractions make statements about ontology—What is?—and about epistemology: How do we know what is? Real abstractions both describe the world and make it. That’s why real abstractions are often invisible, and why we use ideas like world-ecology to challenge our readers into seeing Nature and Society as hidden forms of violence. These are undetonated words. Real abstractions aren’t innocent: they reflect the interests of the powerful and license them to organize the world.

That’s why we begin our discussion of cheap things with Nature. Nature is not a thing but a way of organizing—and cheapening—life. It is only through real abstractions—cultural, political, and economic all at once—that nature’s activity becomes a set of things. The web of life is no more inherently cheap than it is wicked or good or downloadable. These are attributes assigned to some of its relationships by capitalism. But it has been cheapened, yanked into processes of exchange and profit, denominated and controlled. We made the case in the introduction that capitalism couldn’t have emerged without the cheapening of nature; in this chapter we explore the mechanics and effects of this strategy.

Click here to win an Advance Reader’s Copy of A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things on Goodreads. Giveaway ends on September 15th.


Raj 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 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.


Win an Advance Reader’s Copy of A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things

We have a few extra advance reader’s copies of A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, and one of them could be yours! Entries are free, and all Goodreads members residing in the United States are eligible to win. Just click the link below to enter!

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

(click for Goodreads giveaway)

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. Bringing the latest ecological research together with histories of colonialism, indigenous struggles, slave revolts, and other rebellions and uprisings, Patel and Moore demonstrate that throughout history, crises have always prompted fresh strategies to make the world cheap and safe for capitalism. At a time of crisis in all seven cheap things, innovative and systemic thinking is urgently required. This book proposes a radical new way of understanding—and reclaiming—the planet in the turbulent twenty-first century.

(Giveaway ends on September 15th.)

Learn more about the book with author Jason W. Moore on the Center for Energy and Environment in the Human Sciences @ Rice podcast. Click here to listen.


A Food Justice Reading List

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In our current political climate, reliable access to fresh and nutritious food remains an issue throughout the United States and other parts of the world. Check out some of the books below to get your Food Justice 101 and learn about some solutions proposed by scholars to help solve this pressing issue.

Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California by Julie Guthman

In this groundbreaking study of organic farming, Julie Guthman challenges accepted wisdom about organic food and agriculture in the Golden State. Many continue to believe that small-scale organic farming is the answer to our environmental and health problems, but Guthman refutes popular portrayals that pit “small organic” against “big organic” and offers an alternative analysis that underscores the limits of an organic label as a pathway to transforming agriculture.

More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change by Garrett Broad

Focusing on the work of several food justice groups—including Community Services Unlimited, a South Los Angeles organization founded as the nonprofit arm of the Southern California Black Panther Party—More Than Just Food explores the possibilities and limitations of the community-based approach, offering a networked examination of the food justice movement in the age of the nonprofit industrial complex.

Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production by Sarah Bowen

Divided Spirits tells the stories of tequila and mezcal, two of Mexico’s most iconic products. In doing so, the book illustrates how neoliberalism influences the production, branding, and regulation of local foods and drinks. It also challenges the strategy of relying on “alternative” markets to protect food cultures and rural livelihoods.

The Weight of Obesity: Hunger and Global Health in Postwar Guatemala by Emily Yates-Doerr

Based on years of intensive fieldwork, The Weight of Obesity offers poignant stories of how obesity is lived and experienced by Guatemalans who have recently found their diets—and their bodies—radically transformed. Anthropologist Emily Yates-Doerr challenges the widespread view that health can be measured in calories and pounds, offering an innovative understanding of what it means to be healthy in postcolonial Latin America.

The Unending Hunger: Tracing Women and Food Insecurity Across Borders by Megan Carney

Based on ethnographic fieldwork from Santa Barbara, California, this book sheds light on the ways that food insecurity prevails in women’s experiences of migration from Mexico and Central America to the United States. As women grapple with the pervasive conditions of poverty that hinder efforts at getting enough to eat, they find few options for alleviating the various forms of suffering that accompany food insecurity. Examining how constraints on eating and feeding translate to the uneven distribution of life chances across borders and how “food security” comes to dominate national policy in the United States, this book argues for understanding women’s relations to these processes as inherently biopolitical.

Ethical Eating in a Socialist and Postsocialist World edited by Yuson Jung, Jakob A. Klein, and Melissa Caldwell

Current discussions of the ethics around alternative food movements–concepts such as “local,” “organic,” and “fair trade”–tend to focus on their growth and significance in advanced capitalist societies. In this groundbreaking contribution to critical food studies, editors Yuson Jung, Jakob A. Klein, and Melissa L. Caldwell explore what constitutes “ethical food” and “ethical eating” in socialist and formerly socialist societies.

Balancing on a Planet: The Future of Food and Agriculture by David A. Cleveland

David Cleveland argues that combining selected aspects of small-scale traditional agriculture with modern scientific agriculture can help balance our biological need for food with its environmental impact—and continue to fulfill cultural, social, and psychological needs related to food.

The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India by Sarah Besky

In this nuanced ethnography, Sarah Besky narrates the lives of tea workers in Darjeeling. She explores how notions of fairness, value, and justice shifted with the rise of fair-trade practices and postcolonial separatist politics in the region. This is the first book to explore how fair-trade operates in the context of large-scale plantations.The Darjeeling Distinction challenges fair-trade policy and practice, exposing how trade initiatives often fail to consider the larger environmental, historical, and sociopolitical forces that shape the lives of the people they intended to support.

Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic by Margaret Gray

Labor and the Locavore focuses on one of the most vibrant local food economies in the country, the Hudson Valley that supplies New York restaurants and farmers markets. Based on more than a decade’s in-depth interviews with workers, farmers, and others, Gray’s examination clearly shows how the currency of agrarian values serves to mask the labor concerns of an already hidden workforce.

Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism by Julie Guthman

Weighing In takes on the “obesity epidemic,” challenging many widely held assumptions about its causes and consequences. Julie Guthman examines fatness and its relationship to health outcomes to ask if our efforts to prevent “obesity” are sensible, efficacious, or ethical. She also focuses the lens of obesity on the broader food system to understand why we produce cheap, over-processed food, as well as why we eat it.


Fried Chicken for Hanukkah from The New Mediterranean Jewish Table

by Joyce Goldstein, author of The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home

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Fried Chicken for Hanukkah (Pollo Fritto Di Hanucca)

The dishes served at Hanukkah are fried to remind the Jews of the oil lamp that burned
for eight days in the Second Temple in Jerusalem, even though the amount appeared
sufficient for only one day. This recipe for fried chicken, Italian style, is rather bland, so
I have brined the chicken for added moisture and flavor. I have also added grated lemon
and orange zests, garlic powder, onion powder, and nutmeg to the flour.

Serves 4 to 6

Brine

1 cup kosher salt
⅓ cup sugar
8 cloves garlic, unpeeled and smashed
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
4 allspice berries
5 bay leaves
2 lemons, halved
8 fresh thyme sprigs
8 fresh parsley sprigs
4 quarts water

Chicken

1 fryer chicken, 3½ to 4 pounds, cut
into 8 to 10 serving pieces, or 4 pounds
assorted chicken parts
3 eggs
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
3 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Canola oil for deep-frying
Lemon wedges for serving

Combine all of the brine ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high
heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl or plastic container, pour the cooled
brine over them, cover tightly, and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse, and pat dry. Discard the brine. Place a
large rack on a large sheet pan. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs and lemon
juice until blended, then season with salt and pepper. In a second bowl, combine the
flour, citrus zests, garlic and onion powders, and nutmeg, season with salt and pepper,
and mix well. Divide the seasoned flour between 2 shallow bowls or deep platters. One
at a time, dip the chicken pieces in the flour, coating both sides and tapping off the
excess. Next, dip into the beaten egg, allowing the excess to drip off, and then finally,
dip in the second bowl of seasoned flour. As each piece is dipped, set it aside on the
rack. Let the pieces stand for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the coating to set.
Pour the oil to a depth of 2 to 3 inches into a large, deep sauté pan and heat to 375°F.
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line a large sheet pan with paper towels. In batches, slip the
chicken pieces into the hot oil and fry, turning as needed, until golden on all sides and
cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Using tongs, transfer to the prepared sheet pan and
keep warm in the oven until all of the chicken pieces are fried. Arrange the chicken on a
platter and serve hot with lemon wedges.


JG1Joyce Goldstein was chef and owner of the groundbreaking Mediterranean restaurant Square One in San Francisco. Prior to opening Square One, she was chef at the Chez Panisse Café and visiting executive chef at the Wine Spectator Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa. Today she is a cooking teacher, consultant to the restaurant and food industries, and prolific cookbook author. Her most recent book is Inside the California Food Revolution: Thirty Years that Changed Our Culinary Consciousness (UC Press, 2013).


Thanksgiving Pumpkin Cake

by Joyce Goldstein, author of The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home

Happy Thanksgiving! Looking for a last minute dessert recipe? Try this pumpkin cake recipe from Joyce Goldstein.

New Mediterranean Jewish Table Joyce Goldstein

Pumpkin Cake from the Veneto (Torta di Zucca Barucca)

Dense and creamy at the same time, this cake comes from the town of Treviso in the Veneto. The use of pumpkin and citron indicates a Sephardic origin.

Continue reading “Thanksgiving Pumpkin Cake”


National Cookbook Month: Nut and Honey Filled Cookies

by Joyce Goldstein, author of The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home

October is National Cookbook Month! Come back for a new recipe from The New Mediterranean Jewish Table each Wednesday, and click here to save 30% on some of our award-winning cookbooks.

New Mediterranean Jewish Table Joyce Goldstein

Nut and Honey Filled Cookies (Sfratti)

These cookies, which are shaped like sticks, are called sfratti, which means “evicted.” The name comes from Italian landlords of long ago who used sticks to chase away poor tenants who had not paid their rent, some of them probably poor Jews. Jewish cooks have turned the origin of these cookies around, making them into sweet symbols of eviction (much like Passover haroset is the sweet symbol of the mortar used to build the pyramids.) These honey-and-nut-filled cookies are served at Rosh Hashanah. Butter or margarine is used, depending on whether the rest of the meal is dairy or not. My family thinks these are better than rugelach! 

Continue reading “National Cookbook Month: Nut and Honey Filled Cookies”


National Cookbook Month: North African Filo Pastries

by Joyce Goldstein, author of The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home

October is National Cookbook Month! Come back for a new recipe from The New Mediterranean Jewish Table each Wednesday, and click here to save 30% on some of our award-winning cookbooks.

New Mediterranean Jewish Table Joyce Goldstein

North African Filo Pastries (Bestels)

Bestels resemble borekas: thin layers of dough wrapped around a savory filling. But instead of a shortcrust or flaky pastry, Moroccan bestels are traditionally made with ouarka, which means “leaf” in Arabic. The same pastry is known as malsouka in Tunisia and as feuilles (leaves) de brik in France. The pastry is made from a rather springy semolina dough that is pressed in an overlapping circular pattern onto a hot flat pan called a tobsil and then peeled off when the paper-thin film of dough has set. Because the process is so time- consuming, most North African home cooks buy ouarka from those who specialize in making it. Feuilles de brik can be purchased from restaurant-food wholesalers, but first you must find a source and then the minimum order is typically quite large, usually about 250 sheets, which are difficult to store. (Some online sources have more reasonably-sized packages, but the pastry ends up costing about a dollar a sheet, which is insane, and it is likely not to arrive in the best condition because of the rigors of transit.) The good news is that you can make these pastries with filo, which is widely available.

Traditionally served during Rosh Hashanah and at special dinners, bestels come in two shapes, triangular and cylindrical; the latter are also called cigares or briouats. As evidence of the Spanish roots of these pastries, both Maguy Kakon in La cuisine juive du Maroc de mère en fille and Viviane and Nina Moryoussef in Moroccan Jewish Cookery call the meat filling migas, a Spanish term for bread crumbs enriched with meat juices. To ensure moisture, some cooks add a little tomato juice or some chopped tomatoes to the filling. Every family seasons the meat mixture in a different way. Some use quite a lot of garlic, others add onion, and still others favor ginger and turmeric along with, or in place of, the cinnamon. In Marrakech la Rouge, Hélène Gans Perez includes the juice of a lemon, and I have followed her lead. In 150 recettes et mille et un souvenirs d’une juive d’Algérie, Léone Jaffin offers an Algerian bestel filling that calls for a trio of large onions and nutmeg instead of cinnamon.
Continue reading “National Cookbook Month: North African Filo Pastries”


Award-Winning UC Press Authors at the AFHVS/ASFS Annual Meeting

Last month, two UC Press authors received major prizes at the annual joint meeting of the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) and the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society (AFHVS). (Learn more about this year’s ASFS/AFHVS Conference on the official website.)

Julie Guthman (right) receives the AFHVS Excellence in Research Award.
Julie Guthman (right) receives the AFHVS Excellence in Research Award.

Julie Guthman, author of Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism and Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California, received the 2015 Excellence in Research Award from AFHVS.

This prize recognizes members of the AFHVS who have made outstanding contributions to research in the fields of agriculture, food, and human values. Guthman’s work, analyzing of both the American “obesity epidemic” and the realities of organic farming, is groundbreaking: truly deserving of this honor.

Amy Bentley with husband Brett Gary at the James Beard Awards.
Amy Bentley with husband Brett Gary at the James Beard Awards.
Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health, and the Industrialization of the American Diet
Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health, and the Industrialization of the American Diet

Amy Bentley’s Inventing Baby Food also received the 2015 ASFS Book Award. This award recognizes exemplary research, insightful theory, and the most significant and novel contributions to food scholarship, particularly books which suggest new questions and avenues of research for the scholarship of food.

Bentley joins other UC Press authors in this honor: since 2010, five UC Press titles have received the award, including Margaret Gray’s Labor and the Locavore in 2014. Bentley’s book is certainly worthy of this recognition: her history of baby food and American consumption is fresh, innovative, and informative. Inventing Baby Food was also a 2015 James Beard Award finalist in the scholarship and reference category.

It’s a pleasure to share this wonderful news, and we are proud to have published with both authors! Congratulations!


Local Food and Local Inequality

by Margaret Gray

The burgeoning local food movement comes with a promotional promise: buying direct from the farmer seals a bond of intimacy, offers fresher and tastier products, and is more wholesome than the industrial commodity system. But consumers learn little about the poverty and marginalization of the farmworkers who plant, tend, and harvest their food.

Food writers’ glorification of local food systems has masked the wages, conditions, vulnerability, and fear of the mostly non-citizen workers who are so vital to the industry. In New York’s Hudson Valley, a thriving local food hub that hosts scenic beauty and agrarian nostalgia, the workers I interviewed described low wages, long hours, extreme weather, speed-up, and exploitation at the hands of their employers. One field hand told me he thought the farm dogs were treated better.

In New York, as in most states, farmers are not required to pay overtime or offer a day of rest, and agricultural workers are not covered by collective bargaining. Under the law, an employer can have their workers toil 85-hour workweeks at minimum wage. The interviews I conducted with workers, and farmers, and government officials show that this is not simply a case of labor abuse, but rather state-sanctioned exploitation.

Labor and the Locavore lays bare the power systems that underpin the appeal of local food. The same intimacy that local food promotes between farmers and consumers colors the relationships that farmers have with workers. On these small, family farms, paternalism becomes a key mechanism for labor control.

The workers seldom complain and often return year after year due to their fear of lost wages and deportation. As Miguel, one of my interviewees, summarized the general acceptance of his situation: “If you behave, there is work.”

 

Margaret Gray is Associate Professor of Political Science at Adelphi University. Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic is the winner of the 2014 Book of the Year Award from the Association for the Study of Food and Society.