Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeThematic Issues from calls4Comptes rendusTim Lang and Michael Heasman, Foo...

Comptes rendus

Tim Lang and Michael Heasman, Food Wars. The Global Battle for Mouths, Minds and Markets

London: Earthscan, 2004, 364 p.
Virginie Amilien

Full text

1Food wars can be understood as a war declaration against nowadays food-world. This book is full of images for a sustainable world which is opposition with the social and economic unfair society we live in. The authors propose quite concrete solution for a new food policy and draw a new frame for food policy and public health.

2Core arguments are simple: “Food policy is in crisis, in particular over health.” The unique model of food supply we have followed the last 50 years cannot continue that way and the authors propose to consider human and ecological health in a coherent way.

3“Food policy needs to provide solutions to the worldwide burden of disease, ill health and food related environmental damage. There is a new era of experimentation underway emerging out of the decades we term the “Food wars”. These have been characterized by struggles over how to conceive of the future of food and the shaping of minds, markets and mouths.” p. 1

4The book mainly focuses on food policy. Food, either because of malnutrition or over-nutrition, is the origin of many diseases in today’s’ world, obviously because of a failed food policy. Responsibility is given to the consumer, but policy and governance play a major role in the way food system and food supply is structured and controlled. In concrete words, the authors ask how, and who, decide for the world of food and its structure, how does it work and how it is controlled? Why do we have this food policy and which choices have been done? They propose solutions and answers, based on very concrete numbers and references. “This is a book about ideas of how the future of food is to be shaped and conceived.” (p. 8)

5The introduction is stimulating and gives a good view of the whole discussion. It is the reason why we choose here to give a quite detailed review of this opening part. The authors consider the food world as full of conflicts, which encourage each other and create a situation of food wars. The distance between marketing and policy is one of the challenges that have to be fight against. The authors mean that if we want that consumers do not miss their trust in the food supply chain, we have to give new political solutions and change today’s institutional structures which are based on governance. That perspective is “a call for a more radical approach to how food is grown and produced” (p. 7) and they want to have a deeper approach of five elements in a global and whole perspective: 1) health - relationship between diet, disease, nutrition and public health - 2) business - how food is produced and considered along the whole food chain - 3) consumer culture - how, why and where do people consume food - 4) the environment - use and misuse of land, sea and other natural resources used in food production and 5) food governance - how the food economy is regulated, what are the political choices built on -. Those five elements have to be taken together into consideration, to be able to better understand problems and potential solutions.

6It is the reason why the book is built on 8 complementary chapters:

71: The Food Wars Thesis

82: Diet and Health: Diseases and Food

93: Policy Responses to Diet and Disease

104: The Food Wars Business

115: The Consumer Culture War

126: The Quality war: Putting Public and Environmental Health Together

137: Food Democracy or Food Control?

148: The Future

15The food wars thesis introduces thoughts about different concepts, and particularly the notion of paradigm. The chapter begins on the fact that our world produces more food than ever. Although we potentially have enough food for everybody, we have malnutrition problems combined with over-consumption. Our food world changed from a farm system to a supply chain system, what emphasize the tension between private and public different interests. Here is the concept of paradigm, which is defined as “a fundamental set of framing assumptions that shape the way a body of knowledge is thought of” interesting. Food world is based on a complex relationship between many actors, and the authors describe here three views of food world which could help to better understand different mentalities:

  • The productionist paradigm - the usual one -

  • Life science integrated paradigm

  • The ecologically integrated paradigm

16The first one is oldest and has been well established in the last 50 years, while the two others are more turned toward the future. In the first paradigm is quantity more important than quality. That is the model we used to follow and we have to change. The Life science integrated paradigm is an alternative based on GM (Genetic modification1) and a biotechnological perspective. In this paradigm, food is almost a drug and GM biotechnology is usual. The ecologically integrated paradigm is a second alternative proposed by the authors. The way of thinking is not new itself and organic food has always been here around. “Agroecology” could then be a major notion, which encloses sustainable agriculture and help in the third world. Nature has to be used carefully; land and people have to be considered as one entity. Although life science paradigm has a strong support from the business perspective, the productionist one is well established but the ecological version gives a more fair distribution of nature and goods.

17The other chapters will discuss food wars questions, in quite a concrete way, to be able to justify the choice of one paradigm rather than the two others. The second chapter describes problems linked to food consumption on the world, with many interesting examples and tables about food diseases based on Barry Popkins studies. (pages 61 and 66). It concludes with advices to politicians (p. 93-94) who should not accept that children still die because of malnutrition in our world. The third chapter takes a look at the way policies try to answer those diseases. More and more responsibility is give to individuals who have to take care of their own health. A historical view of health policy the last 100 years is here drawn and it gives a better understanding of nowadays situation and a good link to the obesity problem which is referred to. The fourth chapter emphasizes the double strategy of food business which is both built on technology and consumer interests. The last years, globalisation gave a new meaning to the word “marked” without frontiers and new technologies changed many faces of agricultural production and distribution (food industry has become the third largest industrial source in Europe.) The fifth chapter is about consumers. On the one hand, food culture and food consumption habits are complex, based on cultural habits and uses. On the other hand, “consumers” represents a huge group of different people, what makes any policy difficult. In the sixth chapter, food quality is considered as a kind of war-zone. Many food products are bad for health and environment and a small niche marked with organic or local food is not at all a real solution. This chapter consider a new way of thinking sustainable development and food culture, where respect of environment and human being is central. Food and health policy problems can only be solved through a public discourse, as underlined in chapter 7. We need a political responsibility somewhere. Institutions have to think “new” and particularly in a new relationship between the global and the local. It is not possible to continue in the productionist way and the state needs to intervene between the civil and the commercial. A part of the chapter focuses on EU with historical glance to the GATT and CAP - Common Alimentary Policy -. The authors imagine a CFP - common Food Policy - which could take care of health and environment, perhaps based on independent agencies which could help the governance crisis and perhaps get back the trust in state. The last chapter, “The future” is full of hope: it is time to react. We have to think new. The productionist paradigm will disappear (page 291) and it is important to do something concrete before it is too late. As a matter of fact we observe an increasing of new consumerism, fair trade, localism, new cooperative system, and new collective projects showing that something is changing. But food industry needs a democratic support to go forward, as drawn in the ecological paradigm, although the life science one is more advanced.

18This short presentation of the eight chapters easily shows the main tendency of the book, which is a reaction against a system condemned to fail. Many sentences sound like screaming against the world global economy, like a revolt which is unusual and therefore important. The authors propose three visions of the food system, and even if we feel, from the first paragraph, that they really support the ecological one, those different approaches are enriching the debate.

19The book is clear, very informative and well structured. Every chapter begins with core arguments and an introduction which presents the content, and it is easy to read it quick and get an idea (to avoid many repetitions within all the details.) If we want more information, many figures and tables translate the text in an illustrated way, and vice versa.

20This book can work as an academic manifesto against a failed, or non-existent, global food policy. This ideological presentation is built on concrete elements, with many examples and a lot of interesting information for the food researcher. Authors emphasize the relationship between the social, cultural and economical aspects, but they mostly refer to global social structures and general economy. They have very few cultural examples, obviously because they want to draw a global image of food world. Even if this book is obviously more important for food politicians than for food researchers, it is a nice work which gives a global political vision about food questions.

Top of page


1 GM has increased from 0 in 1990 until 50 million hectares in 2001 that is to say about 68% of all planting taking place in the US.
Top of page


Electronic reference

Virginie Amilien, « Tim Lang and Michael Heasman, Food Wars. The Global Battle for Mouths, Minds and Markets », Anthropology of food [Online], 4 | May 2005, Online since 01 May 2005, connection on 06 July 2022. URL : ; DOI :

Top of page

About the author

Virginie Amilien

SIFO, Oslo

By this author

Top of page


Licence Creative Commons
Anthropologie of food est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search