- Global Appetites: American Power and the Literature of Food by Allison Carruth
Looking at past reviews of books of literary criticism and food, I was struck by Choice’s comments on a text published a mere fifteen years ago: “Even a quick review of contemporary volumes on food and literary criticism reveals a sort of sheepish, amused treatment of the subject, as if it were too light a topic to explore in a really serious book.”1 From this perspective, the relevance of food in literary studies as well as most other fields is worth noting. This special issue on the intersection between utopian studies and food studies certainly provides a case in point. But as it is a relatively new field, there remain broad avenues open for exploration. Alison Carruth’s Global Appetites: American Power and the Literature of Food takes up just such an exploration.
Global Appetites analyzes the geopolitics of food in American literature of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, analyzing texts in which farming and home cooking represent worlds quite apart from the pastoral images they connote. This is a timely analysis that connects the local grocery market to the global financial markets. Starting with the early twentieth-century novels of Willa Cather, Carruth moves to the World War II and early postwar era with analyses of texts such as cookbooks by M. F. K. Fisher (How to Cook a Wolf, 1942) and Elizabeth David (A Book of Mediterranean Food, 1950). She turns next to Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby (1981) and on to muckraking exposés about food production, especially Ruth Ozeki’s turn-of-the-twenty-first-century novels, and finally a spate of recent locavore memoirs. In all these analyses she argues that eating and farming are not a retreat from modernity but a pillar of American superpower status—what she calls “US food power.” This collection’s historical trajectory may create an awkward periodization. (Were there no relevant representations of U.S. food power between 1950 and 1980, a not-insignificant period in U.S. geopolitical history?) However, Carruth’s archive [End Page 248] well illustrates the transnational framework in which American agribusiness and the U.S. food system operate.
After introducing the argument that food and agriculture constitute a central element of industrialization and modernity in U.S. history, she proves this assertion in her analysis of Cather’s O Pioneers! (1913) and My Antonia (1918)—novels that “yoke farming to the spheres of engineering, finance, consumer culture, and finally world war” (20). Carruth analyzes these connections into the twenty-first-century urban farming memoirs such as Novella Carpenter’s Farm City (2009). Taken together, the analyses show that major assumptions surrounding multi- and transnational agribusiness—most important, that it reifies the production process and disconnects it from the spaces of consumption—do not account for all the ways that food-related globalization operates. Globalization is not only the force that localization activists rally against; the very technologies and logics that have enabled contemporary globalization in food have enabled the growth of the resistance movement to it. If globalization is a principal feature defining, enabling, and advancing neoliberal capitalism, it plays the same roles in the movement resisting neoliberalism.
Here, then, we see the mystification behind the belief in globalization as an inevitable force promoting neoliberalism, what Margaret Thatcher discussed using the slogan “TINA”—There is no alternative. If globalization happens, it does not have to happen according to contemporary capitalism’s dictates. Carruth resists the discourse of inevitability surrounding globalization not because she denies that globalization shapes all the contours of the modern food system—from roadside farm stands to multinational supermarket chains—but because she denies the inevitability of the global capitalist agenda that attaches itself to it.
Carruth examines texts illustrating the parameters of this food system. She shows how the pastoral connotations of farming and culinary pleasure contrast with a modern capitalist agricultural regime that operates among science, engineering, finance, and militarism. She finds...