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  • Food and the City: Histories of Culture and Cultivation ed. by Dorothée Imbert
  • Catherine McNeur (bio)
Dorothée Imbert Food and the City: Histories of Culture and Cultivation Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2015. xi + 374 pages, 176 color and black-and-white illustrations. ISBN: 978-0-8840-2404-0, $55.00 HB

Chickens in backyards. Kale in raised garden beds. Farmers markets and a celebration of local food. All of this sounds like characteristics of hip neighborhoods in modern cities. Food and the City: Histories of Culture and Cultivation, a new volume edited by landscape architecture scholar Dorothée Imbert, argues that urban farming is anything but novel, and that the impulse to solve social problems by growing food and getting one's hands dirty is much older and more universal than today's urban homesteaders might imagine.

Dumbarton Oaks clearly spared no cost when illustrating Food and the City. The book is breathtakingly beautiful and amply illustrated, showing colorful city plans, maps, paintings, and photographs. Readers will have [End Page 120] no problem imagining the regions described in the fourteen case studies, which span the better part of the globe. The book covers a wide range of topics and geographies, with an emphasis on the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, though some of the chapters veer earlier or later. In the introduction, Imbert argues that the temporal focus reflects the ideological, social, political, and spatial changes that accompanied the Industrial Revolution, nation-building, and imperial ambitions during that era.

The opening chapters of the book deal with the transfer of ideas surrounding urban agriculture. David H. Haney looks at early attempts in Britain and Germany to solve social problems and build new communities through urban agriculture. Tal Alon-Mozes unearths the often forgotten prevalence of small urban farms in Zionist Palestine and Israel and the inspiration that planners and politicians took from both European romanticism and Zionist ideology. David Rifkind explores the transformation of agriculture in fascist Italy and its African colonies as the government attempted to control productivity and organize both spaces and people, thereby changing everyone's relationship with and access to food sources.

The next set of chapters covers a variety of urban and rural plans. Mary McLeod tracks the transformation of Le Corbusier's thoughts on food production, rural planning, and the connections between cities and their hinterlands. Zef Hemel investigates how the Dutch responded to the food shortages of World War I and World War II by draining and reclaiming a bay, the Zuider Zee, and turning it into farmland in hopes of making Holland more self-sustaining. Tracking changing perceptions of American urban farming programs during economic depressions and wars, Laura Lawson and Luke Drake show quite convincingly that "gardening for food is a normal part of the urban landscape," which challenges the typical narrative of Victory Gardens and the like as responses to crisis (159). Finally, Luc J. A. Mougeot, an international development expert, writes about governmental support or lack of support for urban agriculture in cities of the Global South, and solutions for the future. Regulating and encouraging the necessarily unregulated informal economy brings paradoxical challenges from a development standpoint.

Donna Graves's chapter, which opens the third section, delves into the history of Japanese American farms in California before and after World War II to show how racism and social history can complicate agricultural practices. Taking the history of sushi from its origins in Tokyo to its global embrace in the last generation, Jordan Sand gracefully interlaces cultural and environmental history with changing food trends and economic demand. Finally, Margaret Crawford focuses on China's rapidly transforming Pearl River Delta and the challenges posed to urban agriculture by urbanization and industrialization.

The last section, which focuses on a single place, Paris, clearly illustrates how understandings of and relationships with urban agriculture changed over time in one city. The three chapters, by Florent Quellier, Susan Taylor- Leduc, and Meredith TenHoor, fit together exceptionally well, moving chronologically from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. Quellier's chapter emphasizes how ancien régime Parisian gardens were a sign of urbanity and modernity, while digging...


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