The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) by Kara Newman, PDF, EPUB 0231156715

April 16, 2018

The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)

One morning while reading Barron’s, Kara Newman took note of a casual bit of advice offered by famed commodities trader Jim Rogers. “Buy breakfast,” he told investors, referring to the increasing value of pork belly and frozen orange juice futures. The statement inspired Newman to take a closer look at agricultural commodities, from the iconic pork belly to the obscure peppercorn and nutmeg. The results of her investigation, recorded in this fascinating history, show how contracts listed on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange can read like a menu and how market behavior can dictate global economic and culinary practice.

The Secret Financial Life of Food reveals the economic pathways that connect food to consumer, unlocking the mysteries behind culinary trends, grocery pricing, and restaurant dining. Newman travels back to the markets of ancient Rome and medieval Europe, where vendors first distinguished between “spot sales” and “sales for delivery.” She retraces the storied spice routes of Asia and recounts the spice craze that prompted Christopher Columbus’s journey to North America, linking these developments to modern-day India’s bustling peppercorn market.

Newman centers her history on the transformation of corn into a ubiquitous commodity and uses oats, wheat, and rye to recast America’s westward expansion and the Industrial Revolution. She discusses the effects of such mega-corporations as Starbucks and McDonalds on futures markets and considers burgeoning markets, particularly “super soybeans,” which could scramble the landscape of food finance. The ingredients of American power and culture, and the making of the modern world, can be found in the history of food commodities exchange, and Newman connects this unconventional story to the how and why of what we eat.

From Booklist

Newman explains the history of where, how, and why our food is traded and the link between the farm and the dinner table. Rather than a how-to on trading commodity futures, this book explores culinary history and the role of the commodities market in shaping that history. Newman quotes authority Chad Hart, who estimates that raw commodities account for 15 to 20 cents of every dollar spent on food, with the rest going for advertising, transportation, labor, and so forth, whereas in the 1940s and ’50s commodities had a greater influence on food prices. U.S. trading of agricultural commodities in the future will have a global perspective likely to reflect global food needs and availabilities—not just those of American eaters. Americans will continue to rely on the agricultural futures market for price discovery (figuring how much to charge for an item and the price that the market will bear and keeping food prices generally steady). Interesting, thought-provoking book for food aficionados. –Mary Whaley

–This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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The Secret Financial Life of Food is of benefit to anyone who is involved in the food industry, including growers, processors, consumers, and even professionals in the culinary arts. It also has appeal for those of us who buy and sell commodity futures, helping us gain a better understanding of how the markets have evolved. (Alan Bush, senior financial futures analyst, Archer Financial Services, Inc.)Interesting, thought-provoking book for food aficionados. (Booklist)Those who are interested in the history of the “food” commodity markets will find many treats in Newman’s book. (Brenda Jubin Seeking Alpha)a refreshing and much-needed look from a different perspective: food as commodity. (James Norton Washington Post)

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See all Editorial Reviews


This book is amazing. I keep coming back to it over the past few years and am surprised it has so few reviews. Telling the financial story behind whats on our plate is done better by Newman than any other source I have read, historic, financial or otherwise. I wish more people understood how the ‘financialization’ of food came to be and how it influences our food systems. It really is critical in understanding how we got to where we are now and shaping where we go from here.
This book puts a new meaning to the phrase “Buy Breakfast!” Looking at the series of global trade that lies at the heart of much of what we eat, the author considers the various commodities that are sold such as coffee beans and pork bellies and looks at the impact that this can have throughout the chain from producer right through to the end consumer. Commodity trading over time has helped shape our culinary habits and traditions – wars and regime changes have happened even, as residents of Boston who threw lots of British tea into the harbour can show, all due to a precious foodstuff being traded. Commodity trading is not just limited to the current “daily” price either, as many traders deal in “futures” (future event pricing) and the author has traced such futures trading in grain back to Biblical times. The book’s primary focus is on commodities trading from a United States-perspective, looking back at the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT)’s foundation in 1848 and the various splits and consolidations that have occurred since that time. A smattering of history is, of course, contextually necessary and a welcome addition but since the author has given such a great write up on a subject that is not such a “general interest” topic, hopefully there is scope for a second volume, considering perhaps the development of the world through technology and commodity trading? Each key commodity gets its own chapter and it is interesting to compare and contrast the various developments in commodity trading and their impacts to producer, wholesaler and end-user too, both in isolation and in a general overview. Of course, in the latter decades the world has got a lot smaller thanks to air travel and containerised shipping. Richer nations have the ability to buy in various commodities that perhaps they grow themselves when it is cheaper to do so, perhaps due to labour costs or to adverse weather. Less-developed nations earn a significant portion of their income through the growth of many commodities and even changing prices can have an impact both locally to the producer and locally to the end user. Exactly like the stock market, prices go up and down with often no perceptual reason why to the casual observer. A strike, poor harvests, disease and changing consumer demand all can leave their mark. This book manages to give you a great insight into this fascinating area without compromising itself through over-simplification. Written as a scholarly work but with the general reader also in mind, the engaging, friendly, accessible style means that this book is deserving of a much wider audience than perhaps it might get stuck in a bookstore. You could even just imagine this book as a documentary series. It just has that feel. Of course, as you would expect, at the end of this book are detailed bibliographic notes for those who require this sort of thing. Columbia University Press has managed through its “Arts & Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History” collection to have had some great books that can open the reader’s eyes to new thoughts, new thinking and a lot of great history. This book is a further “must buy” for those involved within the food industry who is at least a little bit curious as to how a bit of the global jigsaw works.
Since I’m interested in all things financial, I figured that I would like this book. What surprised me was how much I liked it. This was interesting, informative, and fun to read, I enjoyed it from start to finish. Writing styles are certainly subjective, but I thought that the author did a wonderful job of explaining various commodities futures in a clear, easy to read manner. She has obviously aimed this book at a wide general audience, I never felt like she was lecturing, and it certainly does not have that dry, academic tone that can suck the life out of any subject. I’ve read tons of books relating to banking, finance, investing, stocks and bonds, etc. etc. You get the idea, but I’ve never been keenly interested in commodities, so this was fun to read for me since I’ve not read much in this field. After reading it, I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t seen other books like this. I think she had a good idea and has executed on that idea very, very well. This is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in a while, fun to read and informative at the same time. I thank Ms. Kara Newman for a book well done.

  • Title: The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)
  • Autor: Kara Newman
  • Publisher (Publication Date): Columbia University Press; Reprint edition (October 21, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231156707 | 0231156715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231156707 | 978-0231156714
  • Download File Format: EPUB, PDF

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