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Business & Economy

Food Fights: The War Over Consumers’ Stomachs

Chart showing major food groups.
National Archives, photo 44-PA-798B

Industrialization introduced a new system for how Americans produce and consume food. During the 19th century, people left farms to work in factories. Those factories created high-calorie, low-quality food, which was distributed nationally through the advent of canning and refrigerated rail cars. Low-wage workers were essential to keeping prices low.

In the book “Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates” (UNC Press/2019) scholars discuss the complexities of America’s food and food system. Some essays reveal the unmet promises of genetically modified foods and tackle the failures of food activism and agricultural labor unions. Others are less critical: An essay from Peter Coclanis, the director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, highlights the successful advances of American agriculture and the entrepreneurial spirit of American farmers.

Charles C. Ludington co-edited the book and joins host Frank Stasio to talk about everything from industrial agriculture to food activism. Ludington is a teaching associate professor in the history department at North Carolina State University.

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