The Hungry World:
America's Cold War Battle against Poverty in Asia
by Nick Cullather
Harvard University Press
$35.00 List Price
Since humanity emerged from nomadism, the cultivation of food has been a key component of our culture. It's a reflection of wealth, an indication of mechanical prowess, and an instrument of war. And as historian Nick Cullather reminds us, food was also the basis for some of the most charged encounters of the cold war, as played out in the developing political and market systems of Asia. In The Hungry World, he argues that such efforts amounted to a technocratic seduction of the Asian peasantry—a wide-scale effort of social and technological engineering intended to showcase the fruits of the capitalist-democratic model of agricultural development.
The United States at midcentury was in many ways ideally suited to produce the ideology behind agricultural modernization. As Cullather recounts in capacious detail, the invention of the edible calorie in the final decade of the nineteenth century—a major breakthrough in American ideas about optimal food production—foretold the coming fundamental shift in the world's relationship with food. Early in the twentieth century, the United States found a willing test case in Mexico. Seeking to deter Communist activity south of the border, the US government supported the Rockefeller Foundation's efforts to design a prototype for comprehensive agricultural reform. Here, Cullather argues, America could effectively export its exceptionalist vision of democracy sustained through technological advance, inventing new "optimal" measures for population and resource scarcity.
The US push for stability through agriculture took on fresh urgency