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Brazil: Our diet of destruction

Huge areas of the Amazon rainforest are being cut down to satisfy global demand for soya. But how did this crop and a handful of others come to dominate our diet so completely? In an extract from her new book, Felicity Lawrence investigates the faceless trading giants who really decide what goes on our plates

Source:  Copyright 2008, Guardian
Date:  June 16, 2008
Byline:  Felicity Lawrence
Original URL: Status ONLINE

Look at a few packets in a typical kitchen cupboard, and you will notice a disconcerting overlap between the labels of apparently completely different foods. A handful of ingredients, some of them barely used as food in the west before the second world war, crop up in everything from baby food to cat food to processed meals. The same half-dozen heavily subsidised commodities - soya, rapeseed, palm oil, corn, sugar and rice - are broken down into their individual parts and endlessly reconstituted. They are sold back to us as processed food or turned into animal feed to produce the factory meats that have conquered our diets in the past half-century. How did such a transformation come about?

When you look back at the origins of much of today's industrialised food system, what you see is the ebb and flow of empire. First there were the British imperial ambitions that turned slave-produced sugar from the colonies into the engine of emerging ...

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