Harbinger Vol. 2 No. 1 — Hungry for Profit review




Book Reviews  |   Vol. 2, No. 1

Hungry for Profit:
The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment

Edited by Fred Magdoff, John Bellamy Foster, and Frederick H. Buttel

Reviewed by Erin Royster

From biotechnology to farm workers movements to the
origins of capitalism, Hungry for Profit covers a variety of topics
relevant to today’s food and agriculture crisis. What makes this
collection of thirteen essays different from other such collections is
that each issue is examined within a radical, socialist critique of

“The capitalist system runs counter to a rational agriculture,” wrote
Marx. The editors use this quotation to describe the moral of the book.

One of the most appealing aspects of Hungry for Profit is that most of
the authors stay away from tedious economic data and policy analysis,
instead focusing on the general trends and social consequences of
capitalism to describe the current state of agriculture.

At the same time, author Philip McMichael contributes a thorough,
fact-based analysis of global food politics, explaining how “Global
regulatory agencies like the WTO threaten to entrench (Northern)
agribusiness power at the expense of farmers across the world,
intensifying the de-stabilization of rural communities and further
compromise local food security.”

More impressive still are authors, Middendorf, Skladany, Ransom, and
Busch who manage to escape the popular wholesale rejection of technology
in their anaylses of agricultural biotechnologies. Instead, they state,
“the new biotechnologies are potentially beneficial to society, but not
unless the institutional basis for technology choice are democratized.”

On a more historical bent, editors Foster and Magdoff discuss Marx’s
analysis of the work of early soil scientists Justus von Liebig and
James Anderson that led him to conclude that the “conscious and rational
treatment of the land as permanent communal property [is] the inalieable
condition for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human

Ellen Meiksins Wood contributes another important history lesson in “The
Agrarian Origins of Capitalism.”Arguing that agrarian capitalism emerged
before industrial capitalism, she states “The emergence of the market as
a determinant of social reproduction presupposed its penetration into
the production of life’s most basic necessity, food.”

While Hungry for Profit is surely a remedy to the dearth of current
radical literature focusing on the state of agriculture today, its
purely socialist critique fails to address all of the necessary
components of “a more environmentally sound and humane food system,”
which the authors advocate. Given the editors do recognize that “the job
of creating a just and environmentally sound food system cannot be
separated from the creation of a just and environmentally sound
society,” they fall just short of presenting a truly radical and
imaginative picture of what that food system and society would look
like. Further, they fail completely to present a vision of the political
process by which we might all agree (or not) on such a food system,
without which, the chances of getting there are slim.

Magdoff, Fred, Bellamy, John, Foster, and Buttel, Frederick H., eds.
Hungry for Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the
New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000.

Erin Royster studies radical agriculture at the Institute for Social
Ecology where she has been involved in developing the organic gardens and
permaculture orchard. Currently, she is working on her senior study,
“Kicking Capitalism Out of Food,” and will be assistant teaching the
Radical Agriculture course during the ISE’s Ecology and Community 2001 program.