The Secret Financial Life of Food

From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets

Kara Newman

Columbia University Press

The Secret Financial Life of Food

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Pub Date: December 2012

ISBN: 9780231156714

208 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $19.95£14.95

Pub Date: December 2012

ISBN: 9780231156707

208 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $26.95£19.95

Pub Date: December 2012

ISBN: 9780231527347

208 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $18.99£14.00

The Secret Financial Life of Food

From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets

Kara Newman

Columbia University Press

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.

I know of no other book that looks at the topic of agricultural commodities as broadly or that links the personalities and processes that have acted on different commodities.

Gary Allen, author of Herbs: A Global History

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.

This is a subject that commands attention because our lives depend on it. Thank you, Kara Newman, for relating food to finance in such an entertaining way and for illuminating the hidden underbelly of the food world in ways that are invaluable to all who eat.

Betty Fussell, author of Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef and The Story of Corn

Ever wonder why food bills go up and down? A major reason is commodity trading, a usually hidden process that sets basic prices on America's most important products, such as cattle, coffee, cocoa, sugar, eggs, wheat, butter, pork bellies, orange juice, and soy beans. What makes the process complicated is futures trading, derivatives, trading long and trading short. Sound boring? Not so. Culinary historian Kara Newman has conjured a delightful, behind the scenes look at commodity trading in The Secret Financial Life of Food. It is jam-packed with surprising facts and fun-to-read stories. It is also a good primer on commodity trading, brimming with insight. A must read for anyone interested in food, history, or economics.

Andrew F. Smith, editor in chief, Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America

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
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Buy Breakfast
1. How Does Commodities Trading Work?
2. The Spice Route
3. The Commodity That Built a Nation: Corn Futures
4. Great Grains
5. Butter-and-Egg Men
6. The Mochaccino Market: Coffee, Sugar, and Cocoa
7. Cattle Call
8. This Little Piggy Made a Market: The Rise and Fall of Pork Bellies
9. When Money Grows on Trees: Produce Futures
10. Super Soybeans
11. The Future of Food Futures? Contracts to Consider
Epilogue
Notes
Index

Read the chapter, "Cattle Call" (to view in full screen, click on icon in bottom right-hand corner)

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About the Author

Kara Newman is spirits editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine and the author of two cocktail books, Cocktails for a Crowd and Spice & Ice. She is the former vice president of strategic research at Thomson Reuters and a former board member of the Culinary Historians of New York. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Saveur, and CFO Magazine.