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The Problem with Feeding Cities

The Social Transformation of Infrastructure, Abundance, and Inequality in America

For most people, grocery shopping is a mundane activity. Few stop to think about the massive, global infrastructure that makes it possible to buy Chilean grapes in a Philadelphia supermarket in the middle of winter. Yet every piece of food represents an interlocking system of agriculture, manufacturing, shipping, logistics, retailing, and nonprofits that controls what we eat—or don’t.

The Problem with Feeding Cities is a sociological and historical examination of how this remarkable network of abundance and convenience came into being over the last century. It looks at how the US food system transformed from feeding communities to feeding the entire nation, and it reveals how a process that was once about fulfilling basic needs became focused on satisfying profit margins. It is also a story of how this system fails to feed people, especially in the creation of food deserts. Andrew Deener shows that problems with food access are the result of infrastructural failings stemming from how markets and cities were developed, how distribution systems were built, and how organizations coordinate the quality and movement of food. He profiles hundreds of people connected through the food chain, from farmers, wholesalers, and supermarket executives, to global shippers, logistics experts, and cold-storage operators, to food bank employees and public health advocates. It is a book that will change the way we see our grocery store trips and will encourage us all to rethink the way we eat in this country.

Author Information

Andrew Deener is associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. He is the author of Venice: A Contested Bohemia in Los Angeles, also published by the University of Chicago Press.


“Most of us give little thought to the question of how our food gets to the grocery store, or of how and why this matters. But Deener has spent years investigating the hidden infrastructure that shapes what we grow, what we eat, what we spend, and, most surprisingly, how we’ve built cities, suburbs, and transit networks around the world. The Problem with Feeding Cities is a revelatory study, loaded with ideas about how to create healthier, more sustainable systems for our changing world.”
— Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces for the People and Heat Wave

“This is the food chain fully traced and newly understood. We learn how grocery companies, road builders, and bar codes have shaped cities and fields—and what goes in our mouths. Deener combines politics, technology, and taste for lessons in urban history, consumption, and the wiles and woes of business. He brings the concept of infrastructure to explanatory life.”
— Harvey Molotch, author of Where Stuff Comes From

The Problem with Feeding Cities is a masterpiece of sociological imagination, making the familiar grocery store aisle into a strange concoction of methyl bromide and Universal Product Codes. Deener narrates the ‘social life of infrastructure’ over a century of history and with a remarkable variety of foodstuff examples. This book is a model of urban, economic, organizational, and environmental sociology.”
— Mary Pattillo, author of Black on the Block

Audience: Professional and scholarly;