It’s always a good day when I get to talk with Monica Bhide — food writer, author, spice expert, inspiring writing instructor, cocktail contest conspirator, friend.
Monica is particularly skilled at persuading others to tell their stories (check out her book of interviews with exceptional women). And her question to me was: How did I –a journalist of the booze– come to write a book about food & finance & history?
Here’s the answer – my guest blog post for Monica’s popular site, A Life of Spice.
Today, December 5, celebrates the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition – one of the best and booziest “holidays” in the tippling calendar. In honor of Repeal Day, I’m sharing my favorite find from The Secret Financial Life of Food: the all-but-forgotten American Liquor Exchange.
The 1933 image above shows a group of distillers and importers gathered in a Park Avenue office, in the act of setting prices for wines and spirits after the repeal of Prohibition. Technically, this group was not an exchange, but a firm dealing in warehouse receipts (financial instruments that pledged as collateral certain commodities – such as barrels of whiskey). Take a look (click on the image to enlarge it): the chalkboard behind the auctioneer lists the bid and ask prices for various whiskeys – rye, Scotch – as well as other spirits (gin, Cognac, “Cuban rhum”) and Champagne and other wines. Most of the deals called for delivery in 30, 60, or 90 days after repeal went into effect.
Shout out to Ryan of the informative Trading Pit Blog, who owns this photo and kindly granted permission to use it in the book. Here’s another look at the same scene, from a different angle.
If you enjoyed this post, you might want to buy The Secret Financial Life of Food.
Butter and Egg women unite!
Last week I had the opportunity to talk about my new book with the ebullient Nicole Taylor, one of my favorite radio hosts. Her show, Hot Grease, airs on the awesome Heritage Radio Network.
A comment from the show: “I think that commodity prices are not going to be based entirely on American eating habits… It’s my belief that we’re going to see commodities being traded on a more global basis.” [26:00]
The team over at Columbia University Press has done a bang-up job this week introducing my new book, The Secret Financial Life of Food: from commodities markets to supermarkets. If you haven’t been over to the CUP blog this week, here’s what you missed:
Trading Places Video: Remember the film Trading Places, with Eddie Murphy? Watch a YouTube clip of financial bigwigs Randolph and Mortimer Duke (played by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) explaining to Billy Ray Valentine (played by Eddie Murphy) how their commodity brokerage works. (I quoted a portion of this scene in the introduction to the Produce Futures chapter)
Book Giveaway! Best hustle if you want to win a free copy of The Secret Financial Life of Food – CUP will be picking a winner TODAY at 1:00 pm ET. (hint - e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and address.)
3 Predictions for the Future of Food-Based Futures: Although my book focuses on the history of food-based futures, most questions I’ve been asked center around the future of futures. (And with food prices on a breakaway tear, who can blame people for wanting to know what’s next?) So I’ve gazed into my crystal ball to offer three predictions for what’s next.
Enjoy! And while you’re surfing, don’t forget to buy a copy of The Secret Financial Life of Food (or two, or three….) for those on your holiday list who enjoy reading about food, finance, or history.
Let the countdown commence! The Secret Financial Life of Food is officially scheduled to drop on Nov. 20 - one month from today!
Last week, ZesterDaily.com ran a Q&A with yours truly: The Economics of Food with Author Kara Newman – the very first piece of press coverage about the book! My favorite part? Writer/editor Ruth Tobias brilliantly looped in the recent scare over a possible bacon shortage.
Q: Given the recent scare over a bacon shortage, I found the chapter on pork bellies quite enlightening. Can you elaborate on why pork bellies are no longer traded, and what it means for the average consumer and the ethically conscious consumer?
A. At the most basic level, traders buy and sell based on scarcity and anticipated demand. When that scarcity diminished thanks to better technologies in agriculture and refrigeration, as well as improved bacon-making techniques, trading eventually stopped. It’s now a more stable market.
I’ve asked economists: What does it mean for consumers that we don’t have pork-belly futures to kick around anymore? And the answer across the board is: “Not much.” Pork-belly contracts were a vehicle that outlived their usefulness, like egg futures and onion futures and many other contracts before them. Without the pricing mechanism that the futures market provides, prices might edge slightly higher at supermarkets — and for a little while, that might make pork from smaller producers a bit more attractive. But the average bacon lover probably hasn’t noticed even a blip at the checkout counter.
Read the full Q&A on ZesterDaily.
“Like” the book on Facebook.
Pre-order your very own copy of the book.
My new book, The Secret Financial Life of Food: from commodities markets to supermarkets, officially drops on November 20. Still a few weeks away (sigh). In the meantime, the folks at Columbia University Press have put together a light-hearted quiz to help reinforce some of the concepts in the book.
Take a look….How much do YOU know about the secret financial life of your food? Test your knowledge with this fun 10-question quiz!
Exciting news! My new book, The Secret Financial Life of Food, will be available in bookstores on November 20, 2012.
…If you’d like to pre-order a copy, you can do so on Amazon (and thank you!)
…If you’re a journalist or blogger and would like a review copy, galleys are now available! Please go to this link and click the “Request!” button.
…If you’d like to hear more about the book, I’m giving a brief preview talk at the Culinary Historians of NY’s season opener meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 12. Event details are posted here.
…If you’re a fellow boozehound and you’re wondering, “Hey! Where’s the hooch?” Let me assure you, spirituous history abounds in this book. In brief, The Secret Financial History of Food focuses on commodities markets from a culinary perspective, and chapters focus on topics such as the former “Butter and Egg Men” and the rise and fall of pork bellies. But this book also gave me an excuse to talk about whiskey trading (grain and corn chapters, thank you), wine futures, and perhaps my favorite discovery during the long research months: the nearly-forgotten American Liquor Exchange, which set prices for wine and spirits post-Prohibition.
…Last but not least: if you’d like to arrange for an interview or speaking engagement related to the book, please email Meredith Howard at Columbia University Press (mhoward AT columbiauniversitypress DOT com) or me (kara AT karanewman DOT com).
Whew! That was a lot of information. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.