War on Bugs

Will Allen is a self-identified “food freak”, author, and a lifelong farmer. It is these primary passions – growing, cooking and eating food - that have led him to a lifetime of activism. Will grew up on a small farm in southern California and served in the Marine Corps between the Korean and Vietnam wars. He received a PhD in Anthropology and taught at the university level until being fired and sentenced to a year in jail for civil rights and antiwar activism. He has been farming organically since 1972 in Oregon, California, and Vermont, where he now co-manages the farm, with his partner Kate Duesterberg.

Will Allen’s War on Bugs documents how advertisers, editors, scientists, large scale farmers, government agencies, and even Dr. Seuss, colluded to convince farmers to use deadly chemicals, hormones, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in an effort to pad their wallets and control the American farm enterprise.

Utilizing dozens of original advertisements and promotions to illustrate the story, Allen details how consumers and activists have struggled against toxic food. Echoing the warnings of seminal works on the topic like, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, 100,000 Guinea Pigs by Arthur Kallet and F.J. Schlink, and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, The War on Bugs shouts that the time to stop poisoning our food, water, air, and ourselves is now!

Reviews of The War on Bugs

  • The Journal of Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment reviewed The War On Bugs book in December 2013. You can read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Allen’s ambitiousness in writing this book has brought broad and related themes into view that converge in the historical processes and public consciousness surrounding chemical farming in the United States. It is a highly useful book for under-graduate classes and for scholars seeking to develop new ideas and critical perspectives on the history of current issues in agriculture.”

  • Dr. Vandana Shiva, author of Stolen Harvest and Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy says:

    “In 1984, when the gas leak from Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal killed thousands, I asked myself why agriculture had become like war. In The War on Bugs, Will Allen tells us why. Whether you care about the bugs, or the food you grow or eat, this is a book you must read. It will help us all move from violent agriculture to a non-violent agriculture which protects all life and our health.”

  • Ronnie Cummins, National Director, Organic Consumers Association says:

    “The War on Bugs is must reading for organic consumers and every concerned citizen. Will Allen tells us the incredible story, in clear but rousing language, of how corporations, out-of-control scientists, and indentured government have carried out a literal 100 Year War against organic and sustainable agriculture and family farms, and provides inspiration for the organic food and farming revolution already underway.”

  • Caral Ekarius, columnist for Hobby Farms magazine, interviewed Will Allen in their July-August 2008 issue. Here’s an excerpt:

    The War on Bugs is a tour-de-force, historical look at how advertising and the media have been used, and sometimes abused, to push nasty chemicals over the centuries, and at the parallel safe-food movement that has always existed … “I didn’t know how or when people got acclimated to spraying poisons on themselves and their kids, and their homes and their schools. We started asking old-time farmers, ‘When did this start?’ Whether they were 65 or 95, they’d say, ‘This happened way before I was born.” So I thought, ‘wow, I need to figure this out.’

  • Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME) reviewed The War on Bugs. Here’s an excerpt:

    What makes Allen’s work so vital is his exploration of the historical and cultural intersections among a variety of forces: Madison Avenue media marketing, science, corporate power and, most importantly, the process of “farming” itself, a complex and rigorous activity so full of mistaken mythological holes within the fabric of U.S. history that you can drive a John Deere combine harvester through it … If ever there were a historical argument for cultivating thoughtful localvore living, food sovereignty, and homestead security moving into the 21st century, this book is it.

  • PAN North America excerpted from The War on Bugs:

    … At the time of his hiring [by Standard Oil], Seuss was a well-known but underpaid “screwball” cartoonist writing humorous copy and drawing cartoons for Judge, a national humor magazine. With his cartoons for Standard’s bug killer, Dr. Seuss turned Flit and the Flit gun into household necessities. His success, which kept Flit in the leadership position in the marketplace, also made the incredibly prolific Geisel economically comfortable and afforded him enough freedom to gestate his later cartoon masterpieces.

… Considering the reverence with which Dr. Seuss is held today, it is difficult to envision him as a pivotal figure in the public acceptance of poisonous pesticides. Nevertheless, some historians feel that his campaign was largely responsible for popularizing dangerous pesticides to the American public. Adelynne Whitaker, the author of A History of Pesticide Regulation in the U.S., contends that the Dr. Seuss cartoon campaign had the effect of increasing pesticide use tenfold for the nation’s families.

  • Vermont Sunday Magazine review, excerpt:

    Let’s say you’ve chosen strawberry shortcake for dessert tonight, so you’ve purchased a supply of the bright red berries. Like many of us, you’ve bought them without giving serious thought to any health risks that might be associated with such a seemingly innocent purchase. But read Will Allen’s thoroughly documented examination of the use of pesticides in the California strawberry harvest and you may have some second thoughts. These juicy berries may not be as harmless as you think.

  • ForeWord Magazine review, excerpt:

    Allen weaves a fascinating picture of the connections between medicine, rat control, chemistry, and labor practices to arrive at the door of DDT, Roundup, and genetically engineered staple crops … “My goal is to provoke readers with some often overlooked historical perspectives about food and farming,” writes Allen in his introduction, “and to suggest what they can do to ensure that food is producted safely on land that is properly cared for, so that our childern and grandchildren will be able to enjoy its bounty and continue to make it productive.” How could we not wish him well.

  • Seven Days review (Burlington, Vermont), excerpt:

    A useful historical primer and a call to arms, The War on Bugs charts how Americans have grown “comfortable” with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers over the last two centuries. The book is also an attempt to “rekindle” the spirit of classic exposés such as The Jungle, Upton Sinclair’s novel about early-20th-century meatpacking in Chicago; and Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, which led to the ban of the pesticide DDT in the United States. Allen sees a parallel between the public outcry following the publication of Silent Spring in 1962 and today’s exploding demand for organic and locally produced foods. “There’s a whole new populist movement happening around agriculture again,” he says.

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