1st Edition

The Soybean Through World History Lessons for Sustainable Agrofood Systems

    266 Pages 26 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book examines the changing roles and functions of the soybean throughout world history and discusses how this reflects the complex processes of agrofood globalization.

    The book uses a historical lens to analyze the processes and features that brought us to the current global configuration of the soybean commodity chain. From its origins as a peasant food in ancient China, today the protein-rich soybean is by far the most cultivated biotech crop on Earth; used to make a huge variety of food and industrial products, including animal feed, tofu, cooking oil, soy sauce, biodiesel and soap. While there is a burgeoning amount of literature on how the contemporary global soy web affects large tracts of our planet’s social-ecological systems, little attention has been given to the questions of how we got here and what alternative roles the soybean has played in the past. This book fills this gap and demonstrates that it is impossible to properly comprehend the contemporary global soybean chain, or the wider agrofood system of which it is a part, without looking at both their long and short historical development. However, a history of the soybean and its changing roles within equally changing agrofood systems is inexorably a history about globalization. Not only does this book map out where soybeans are produced, but also who governs, wields power and accumulates capital in the entire commodity chain from inputs in production to consumption, as well as identifying the institutional context the global commodity chain operates within. The book concludes with a discussion of the main challenges and contradictions of the current soy regime that could trigger its rupture and end.

    This book is essential reading for students, practitioners and scholars interested in agriculture and food systems, global commodity chains, globalization, environmental history, economic history and social-ecological systems.

    1. Combining insights from political economy and environmental history: what can the soybean tell us about changes in the global agrofood system? 

    2. The first soybean cycle (domestication to 900 CE)

    3. The second soybean cycle (1000–1860) 

    4. The roots of the third soybean cycle (1860–1949) 

    5. The regime of the third soybean cycle (1950–today) 

    6. Historicizing soy: towards a new rupture?


    Matilda Baraibar Norberg is Associate Professor at the Department of Economic History and International Relations, Stockholm University, Sweden.

    Lisa Deutsch is Assistant Professor and Senior Lecturer at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden.

    “The  Soybean  through  World  History  is  an  essential  guide  to  understanding  how  soy has come to play such a central role in the world food economy today. In this innovative and well-written  volume,  Baraibar  Norberg  and  Deutsch  provide  a  fascinating look  at  the longue durée of  soy, mapping  the  long  historical  cycles  through which its production has fueled vast trade networks as well as complex ecological consequences.”

    Jennifer Clapp, Political Economist Professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo


    “This is not the first book on the history of soy – but it’s the first truly global and long-term  account  combining  politico-economic  and  socio-ecological  perspec-tives. Following soy’s pathways from ancient China to modern globalization, the book  explains  how  this  commodity  has  become  so  central  in  the  current  agro-food system, including its burden for society and nature.”

    Ernst Langthaler, Economic Historian Professor and Head of the Department of Social and Economic History at the Johannes Kepler University Linz as well as Head of the Institute of Rural History in St. Pölten


    “From the meticulous examination of ancient texts and humble contexts to the investigation of today’s conglomerates, the authors trace the successive historical transformations of soy, now a key player  in  the planet’s increasingly vulnerable and unsustainable agrofood system. Soy’s social, economic, and political history, fraught as it has become, nonetheless offers a means by which the next transfor-mation, more stable and equitable, can still take place.”

    Carole L. Crumley, Anthropology Professor at  University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and  Executive Director of IHOPE at Uppsala University


    “In  line  with  revolutionizing  studies  of  sugar,  coffee,  salt,  cod  and  other  trans-formative global commodities, Baribar Norberg and Deutsch have crafted a com-prehensive,  yet  convincing  and  accessible  world  history  of  soy  –  this  ancient,  ever-changing bean, arguably the most expansive element of current unsustain-able  Anthropocene  food-chains,  but  also  with  untapped  potential  to  support  a  resilient future.”

    Sverker Sörlin, Environmental Historian Professor, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm and  co-founder KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory