Peter Rose, Los Angeles
The Reach of a Chef: Professional Cooking in the Age of Celebrity is the third in a series of books by author Michael Ruhlman as he digs deep into the world of the professional chef. For any foodies or aspiring cooks, this series (which began in 1999 with The Making of a Chef) is an extraordinary look at the world of the chef. From a consumer insights perspective, however, Ruhlman lends tremendous insight into things we focus on at The Futures Company on an everyday basis. From the impact that the coddled Millennial generation has on the professors/chefs at the Culinary Institute of America (where this new generation of students bristles at the old-school ways of teaching, and has their parents calling the school to complain) to chefs who pursue Responsibility through organic, sustainable, and local food purchases and practices, The Reach of a Chef is in fact a microcosm of many of the macro consumer trends we see today.
Joe Ballantyne, London
Everyone agrees that China is the great economic success story of the past decade and that adapting to its rise will pose a challenge to the political, economic and even moral bases of the current international order. The way in which China evolves will have a profound effect on all of us and, according to Will Hutton, it isn’t going to be an easy ride. The Writing on the Wall argues that Chinese growth is built on an unsustainable model – impossibly high levels of export growth which can’t continue (this much is already coming to pass: Chinese exports have been falling in recent months), state-driven capital accumulation and cheap labour with very low productivity, little technical innovation and the absence of an appropriate business culture or legal structure.
The paradox set up in the book is that while the current system may be economically unsustainable, doing anything to put it right is politically unacceptable – since it will involve weakening the political power of the Communist party, an option which is undesirable to the country’s elite. Hutton’s suggestion is that the Chinese will have to import what he calls the ‘soft infrastructure of capitalism’: essentially enlightened institutions and attitudes such as representative government, security of property, an independent civil society, a commitment to political rights.
One of the challenges of futures work is stretching thinking beyond current trends – since the temptation is always to just extrapolate existing trends ad infinitum. The Writing on the Wall is a useful reminder that in some cases, we need to be a whole lot more imaginative about our potential futures.
Jo Phillips, London
In the year that the global balance tipped to urban (for in 2008 for the first time over 50% of the world’s population lives in cities), I was drawn to an account of the dwindling days of rural life in an English village at the end of the nineteenth century. Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise is a charming portrait of a very particular place and time – the observations of the minute details of customs, culture and behaviour, from how a pot roast was cooked on a fire, to the lyrics of drinking songs, are glorious. As someone who was born at a similar point in the following century, aware of the fact that people of my age will be some of the last to say ‘I remember before the internet’, I find myself similarly nostalgic for some of the language and customs of my country childhood.