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The Lettuce Diaries in Politico’s China Watcher

Thank you POLITICO and Phelim Kine for featuring The Lettuce Diaries in Politico's China Watcher Newsletter -

"We’ll also examine Chinese censorship of Shanghai’s “zero-Covid” lockdown and present a first-person account of the rocky road to making it big in Chinese vegetables"


The Book: The Lettuce Diaries: How a Frenchman Found Gold Growing Vegetables in China

What is the most important takeaway from your book?

The excesses and the challenges of China’s business operating environment — an executive tries to mount a coup to take over the company and I myself cut corners on food safety — but also how things are changing for the better. After China's infant formula cover-up scandal in 2008, in which thousands of kids were poisoned with melamine-laced milk powder, the government radically modernized its dairy industry.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while researching and writing this book?

I realized how insulated I was from the reality of many of my employees. One of my executives got kidnapped by a supplier we used to export broccoli to Japan because I hadn’t paid him what he expected. In the end, I negotiated a settlement to secure his release. I later understood that the kidnapper was also a man who provided a regular income for hundreds of peasant farmers in his community — he himself felt tremendous pressure.

What does your book tell us about the trajectory and future of U.S.-China relations?

The nature of U.S.-China relations is often described as one of strategic competition. But both sides have agreed that there will be some areas of mutual interest and agriculture has the potential to be one of those areas. China needs to feed a fifth of the global population with only 7 percent of its arable land while the U.S. feeds only 4 percent of the world with 15 percent of its arable land. The book isn’t about food security, but it provides nuanced insight and context into the challenges that China faces as it tries to modernize its agriculture.

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