Food Systems, Food Choices, Locavores

Groundwork, by Gordon Stillman. 2011. 100 pp. $60

Sustainably and locally grown food is increasingly featured on dinner tables and restaurant menus throughout Virginia. The benefits of food grown with such care run from taste and nutrition to the bigger impacts of farming: using sustainable practices lessens a farm’s negative impact on surrounding ecosystems.

But growing sustainable food is usually more labor intensive than conventional agriculture, and farmers can face economic challenges with growing and distributing food locally. Meanwhile, community members who purchase sustainably grown food at grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants––or grow their own in community gardens––adjust their budgets and relationships with food to make it feasible year-round.

In Groundwork, photographer Gordon Stillman traces the growth of sustainable agriculture in central Virginia. The 100-page book features photographs of the people who are laying the groundwork of a new food economy in the region––small farms, local markets, restaurants, community gardens, and the families who grow, buy, and eat local. The book is available for purchase here

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.  2006. Penguin Press, New York, NY.  450 pp.  $26.95
This popular volume, which swept through sustainable ag and “foodie” circles during the first couple years after its publication, opens with a discussion of ecological, health, and ethical considerations in choosing our diet from among the myriad foods and “food-like substances” available for consumption in our society.  Pollan takes the reader through the “natural history” of four meals:  a typical fast food meal; a meal based on ingredients grown by “big organic;” a locally-derived meal featuring Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm; and a locavore meal that the author grew, hunted, and gathered at or near his home in California.  Caution: reading this book can permanently ruin your appetite for processed foods containing soybean oil or high-fructose corn syrup.
In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto, by Michael Pollan.  2008.  Penguin Press, New York, NY.  244 pp.  $21.95.This book boils down the lessons of Pollan’s earlier book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma into a seven word mantra:  eat food, not too much, mostly plants, backed by an engaging and fast-reading development of this basic theme.  It provides an effective antidote to the endless calorie counting, popular fat- and carbo-phobias, and bewildering array of conflicting “research results” on benefits and dangers of different foods or nutrients:  put together a delicious meal from real food ingredients, and enjoy better health.Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver, with Steven Hopp and Camille Kingsolver.  2007.  Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY.  370 pp.  $26.95.

Renowned novelist Barbara Kinsolver turns her writing talents to an engaging description of her family’s move from the deserts of Tucson, AZ to southwest Virginia, and their subsequent year-long challenge of deriving their entire diet from within a 100 mile radius of their new home.  Month by month, beginning in March, Barbara takes the reader through the family’s adventures growing much of their own food and obtaining the rest locally, and weaving into the story reflections on the natural and cultural history of the plants and animals that feed us.  In sidebars, Steve provides succinct analyses of food systems issues, and Camille ends each chapter with locavore recipes she developed during that year.

Coming Home to Eat: the Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, by Gary Paul Nabhan.  2002.  W. W. Norton & Company, New York, NY.  330 pp.  $24.95.

Inspired by a visit to his original homeland in Lebanon, where many people still grow much of their own food and save seeds of locally adapted crop varieties, Nabhan returned to his current home in southern Arizona committed to undertaking a locavore year based on what he could grow or obtain from within a 250 mile radius.  The region’s harsh, dry climate forced him to delve into the area’s time-honored food traditions, learning from both Native American and European American farmers, foragers, and hunters how to feed himself from this land.

This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, by Joan Gussaw.  2001.  Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, VT.  273 pp. $16.95.

Nutritionist Joan Gussaw, her artist husband Alan, and their son Seth began growing much of their own food on a half-acre suburban lot outside of New York City in the 1970s, using the Biointensive Minifarming method, then moved to an even smaller place on the Hudson River in 1992 to do the same.  This book offers an engaging account of their adventures, successes, and challenges homesteading on the Hudson, interspersed with recipes, quotes from Joan’s journal, and reflections on larger food system issues.

The Compassionate Carnivore, by Catherine Friend.  2008.  Da Capo Press, http://www.dacapopress.com.  291 pp.  $24.00

Are you tired of hearing ethical vegans, or your own conscience, haranguing you for eating meat, fish, poultry or eggs, while your type-O blood or other omnivore genes cry out for at least occasional tastes of animal protein?  Then this book is for you.

Candidly and without judgment, Ms. Friend spells out what it means to eat the flesh of living animals.  As a livestock farmer and meat eater, she tells it all like it is, seeking neither to induce nor assuage guilt in her omnivore audience.  She gives a fairly graphic account of factory animal farming, and offers lots of practical information on how to choose better alternatives that ameliorate the ecological, social, and animal-wellbeing impacts of consuming meat.

Closing the Food Gap:  Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty, by Mark Wynne.  2008. Beacon Press,  Boston, MA, http://www.beacon.org. 199 pp. $23.95.

Based on his own experiences as Executive Director of Hartford Food System in Hartford, CT and more recently in Santa Fe, NM, Wynne takes the reader on a decades long journey through the development of the antihunger and community food systems movements in the US since the 1960s.  Moving from an analysis of the root causes of hunger in the land of plenty, Wynne moves beyond food banking aimed at getting something on the table, beyond asking why the rich get fresh organic food while the poor get fat and diabetic, to proposing real solutions.  Important reading for anyone involved in community food systems work.

The Call of the Land, by Steven McFadden.  Northern Lights Press, http://www.norlightspress.com/our-books-cotl.html.

Dubbed “an agrarian primer for the 21st Century,” this sourcebook documents a range of positive pathways to food security, economic stability, environmental health, and cultural renewal.  It includes real life examples, from The Food Depot in Santa Fe, NM encouraging gardeners to “plant a row for the hungry,” to Appalachia’s Growing Minds serving local food in schools and hosting school gardens.

Chicken Tractor – Lee and Foreman

Book Review – Tomorrow’s Table, by by Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak

Reviews by Linda Davis and Mark Schonbeck