Eat Local Challenge: Reference Reading

Upon mention by a couple sources (including Cindy of Food Migration, and what a migration she's undertaken of late! Read all about her adventures starting cooking school in Paris.), I excitedly interlibrary loaned Gary Paul Nabhan's Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods.

Here is the short story, for those too excited that there exists a whole book about the issue of local foods that they want to rush right over to their local library or independant bookstore before reading the rest of this post: it sucks.

I do hope people of differing opinions will weigh in, and maybe temper my opinion. I am very easily persuaded, especially when I really really wanted to like something, and am dissapointed to find that I don't like it after all.

My complaints:

  • it is tedious. I am a seriously fast and furious reader. Seriously. But it took me multiple weeks to slog through this thing, and its only 300 pages. The writing is not engaging. It is repetetive. I read a lot of non-fiction, it doesn't have to be like this. I think he could have distilled it down to 150 pages, which is about where I started an internal argument with myself over finishing it:
"Just put it down. You are wasting your life on this book."
" But something might happen! Or he might teach me something about something! I'm willing to learn anything!"
"That hasn't happened yet, has it? It never will. Give up and cut your losses."
(After finishing the book)"You were right."
  • it is heavy on hippie-styly preachy faux spirituality and slim on facts. I definitely 'get' our connection to the earth through the food we eat. I don't need it 500 times over. What I need is stuff that will make me an informed consumer and help me communicate the importance of all this eat local business to people who aren't similarly minded.
  • he is a brat. So he and his friends go on a river rafting trip. The first night out, his friend starts to cook paella, using lots of canned stuff and totally non-local stuff. He goes over to the guy and complains! Sez how dissapointed he is that everyone isn't buying into the foraging for local stuff in the desert deal. So the next day, ok, everybody's ready to forage. Turns out Nabhan didn't do his homework, there is nothing to forage for! If everyone had gone along with him, they would have been miserable and hungry. Come on, who complains when their friends cook them dinner? Who does that?
  • the guy drives a Blazer. And harps on it. "I got into my Blazer" "The Blazer was hot" stuff like that. Never refers to it as a car or SUV or anything else. They get 13 miles to a gallon. 13! Sure, he lives in the desert and drives around alot. But he never talks about hauling large amounts of stuff, and is usually driving around by himself on foraging missions. There are more fuel efficient desert friendly vehicles. And if you harp on everyone else about environmental issues and own an suv, the least you could do is be embarrassed or hide it. A BLAZER!
This guy appears to be at least a semi-big-wig, in the circuit of agricultural politics, and I don't want to downplay too much that aspect - there is a lot of stuff in the book about how and why genetically modified foods are making it so quickly into our food supply without the general public really knowing it - that is some good stuff but it is really diluted, not really in focus.

Here is one fact from the book that I found very relevant, and spent some time looking for more updated figures but only got as far as 1990:
". . . in 1910, farmers themselves gained forty cents for every dollar consumers spent on food but received less than seven cents per dollar by the time I left college in 1982" (p 73).
We can take heart that this trend seems to be reversing a bit, and our eating local and giving more of our money directly to farmers is helping. There has been huge growth in the number of farmers' markets in the past ten years, further enabling farmers to earn a fair wage. At the same time, we get the bonus of less petroleum used for packaging and transportation.


Jennifer said…
I agree with much of your critique. I found the book tedious as well--it took me awhile to get through just for the reasons you list. I read it almost three years ago. I think that for the time, it was such a new concept--and so radically lived--that the attention was (and probably still is) really due. However, though I have people say that the book changed their life (it certainly made me refocus my eating habits) I've never heard anyone say it was because of his prose.

A much more compelling read is Brian Heilweil's "Eat Here". It came out earlier this year (published by Worldwatch Institute) and I think it it is a much better read for folks new to the issue.

By the way, I really love your blog--can't wait to try your zuchhini chocolate bread recipe.
cindym said…
haa! wow, good critique. yeah, you're right, that book was INCREDIBLY tedious. why did i recommend it to you? sorry bout that. i think i am such a agripolitics virgin that i probably didn't even realize that this stuff could be interesting and well-written. terrible of me.

i remember being amazed at how he was so tormented over the decision to fly on a plane. then why the blazer? and why live in the desert? why not live somewhere easier to sustain life and veggies?

please accept my heartfelt apologies.

ps - i have this horrible problem wherein i can't ever stop reading a book once i start. like right now, i'm reading V.S. Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival, in which MOST OF THE BOOK has chronicled every single minute detail of the trees, grass, flower beds, pathways and rivers surrounding his small English cottage. talk about boring! And yet I dutifully drag it around with me everywhere, slogging through one page at a time. I'm like a literary masochist. Hmm, that sounds like a good blog...

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