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Just Food
Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly

by James E. McWilliams


The subtitle of this book misleadingly implies that itís primarily an attack on locavores. Itís not. The author has issues with the locavore movement, but also with other ideology-based "answers" to the food supply, even as he shares their stated goal of feeding people as well as possible with as little harm to the planet as possible.

McWilliams raises a key point about locavores et al. when he notes that being in a position to choose food based upon factors like miles from farm to fork means you are viewing things as a member of an elite. In his opinion, polemic too often disguises reality in this discussion, including a tendency to embrace ideas which sound inherently appealing—especially to a member of such an elite vs. the larger world population concerned with "just food" for survival—but which arenít necessarily better, or at least not as much better as theyíre made out to be.

Where he disagrees with the locavores et al. is in the conclusions they draw, both that things are as black and white as they claim and that there is a single viable "magic bullet" solution. Take the core locavore insistence on eating local, with fewer miles from farm to fork for a lowered environmental cost. The book agrees that eating local may be laudable in some ways but that assumed lower environmental cost isnít always true, is less helpful than its proponents assume, while reliance on a strictly locavore food supply has inherent limitations the movement tends to ignore. Itís an option; itís not a solution.

And so McWilliams wrote this book to:

"...reframe the debate about sustainable food production in a way that opens it up and encourages us to seek less ideologically crafted alternatives—ones that reform the environmental abuses of industrial agriculture, lend themselves to pragmatic regulation and enforcement, preserve the profit motive, and adapt to local, regional, national, and global economies and infrastructures."
Thereís a balancing of pragmatic considerations against the need for reform in this that is too often missing from the more ideologue positions.

He grounds his discussion in real life examples we can all grasp and relate to rather than blinding us with science and statistics. This makes the book a surprisingly easy and interesting read. It also reinforces the credibility of his own conclusions and answers, since they are equally practical, balancing ideology with realities about how people actually live and behave. The result is interesting and even entertaining at times, such as the reminder that for all the claims of "all natural" methods by some food producers, farming itself is against nature, since itís an attempt to manipulate and control it.

Highly recommended.

The Book

Little Brown / Hachette
September 2009
031603374X / 978-0316033749
Food / Sustainable agriculture
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The Reviewer

Kim Malo
Reviewed 2010
© 2010