Book Review: Just Food

30 Nov

“What is food to one man may be fierce poison to others.”  – Lucretius

In discussing genetically modified (GM) food, most people’s views fall into one of two groups: categorically for or against. Rarely do you find shades of grey in this debate. It’s not hard to see why when you hear stories of animals being injected with antibiotics and farmers being forced to use government-issued seeds that have been modified so that they will not reproduce at the end of the season. In the last ten years or so, a locavore movement has risen, preaching the concept that people should only eat food that is grown locally.  The idea is to visit farmer’s markets to purchase local and seasonal food, thereby eliminating reliance on Big Agribusiness and reduce pollution created via “food miles” – the distance your food traveled to get to the store.

Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly by James E. McWilliams takes issue with the “food miles” theory. He speculates that food  miles are not the biggest issue with our current *gastronomical* methods but that there are myriad other factors that must be taken into account if we are to save our planet from ourselves. He raises excellent points, namely that the transportation of food products accounts for a percentage of food-related pollution, but not all of it. Other factors must be taken into consideration, like the energy needed to raise the product, feed it, the energy used to harvest it and, of course, to cook it once you’ve brought it home.

McWilliams also brings up a valid point that is often overlooked but is of tantamount importance: the world’s population is increasing at an astronomical rate and if we continue to grow, purchase and prepare food the way we do currently, we will have no way to feed the projected 8 billion people expected by 2025.  Without question, a locavore movement is not practical: how are people in drought-plagued nations supposed to live without food being brought to them from other countries? He states that, “…if poor countries do not develop the resources and infrastructures to mass-produce their own food and a surplus to trade, the developed world will have to donate that food to them…now is not the time to retreat into locavore isolationism.”

Just Food provides a counterpoint to the locavore argument. Without condemning the movement entirely, McWilliams seeks to point out flaws that are often glossed over by the media and to postulates his own theories for the betterment of  society’s relationship with food and its origins . For those who are serious about food issues, environmentalism and the future of food sustainability, I definitely recommend giving this book a read. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of McWilliams’ arguments, I think it’s important that books like Just Food are written. The topics tackled therein are not black and white but rather many shades of grey and they need to be brought to light.


2 Responses to “Book Review: Just Food”

  1. Katherine Martinelli December 1, 2011 at 5:11 am #

    I chose the other book for Kitchen Reader this month, but was really curious about Just Food so am happy to see your review. I’ll definitely check it out! I am a big supporter of the locavore movement but am also skeptical of anything like this that has sound bites and becomes trendy, so I’m interested to read his perspective on the matter. It’s good to get all sides because you are so right, nothing is black and white. Thanks for a great review!

    • failingtherorschachtest December 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

      So glad you enjoyed! It was definitely an interesting book that provided some perspective; but any book on the topic should be read with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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