by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Books

Sep 16 2016

Weekend reading: Conservation Heroes of the Heartland

Miriam Horn.  Rancher, Farmer Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland.  WW Norton, 2016.

Actually, this book should be titled “Rancher, Farmer, Riverman, Shrimper, Fisherman: Conservation of Life around the Mississippi River.” It consists of deep interviews with one person in each category who is working hard to protect some part of the environment.

My favorite is the shrimper, the truly remarkable woman who is devoting her life to saving the livelihoods of the people engaged in Louisiana’s highly endangered—by hurricanes, floods, oil spills, and regulators—shrimp-fishing industry.

Each of the people highlighted in this book is doing something for conservation, not always in the ways you and I might choose.  As Miriam Horn explains in her introduction,

Which is not to say they have found the perfect way to fish or farm; they would be the first to acknowledge that there is no such ideal.  Rather, their heroism lied in the depth of their commitment to consider the largest implications of what they do, across geographic and generational lines; to forever listen more intently, weight each choice for the impact it will have on their neighbors and all of life, challenge themselves to do better as they understand more and the world changes around them.

Sep 9 2016

Weekend reading: Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation

Sandor Ellix Katz.  Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.  Chelsea Green, 2016.


This is the updated and revised edition of Katz’s wildly popular and influential book—a how to on the theory and practice of preparing, eating, and enjoying fermented foods.

Katz describes himself as a fermentation evangelist, and so he is.

By eating a variety of live fermented foods, you promote microbial diversity in your body.  The live bacteria in those ferments…help to digest food and assimilate nutrients, as well as stimulate immune responses.  There is no one strain that is uniquely beneficial; rather the greatest benefit of eating bacteria lies in biodiversity.

With the microbiome the hot new thing in biology, this book could not be better timed.

And besides.  Fermented foods are delicious.  Ginger champagne, anyone?

Sep 2 2016

Weekend reading: Michel Ableman’s Street Farm

Michael Ableman.  Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier.  Chelsea Green, 2016.

Chelsea Green publishes books on “the politics and practice of sustainable living,” and its catalog gets better all the time.

Michael Ableman’s latest book is beautifully designed, packed with wonderful color photographs, and a must have for anyone even remotely curious about whether urban farming is worth a try.

Ableman was asked to start urban farms in the toughest areas of downtown Vancouver.  His book is a series of thoughtful, personal, and remarkably frank essays about how he turned vacant lots and parking lots into vegetables while engaging with the locals, coping with the city bureaucracy, dealing with landlords desperate for more parking space, and managing the hazards of trying to make this work among people beset by poverty, alcohol, and drugs.

But he did make it work and this book explains how you too can do this.

Street Farm is an elegant how-to manual on using farming to do real community work with populations classically “hard to reach” but thriving on such initiatives.

Aug 26 2016

Weekend reading: Beyond the Kale

Kristin Reynolds and Nevin Cohen.  Beyond the Kale: Urban Agriculture and Social Justice Activism in New York City.  University of Georgia Press, 2016.

This wonderfully titled book is about how urban agriculture can do plenty to help address race and class inequities:

Moving ‘beyond the kale’ means looking beyond the trendy aspects of growing food in the city to see people who have been using urban agriculture to make the food system less oppressive and more socially just.

The authors did extensive interviews with urban agriculture activists: farmers, gardeners, and organizational leaders.  Their book links food studies to agriculture and human values and provides ideas and resources for teachers, students, and anyone else who wants to get out there and dig—as a means to change the world.

Aug 19 2016

Weekend reading: Michaela DeSoucey’s Contested Tastes–Foie Gras!

Michaela DeSoucey.  Contested Tastes: Foie Gras and the Politics of Food.  Princeton University Press, 2016. 

I thought this book was exceptionally interesting and did a blurb for it:

Contested Tastes takes a deep dive into the gastropolitics of foie gras, the fatty duck liver commonly consumed in France but much less so in America.  Whether or not you approve of eating this food, you will want to read this riveting case study of how fights among stakeholders—producers and eaters of fatty duck liver, of course, but also animal welfare advocates, chefs, and government officials—reflect much larger issues of national identity, class, economic markets, and who gets to decide what we have for dinner.

Here’s a brief excerpt from her chapter on Chicago’s decision in 2006 to ban the sale of foie gras in restaurants, rescinded two years later and considered a fiasco by the Chicago Tribune.

Personal and social identities, as well as consumer movements, are realized through commodities and solidified through consumer behavior.  This lends a political dimension to the act of choosing, or refusing, certain foods…But yet, one can only “vote” as an eater among the choices made available by the business and regulatory communities…who has the ability and resources to “vote with their forks” remains a salient issue of social class.  This analogy casually affirms the liberal rhetoric of personal choice, bypassing the myriad ways in which one’s choices are influenced by others and their life circumstances.  This is the gastropolitical model that surrounded events in Chicago, meshing the language of taste and of choice with that of overt stakeholder politics.

This is an example of food studies in action—using food to explore the deeper cultural implications of important issues in our society.

Jul 1 2016

Reading for the long weekend: Jennifer Grayson’s “Unlatched”

Jennifer Grayson.  Unlatched: The Evolution of Breastfeeding and the Making of a Controversy.  Harper. 2016.

I thought this book had plenty to say and said it well (and has a great cover).  I did a blurb for it:

Unlatched is a deeply engaging, highly personal, well researched, and thoughtfully balanced account of how modern society has denormalized breastfeeding.  Jennifer Grayson does not expect every mother to follow her example and breastfeed babies for three or four years.  Instead, she asks us to consider how formula feeding became the norm and how government policies perpetuate it as the norm (see especially the stunning chapter on the Women, Infants, and Children program).  She argues compellingly that our challenge as a society is to restore breastfeeding as the default for feeding babies, and to provide the support—political as well as emotional–that mothers need to breastfeed successfully.

May 27 2016

Weekend reading: Garrett Broad’s More Than Just Food

Garrett M. Broad.  More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change. University of California Press, 2016.

I particularly wanted to read this book for two reasons, one personal and one professional.

First the personal.  The book’s University of California Press publication was supported by the Anne G. Lipow Endowment Fund for Social Justice and Human Rights, established by Stephen M. Silberstein.   Anne and I were friends from the time our children were babies. Sadly, she died in 2004.  Steve, her husband, set up this endowment in her honor.

On the professional side, More Than Just Food is based on Garrett Broad’s dissertation research.  As he explains,

More Than Just Food offers an ethnographic exploration of community-based food justice activism in urban America, using the network of Community Services Unlimited, Inc. (CSU) as a centering artifact of study.  CSU was initially created as the nonprofit arm of the Southern California chapter of the Black Panther Party and today stands as a leading food justice nonprofit organization in its own community of South Los Angeles, with connections to other food justice groups from across the United States and around the world.

 

To study this group and food justice organizations in general, Broad joined the CSU and participated in its activities in a process he calls “engaged scholarship.”  He has especially interesting things to say about the differences he observed between community-based groups like CSU and outside groups coming into communities that are part of the “nonprofit industrial complex.”

His research was based on theory, the communication ecology perspective, and is academically rigorous.

I argue that food justice activism can be understood as a hybrid praxis, an ever-evolving mix of philosophy and action that takes shape through an ongoing process of co-construction, collaboration, and conflict in food justice work.

With that out of the way, his research led to especially useful insights into food as a tool for community organizing.

The analysis in this book has emphasized how, even as community-based activists make food a centerpiece of their organizing work, they also insist than an isolated focus on food and food alone will not lead them to their ultimate goals.  Instead, guided by a broader social justice vision, food justice organizations offer up food as a uniquely engaging tool that helps build critical consciousness, develop alternative institutions, promote economic development, and cultivate skills for health and well-being among those who have long been subject to injustice in the food system and beyond.

This book is an entirely fitting tribute to Anne Lipow’s memory and I look forward to seeing more in this series.

May 13 2016

Weekend reading: Miraculous Abundance [Permaculture]

Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyer.  Miraculous Abundance: One quarter acre, two French farmers, and enough food to feed the world.  Foreword by Eliot Coleman.  Chelsea Green, 2016.

This book, more about philosophy than a how-to, describes how two inexperienced beginners succeeded in creating a gorgeous, productive, self-sustaining farm on 1000 square meters of land in Normandy—La Ferme du Bec Hellouin.

They did this by using the techniques of permaculture.  This they define as “a box of smart tools that allows the creation of a lifestyle that respects the earth and its inhabitants—a practical method inspired by nature.”  Later, they explain that it is based on an ethic: “Take care of the earth. Take care of the people.  Equitably share resources.”  As I said, philosophy, not how-to.

You have to read the book to figure out what all this means in practice.  It seems to come down to what I thought of as French Intensive methods.  These use raised beds, rich soil, composting, and thoughtful planting of coordinated crops that support each other’s growth and nutritional needs.  Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya—nine seeds—approach works the same way.   The authors drew on the work of John Jeavons, Eliot Coleman, and many other small-scale sustainable farmers from all over the world to develop their version of these methods.

If the color photographs are any indication, the results are magnificent.   The place is so highly productive that it easily supports the two of them.  The mandala garden alone made we want to get on the next plane just to see how it works in controlling weeds.

The moral: you could do this at home.

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