Archive for the ‘Food system’Category

The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved by Sandor Ellix Katz

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Sandor Ellix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation, gives readers a thorough look at nearly every aspect of the modern food movement in his book The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements (2006). I can think of no better person to explain the push for sustainable farming, wholesome food and healthy communities than someone who lives as Katz does: as part of an independent, intentional community in Tennessee.

In addition to exemplifying the revolution everyday, Katz is an excellent writer. The book is full of well-articulated arguments in favor of much needed change. While I consider myself knowledgeable on many aspects of the food movement, I learned a lot from the book, including some things that were truly eye opening.

For example, the chapter “Seed Saving as a Political Act” details a clear American intent to destroy Iraq’s agricultural infrastructure. Katz explains, “An internal State Department document from February 2003, a month before the U.S. invasion…included seed and plant patents as part of the U.S. economic agenda in Iraq.” Sadly, the U.S. was very successful, and the invasion destroyed “almost all generations of all seeds of all crops.” In summation, Katz says, “It appears from these facts that an element of the U.S. military agenda is to disrupt agricultural self-sufficiency and create dependency on the high-tech global seed market, while imposing the legal framework to permanently disempower local farmers.” Discouraging and eye opening, indeed. (48)

Katz channels many resources for the book. He quotes authors like Wendell Berry, Frances Moore Lappé and Joel Salatin, and cites books like The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. In addition, personal stories and recipes are dispersed throughout. Though the book’s organization seems random, it still manages to read smoothly.

The book is unlikely to reach the mainstream audience tapped by authors like Michael Pollan, but that in no way diminishes its value to the movement. Readers interested in a lengthy look at topics like seed saving, vegetarian ethics (warning: he’s not vegetarian), Slow Food, land rights and water consumption will find a good source in The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved.


03 2010

The Locavore Way by Amy Cotler

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The Locavore Way: Discover and Enjoy the Pleasures of Locally Grown Food (2009) by Amy Cotler is a comprehensive, easy-to-read guide on how to find, buy, and cook locally grown food. She covers every aspect of eating locally: from the basics, like what to look for at farmer’s markets, to the more complex, like how to buy meat and poultry in areas where local food is not available in stores. Recipes and tips for preparing many vegetables and fruits help those of us less experienced with creating meals with fresh food. The author also stresses the importance of consumer expectations of the companies, restaurants, and schools linked to our meals and how to effectively advocate for change. The Locavore Way includes a great resource section to get you started, and my favorite – testimonials from farmers, chefs, and families who make local food a part of their lives.

Thanks to Storey Publishing for the review copy and to one of Reno’s own locavores Shelley of Local Food Northern Nevada for the review! Shelley’s site is a great resource for area residents, check it out!


02 2010

Food Rules by Michael Pollan

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Michael Pollan, author of the wildly successful The Omnivore’s Dilemma, presents readers with simple rules of eating healthfully in his new book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. The mantra of his last book In Defense of Food (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) forms the backbone of the new book, which features a collection of sentence-long personal eating rules. For example, “If it came from a plant eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t,” and “the whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.”

The book can be read in its entirety in less than an hour, which is certainly worth doing. Fans of Pollan’s work will not encounter new ideas, but rather a greatly abbreviated and cleverly presented reiteration of his work. The rules were either created by Pollan, submitted to him by those who read his request for food rules via a New York Times blog, or are long-standing, cultural ideas about eating.

This “eater’s manual” is an enjoyable read for all, but especially for those unfamiliar with Pollan’s work.


01 2010

The Raw Milk Revolution by David Gumpert

Raw Milk Revolution

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Interest in raw milk has been growing steadily as of late, and along with it has come pressure from state and federal regulatory agencies on suppliers to stop providing the controversial food.  In The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights, business journalist David Gumpert examines the legal bout over unpasteurized milk that has taken place over the last several years.

Concern begins with a small group of people getting sick and testing positive for the famous e.coli strain 0157:H7. Next, state officials deem that the occasionally life-threatening bacteria were contracted by drinking raw milk. (Gumpert shows just how inconclusive these findings can be, however.) Newspapers run headlines about raw milk nearly taking the life of someone’s child, and whether justified or not, the farmer is run out of business and a fear of the drink is established. The legal precedents being set in examples like this one are literally changing the rights of raw milk consumers and producers as you read this.

In addition to analyzing recent legal actions, the book presents anecdotal and scientific information on the health benefits and risks of consuming unpasteurized milk.  Many believe pasteurization destroys vitamins and enzymes (like lactase, the enzyme used to digest lactose), as well as various beneficial bacteria that are thought to play a role in strengthening our immune systems. Raw milk, like pasteurized milk, can however harbor dangerous bacteria if caution is not taken in production and distribution. Many outbreaks have been attributed to the consumption of raw milk throughout history. Gumpert makes it clear that he is pro-raw milk, but provides a very fair assessment of conflicting opinions.

Gumpert is also the author of the blog The Complete Patient, which began in 2006 and primarily discusses raw milk. The book frequently refers to the blog, including extensive quoting of both posts and comments. With the exception of some redundancies, the book is well presented and easy to understand.

A larger debate exists concerning food rights in general, and journalists like Gumpert are doing great work to illuminate the problems with our food system so that we can be free to produce and consume healthy foods. Overall, The Raw Milk Revolution is a great resource for anyone interested in raw milk.

A review copy of this book was kindly provided by Chelsea Green Publishing—thanks for sharing!


11 2009

Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin

Click to find at a library near you!

Click to find at a library near you!

Joel Salatin is the famed owner of Polyface Farms located in Virginia and widely featured in the sustainable agriculture movement.  Author Michael Pollan featured Polyface in his best-selling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which contrasted Salatin’s idyllic method of agriculture with more industrial, less earth-friendly agribusiness; and the documentaries Fresh and Food, Inc. also spotlight Polyface Farms.

In Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal (2007), as you might guess, Salatin spells out his frustration with the government (occasionally referred to as the “chicken police”) over issues such as raw milk, custom beef, salmonella, farmer’s markets, organic certification, taxes and plenty more.

Readers will discover the many legal challenges Salatin faces as a result of laws designed for large agribusinesses that catch his small farm in an all-encompassing net.  For example, large dairy operations are required, and happy, to pasteurize their milk for safety reasons.  The mandate is a result of over-crowded, mis-fed and antibiotic filled cows, which are incomparable to Polyface’s small, pasture-raised herd.  Even though his milk doesn’t need to be pasteurized for the sake of its consumers, his farm (and many others just like it) receive no exemption from the law.

The book raises awareness of the many barriers that impede sustainable farming efforts. Understanding the obstacles faced by our small farmers is critical to the survival of the sustainable agriculture movement.


  • “The system thinks we’re a successful culture because we have more prisoners in America than farmers” (XV).
  • “[Farming] is not just a business, it is a sacred calling…serving people who seek truth and are willing to travel dirt roads to get it” (59).
  • “A democracy that worships money and power is no better than a socialist society that holds the same values” (230).
  • “Unless and until government policy encourages a local food chain, America’s food chain will be increasingly vulnerable to bioterrorism” (266).
  • “If you want to know what good food is, as a rule of thumb, whatever was available in 1900 is probably okay” (322).


10 2009

The End of Food by Paul Roberts

Click to find at a library near you!

Click to find at a library near you!

How can we feed 9.5 billion people by 2070?  Paul Roberts explores this multi-faceted dilemma in his book The End of Food (2009).

The development of the modern, international food system, contemporary farming methods and challenges, and a heavy dose of politics are a few of the topics covered.  Roberts offers a fair balance of viewpoints and presents information in a very digestible format.

Despite walking away with a better understanding of the problems, the players involved, and the steps that are being taken towards improvement, I feel that the book lacks focus and would benefit greatly from better cohesion.

The End of Food is not written to provide the solution, but rather to educate readers on the problem.  Roberts achieves this goal and has therefore provided a useful book in the endless battle to improve our ailing food system.

Read this book if:

  • You want good background information on the formation of our current food economy.
  • You are interested in food politics (US farm subsidies, the roles/actions of mega-corporations, global considerations, etc.).


  • “I think a lot of people would enjoy being farmers, but somehow, as a society we’ve decided that farming is inappropriate” (250).
  • “According to surveys by Delate, organic-corn yields in Iowa are now between 90 and 92 percent of conventional yields, while soybeans are at 94 percent” (251).
  • “Consumers wishing to avoid transgenic foods cannot, because the industry has successfully blocked any requirement that transgenic crops be labeled – despite surveys showing that nine out of ten consumers want such labels” (256).


10 2009

Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall

Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall

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Jane Goodall is a scientist, scholar, activist and humanitarian best known for her research on chimpanzees. In Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating (2005), Goodall collaborates with Gary McAvoy and Gail Hudson to illustrate how our eating habits impact the world.

Goodall begins with a short discussion on the fundamental role of food in our lives. She moves on to discuss harsh treatments on factory farms, hazardous fishing techniques, the benefits of vegetarianism, the plight of family farmers and the local foods movement. Issues surrounding obesity, hunger and education are also discussed. Most chapters conclude with simple suggestions on how you can help.

The content is thoroughly researched but is not laden with scientific terminology or complex data, making it approachable for all readers. Plus, anecdotes throughout give the scholarly work a more personal feel.

Harvest for Hope is a perfect primer for those wanting to learn about the environmental impact of our current food system. For readers well versed in the arguments against conventional agriculture, not much new information is presented; nonetheless, it is still a worthwhile read.


10 2009