Church of Our Saviour

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COS Reads: Sustainable Food

It’s harvest season and as part of our care for all of God’s creation many at COS are concerned about where we get the food we eat. We are fortunate, of course, to be so privileged as to wonder where it comes from and not whether it will come at all. A short foray into the hot topic of locally grown food, aka “localvore”, quickly links the questions of wealth, poverty and sustainable food sources. Is it always better to eat locally and minimize the carbon footprint of our diet? Or can the argument be made that a good diet may include foods from far away and still be ethically responsible? Happily, there are a number of fairly accessible books treating this topic, from a variety of perspectives, and various experts, self-appointed and otherwise, who are happy to inform our thinking.

First up, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, a plainspoken book that extends the ideas first presented in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan heads straight into the confusion created by government sponsored nutritionists about the composition of a supposedly healthy diet. He distrusts this advice, pointing out that the political and economic winds seem to blow the healthy diet in different directions from year to year, depending at least on the most recent successful lobbyists. Simplicity and localness are his guide and he encourages us to spend more time and money on food, growing it ourselves, finding it grown locally, and preparing it at home. Michael Pollen lives in Berkeley, CA and is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Enough said.

Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, by Michael Hallowell takes a strong position on the virtue of locally grown food. He explains the environmental consequences of food shipped all over the world in considerable detail. After reading this book, you will never happily eat a papaya in Boston in December again.

Weighing in to challenge the romance of locally grown food is Just Food by James E. McWilliams. “It’s so much sexier to reiterate the mantra of eating local, growing rooftop gardens, foraging for wild dandelion balls, and keeping backyard hens. And this is wonderful. We can keep things local—we should keep things local—but we must also stop insisting that our behavior is, if universalized, a viable answer to the world’s present and future problems,” he writes. McWilliams’ critique of the current assumptions of the “green culture” makes for thought-provoking reading.

For those who like to digest their issues wrapped in a good story, pick up Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life. Co-written with her husband and daughter, it chronicles one family’s experience eating exclusively locally in Appalachia. It’s a wonderful story with short segues to inform you on the issues and great recipes to make the whole topic more palatable.

For hungry readers, all four books provide food for thought.

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