Book Giveaway: Just Food

Share:Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on Tumblr

2009-08-27-JustFoodI like a little controversy and contention. It makes the comments on this blog more interesting. James E. McWillams, author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, has the same idea.

A historian and former fellow in the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University, McWilliams argues that the concept of food miles (how far food travels to get to your supermarket shelves)  is flawed and makes little progress toward the ultimate goal of sustainable production. Read his New York Times Op-Ed piece for a sample of his thinking.

Those are fighting words here in the politically-correct San Francisco Bay Area. But in the book, he argues “there’s a complex story to tell about food and the distance it travels,” and he delves into his research with gusto.

McWillliams also explains why organic food is not the answer to America’s broken food system and tries to make a case for genetically-modified food. It’s not all heresy. He makes a cogent, passionate argument for  eating less meat to help save the planet. See, he’s a complicated guy, making arguments on both sides of the fence — a nettle to both Alice Waters and the American Meat Institute.

If you’d like to read his book, leave a comment here about your view of eating responsibly and I’ll pick a winner at random by April 5, 2010.

Contest rules: You must live in the US. One entry per person. I will pick a winner at random and email that person. If the winner does not respond within a week, I will choose someone else.

Update: The winner is Candace of Epiphany Press.


  1. says

    Oddly enough my blog, 100 Miles, is about trying to eat & live locally but it’s more about deriving pleasure from eating stuff I buy at farmers markets or pick in gardens and fields then about the politics of food. And I’m always open to other ideas & opinions.

  2. says

    Took a quick look at the editorial. It doesn’t sound like he’s anti-locavore, but is trying to find a way of determining the actual carbon footprint of the food we eat — and sometimes the food grown locally *might* have a larger carbon footprint than the stuff that’s shipped in. In the Bay Area, I’m guessing that the local food will usually be the better environmental choice. In NJ, however, where I am visiting at the moment . . .

  3. says

    My basic philosophy is to eat not what’s labeled as organic, nor within a certain number of miles, but food that can be traced to sustainable sources. I do my best to purchase ingredients directly from farmers who use biodiverse, low chemical, and humane practices. I would love to read McWilliam’s viewpoint.

  4. says

    I don’t think I’ve ever deliberately purchased organic. I’d rather go local. I’d love to purchase from growers I know and trust, but I haven’t gotten that far yet…

  5. says

    Sorry this contest is only open to US residents–I’d love to read that book! (Well, I suppose I could BUY it. . . . ) 😉

  6. says

    As soon as Spring is here, our local farmer’s market opens and I have fresh food for the week. This year I’m planting a lot and hoping to document it in my new blog.

  7. says

    I would love to have my own garden and chicken coop – some day maybe I will. For now, I try to eat as local as I can. I’m looking into joining a CSA this summer.

  8. says

    Responsible eating is so relative. You can buy organic, free range, CSA, etc., but there are some people who do that without knowing the what it means. It’s most important to just be aware of where your food comes from and then make the decision. Farmers markets are the most fun because you can chat with the people who actually grew and harvested your eats.

  9. says

    It makes sense that reducing the carbon footprint of a certain food would be more complicated than simply counting food miles. The op-ed piece was written in 2007. Does his book contain more recent research than the New Zealand study?

  10. Rachel says

    I would love to read this. My views of food has changed a lot over the past couple of years. I think becoming a mother has had a lot to do with it. I think it is extremely important for us to eat REAL food and to support our local economy. I shop at farmer’s markets and produce stands and buy meat from farmers we know personally.


  11. says

    Sounds like a good read. I’m fortunate enough to live in chicago where there are plenty of markets and local producers around. we just joined a csa for the first time, so i’m excited about that too!!

  12. Candace says

    I must live a sheltered life, because I thought that the two main reasons consumers buy local is for the health benefits of eating flavorful, fresh produce and to support the local producers, especially those who are also producing the non-GMO, organic kind. Aren’t these producers doing all that they can to protect the environment, as well as our health?

    Take strawberries, for instance. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, my family grew strawberries and the strawberries there happen to be the best I’ve ever tasted. I’m sorry, but California strawberries just don’t compare. Unless they are organic, the soil on which they are produced has to be fumigated in order to kill the nematodes (small worms in the soil and feast on the berry plants). The plants are fertilized with chemical fertilizers so that they will produce large plants with lots of berries, and as the berries continue to grow and develop, they are periodically sprayed with fungicides in order to help extend their shelf life. That way, they can be shipped all over the United States guaranteeing that they will be firm and plump when they arrive at their destination. If I buy a California strawberry it has to be organic or I don’t buy it.

    So, in a case like this, who is doing the most for their environment, the person who buys fresh, organic, hopefully local produce or the person who buys strawberries laced with chemicals that are shipped across the United States?

    • diannejacob says

      I’m with you, Candace. Only organic strawberries for me. Here’s a sample few sentences I found in his book about the limits of organic farming: “Organic growers are also allowed to use copper, sulfur, and copper sulfate as natral fungicides. Copper heavily accumulates in the soil, and it does not biodegrade. According to Julie Guthman, a geographer who writes extensively about California’s organic agriculture, ‘Sulfur is said to cause more worker injuries in California than any other agricultural input.’ Regarding copper sulfate, the English politician Lord Taverne calls it ‘the most poisonous fungicide there is.’

  13. says

    I actually learned how to eat well – eat responsibly – when I moved to France and married my Frenchman. Buying local, eating 3 balanced meals a day with something small at 10 and 4 and eating nothing after dinner hour. But I learned that there are 2 very important factors: eating slowly, taking ones time so you not only eat less but your body has the time to process the food. And the other is eating without guilt. Eat what you enjoy in balanced and reasonable quantities and you will find that you will be able to eat what you want but it will be less often and in reasonable amounts. And usually it will be better things.

    I can see why the French live longer: a little wine, a little cheese and bread, a little meat but always salad and fruit at the end of a meal and those meals are slower, longer and calmer. And one is less likely to get ravenously hungry in between. And if you do? A little cake and coffee never hurt anyone.

  14. says

    Can you imagine “life-cycle, carbon-footprint labeling”? Talk about complicated. I remember reading the Op-Ed when published and the idea stuck with me. Food miles sounds so simple and simple is seductive. Look forward to the book and hope it spurs lots of conversation.

  15. Candace says

    These are very good points, Dianne.

    Just out of curiosity, I contacted the CCOF, a national organic certification agency and downloaded their CCOF Manual 2: USDA National Organic Progam Standards. Pages 7 through 9 covers soil fertility and crop nutient management practice standard and crop pest, weed, and disease management practice standard. For instance, the publication states that “A producer may not use: (1) Any fertilizer or composted plant and animal material that contains sytnthetic substance not included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production…”

    The OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) list is considered to be the most complete directory of products for organic production or processing. I typed in “sulfur” and it states that “sulfur powder for post-harvest treatment” is “prohibited”.

    I also typed in “copper”. It states that copper sulfate is “allowed with restrictions” for crop pest, weed, and disease control. “Application rates are limited to those which do not increase baseline soil test values for copper” and ” in a manner that minimizes accumulation of copper in the soil” and “use is not to exceed one application per field during any 24-month period”. It is also allowed for crop fertilizers and soil amendments with the same restrictions.

    The author is partially correct in his assertion, but doesn’t include enough research to back it up. What do you think?

  16. says

    “Complicated” is the operating word. I buy local as often as I can and support the underlying message of that group; at the same time, I don’t believe it’s what will save the world, nor do I think it’s the only way to go. Much of it is in the distribution, as we know, and certainly more can be done to create better and more sustainable systems (think, for example, that some “local” farmers travel 200 miles to SF Ferry Plaza market to sell their wares) as it sounds the author may be pointing out.

    I’m not in the camp for GMO foods, though I know again, there are passionate, smart folks that seem to make reasonable pleas for why it is a good idea, in places like Africa (New Yorker article, some time back), etc.

  17. says

    Eating has become so complicated! I was recently at a talk with Moby who was out promoting his new book Gristle, and he mentioned that it was probably much friendlier to be a meat eater who ate locally produced meat than a vegan who ate soy products produced in Mongolia.

    Organic is good in that it is better for the environment, but is only tastier if those organic tomatoes are grown locally and brought carefully to market and not flown in from an organic farm in Argentina while they were still green. I think that in places where there is enough local farming, absolutely eat locally. However, where local farms have been displaced by industry or reduced to growing commercial crops of soybeans, it is inappropriate to lecture those people about eating locally. It isn’t necessarily possible.

    Obviously, I’m still torn on the issue. I think the less time my veggies spend on an airplane/in a truck the better, but I don’t want to punish people who have no access.

  18. says

    Hello Dianne,
    The title of this book is really interesting- it grabbed my attention regarding in saying that locavores got it wrong. I’m really interested in what the author has to say. If I don’t win your contest, I’ll have to wait till my library gets it :-)

    • diannejacob says

      The subtitle is thought-provoking. I thought it was a boring title for a book, to tell you the truth. The problem is that people don’t always get to see the subtitle.

  19. says

    My views on eating responsibly are simple: local and fresh. We’re so blessed here to have such fresh fresh food available year round. I wonder how my views would change if I lived in Arizona, where fresh food is much more expensive and harder to come by?