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Seven Classic, Must-Read Books About the Local Food Movement

August 11, 2014 |

Stalking-the-Wild-Asparagus1The term “locavore” has been used to describe people as diverse as former hippies living off the land as well as foodies perusing farmers’ markets for organic produce.  The notion of local food and its place in the United States’ economy is evolving, however. For a longer perspective on the local food movement, here are seven books–both classic and more recent–about the importance of nurturing native food sources for our own health and the health of our nation’s food supply. 

1. Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962) by Euell Gibbons.

What could be more local than walking along the fencerow in your backyard, picking a handful of wild plants for your salad? Euell Gibbons was one of the first authors to write about foraging for wild edibles. His book contains instructions for finding and identifying wild plants, then recipes for including them in a variety of dishes. Gibbons’ enthusiasm for and deep knowledge of his subject has made this book a classic for over fifty years. “The spicy teas and tasty delicacies I prepare from wild ingredients are the bread and wine in which I have communion and fellowship with nature, and with the Author of that nature,” he writes.

2. The Unsettling of America (1977) and What Are People For? Essays by Wendell Berry (1990) by Wendell Berry.

A scholar, teacher, farmer, poet, essayist, novelist, and life-long resident of Kentucky, Wendell Berry’s writings continue to influence generations of environmentalists. His essays are tinged with longing for simpler times, but clear-eyed about the future we are creating for ourselves. “We forgot indeed, that the civilized and the domestic continued to depend upon wilderness,” he writes. “Modern civilization has been built largely in this forgetfulness.”

3. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006) by Michael Pollan

Journalist Michael Pollan holds up a microscope to his food to understand what he calls “our national eating disorder. How did corn become so prevalent? What does “grass-fed” mean, and why is it better for us and for cows? Can we really feed ourselves from food we find in the woods? In the end, though, he describes his perfect meal this way: “But imagine for a moment if we once again knew, strictly as a matter of course, these few unremarkable things: What it is we’re eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what, in a true accounting, it really cost.”

4. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007) by Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp, and Camille Kingsolver.

Author Barbara Kingsolver, best known for her novels The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna, lives with her family on a farm in Virginia’s Appalachian mountains. During a year-long experiment, they decided to only eat food grown on their land or within fifty miles of their farm. With informative sidebars by her husband and daughter, Kingsolver’s story puts an honest, human, and sometimes humorous face on the challenges of eating locally. “If our special way of eating had seemed imposing at first,” she writes, “gradually it was just dinner, the spontaneous background of family time as we met our fortunes one day, one phone call, one hospital visit, wedding, funeral, spelling bee, and birthday party at a time.”

5. Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (2007) by Bill McKibben.  

Environmental activist, author, and founder of the group, Bill McKibben is not opposed to challenging the status quo. In this book, he proposes that instead of one central economy that is continually growing–no matter what the environmental or cultural consequences of that growth–our country was actually composed of many, more regional economies? What’s at stake is not only our planet, he argues, but our collective well-being. “Think of yourself as a member of a community,” he writes, “You’ll build a world with some hope of ecological stability, and where the chances increase that you’ll be happy.”

6. Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It (2010) by Anna Lappe

Lappe’s book answers the question, “Why local?” She describes why the combination of forces such as conventional farming methods, the processed food industry, and prevailing corporate interests are complicit in climate change. Her book suggests solutions as well as actions individuals and communities can take to combat these forces, and many of her solutions include a more transparent food supply as well as empowered consumers. “When it comes to our food,” she writes, “this means realizing the power of our fork to shape what gets sold (and what does not).”

7. Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement is Changing the Way We Eat (2011) by Tanya Denckla Cobb.

This book is a hopeful survey of recent innovations in food cultivation and distribution. Looking beyond neighborhood farmers markets or pricey specialty supermarkets, Cobb takes her readers on a cross-country tour of communities finding ways to connect everyone–organic food devotees, at-risk populations, incarcerated individuals–to local food. “No matter the starting point,” she writes, “. . . successful grassroots food projects ultimately converge around two central points: local food and community.”

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