Almost ten years after the “locavore” movement (or “localvore,” depending on where you are) was officially launched in 2005 in San Francisco, it seems hard to imagine that there is anything new to say on the subject. In fact, local eating seems to have gone from a novel approach to food to a punchline on Portlandia.
“The chicken you will be enjoying tonight…his name was Colin,” a waitress happily informs Fred Amisen’s character in one such sketch.
While the movement can be mocked, or criticized as elitist, there are compelling arguments for eating locally, including the better taste of locally grown food, the high fuel costs associated with shipping food around the globe, and the loss of family owned and operated farms. And the movement has had an effect. According to the New York Times, as of 2007 1,035 school districts in 35 states were serving local foods. Farmers’ markets, integral to the movement, have grown in popularity as well. CNN reports that as of 2006 there were 4,300 farmer’s markets in the country, up 18% from 1994.
Publishers have cashed in on the movement. Since ecologist Gary Paul Nabhan published Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Food in 2001 (W.W. Norton), myriad books documenting local eating experiments, and providing guidelines and recipes, have hit the shelves. Among them, Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally, by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon (Harmony, 2007) advocated the 100-mile diet, which is now often the radius used to define local eating. Also published in 2007, bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (HarperCollins) brought the movement more into the mainstream. Surely a sign that there is nothing more to say on the subject, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Local, by Diane A. Welland, M.S. R.D., was published in 2011.
But that wasn’t the last word on the subject. Vicki Robin, best known for co-authoring the international bestseller Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence, has recently published Blessing the Hands That Feed Us: What Eating Closer to Home Taught Me About Food, Community, and Our Place on Earth (Viking, January). Robin has been called by the New York Times the “prophet of consumption downsizers” and defines herself on her website as a “social innovator.” Her previous book offered readers a nine-step program for transforming their relationship with money. Her foray into the locavore movement suggests that local eating is more than either an elitist pursuit or a fad diet.
In the introduction, Robin writes that despite the success of Your Money or Your Life, she had “failed to reach the larger goal…that Americans would collectively and voluntarily resize our consumption to what the earth can sustainably provide.” Seen in this light, Blessing the Hands That Feed Us is really a sequel to Robin’s previous work, with a focus on changing our relationships with food.
While Kingsolver’s book captured the attention of many readers previously unaware of the movement, her approach—eating all local foods for a year (other than one exception for each family member), growing much of her own food, and even raising her own chickens and turkeys on her Virginia farm—seemed nearly impossible to emulate. Robin’s approach—to spend one month only eating foods grown within a 10-mile radius of her home on Whidbey Island, Washington, and then a second month in which 50% of her food came from within 50 miles of her home—seems a bit more doable. Each chapter in the book ends with a “Now It’s Your Turn” section, which lays out action steps for the reader to try.
In her reflections on her experiment, Robin draws connections between where we get our food, how we eat, and how we develop relationships with the people around us. The experience leads her to a series of “truths” and “rules,” but not the kind readers might typically associate with a fad diet. There are no hard and fast rules about what she can and cannot eat, for example. Instead, the truth “All food comes from somewhere,” leads to Robin’s rule that she will “purchase as much as possible direct from the producer.”
As much as possible, this is a rallying cry for moderates who might not feel the need to introduce themselves to their chicken before eating dinner, or who have no interest in butchering their own turkeys, but instead recognize the importance of understanding our role in global food systems. This book is for them.
Farmer’s Market: Jamie McCaffrey http://www.flickr.com/photos/15609463@N03/
Chickens: Woodleywonderworks http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/