You’ve probably heard the term ‘locavore’ by now, as it is coming very fashionable to hear about people eating locally grown produce, ie ‘locavores’ – although the word really doesn’t do much for me. The other term often heard in the same breath is ‘food miles’ which is the distance food travels to get to your plate.
I’m reviewing three books which take you to the inspiration behind these clunky tags. Two of the books were what pushed us here at Chez Fork to move from one tomato plant, a few half-hearted chives and an out of control mint bush to the maniacally over zealous veggie gardeners we are today (alright maybe that doesn’t sound like something you want to aspire to). The books are Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver et al, The 100 Mile Diet by Smith and MacKinnon and Coming Home to Eat by Gary Paul Nabham. I read the books in that order because that is the order I found them in the local bookstores.
Kingsolver and Smith and MacKinnon are a ‘year long challenge’ books, already an overdone phenomena, but these are two of the earliest and the best. To make it even more concerning Smith and MacKinnon is a ‘blog into book’ story. Do not let this put you off, these two books are great. Nabham is touted as providing “the first manifesto of the local food movement”, originally published in 2002, this book only made it to our shores in the past year.
Kingsolver’s family move back from Arizona to land owned by her husband’s family in Appalachia and decide to attempt to feed themselves on produce from their own and neighbours farms and other local produce for a year. Thankfully the authors are all good writers. I didn’t realise ’til later that Kingsolver is also a highly acclaimed fiction writer. Kingsolver’s husband Stephen L. Hopp and oldest daughter Camille Kingsolver help with the writing the factual stuff (husband) and food/recipes (daughter). This is a trials and tribulations at the family level account. Youngest daughter Lily who agrees to swear off pop-tarts for the duration turns out to be one of the most economically productive members of the family with her chicken raising and egg production. The carefully-paced story of turkey raising throughout the year culminates in one of the most hilarious episodes in the book. A great read without force-feeding you the hard stuff.
I found Smith and MacKinnon’s story of living in an apartment in Vancouver, Canada and deciding to live on food produced within a 100 mile radius of their home more immediate than the issues at Kingsolver’s family farm.The authors were pretty hard-core in trying to replace everything including sugar and salt in their diets with locally-produced products, but they were living in an apartment, with an allotment covered in snow (at the start of the book) and supermarkets that stocked everything global but bugger all local. They even had dilemmas as their predominantly vegetarian diet had to be modified when they realised that all those lentils they relied on came from overseas. Where their journey took them, both physically and literally was extremely interesting. Off to small ‘pick your own produce farms’ within the city boundaries, local farmers markets and re-discovering a whole history of a diverse local agriculture which had become subsumed by broad acre cropping, were just some of their destinations. So enjoyable that I did actually go back and re-read it from the beginning once I had finished it.
Gary Paul Nabham is your more serious local eating person, not that this means he’s boring to read, far from it. Nabham, who is Lebanese American, lives in the Sonoran Desert and has been actively involved in the seed saving and slow food movements for many years. What Nabham brings to the picture, apart from a great love of food in general is his broader interests in not only local, but indigenous foods. He has good connections with the local Native American communities in his area and has been active in seed saving for their local varities of crops and also in harvesting local wild foods. Nabham has also been involved in some of the political campaigns around food in the US and while these do not dominate the book they do give an insiders view on some of the manoeuvring at top political levels. Nabham is also not afraid to discuss some of the more spiritual aspects of his work particularly with local indigenous groups. Nabham has an engaging style and his long tern background in seed saving brings interesting elements into his story.