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Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods Hardcover – November 17, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Does it matter where our food comes from? Do we, our communities, and the planet do better if we choose food grown by local sources we trust? Exploring these and other questions of dietary and spiritual subsistence, Gary Paul Nabhan's Coming Home to Eat presents a compelling case for eating from our "foodshed."

Nabhan, a subsistence hunter, ethnobiologist, and activist devoted to recovering lost food traditions, gave himself a task: to spend a year trying to eat foods grown, fished, or gathered within 250 miles of his Arizona home. His book, both personal document and political screed, details this experiment from the moment Nabhan purges his kitchen of canned and other processed foods ("If this year could resolve anything for me, perhaps it would rid me of the desire to ever again buy any packaged food that boasted of its homemade flavor....") to a final food-gathering pilgrimage. That journey underscores Nabhan's conviction that we have too easily believed "the vacuous nutritional promises of the industrialized food that has sold our health down the river." In fact, the book encompasses an ongoing pilgrimage, during which Nabhan explores, for example, the near loss of saguaro cactus fruit as a dietary staple due to saguaro's use for "local color" in shopping malls, golf courses, and retirement centers. Readers, converted, skeptical, or just curious, will find Nabhan's book a source of many simple and stirring truths. "Until we stop craving to be somewhere else and someone else other than the animals whose very cells are constituted from the place on earth we love the most," he writes, "then there is little reason to care about the fate of native foods, family farms, or healthy landscapes and communities." But care we must, as the book shows so enlighteningly. --Arthur Boehm

From Publishers Weekly

In this intriguing yet unsatisfying volume, the author chronicles a year of striving for a diet consisting of 90% native flora and fauna, found within 250 miles of his Arizona home. Nabhan (Cultures of Habitat) packs the book with telling local detail; the saguaro cactus, for example, is being cleared from the Sonoran Desert at a rate of 40 acres per day. An ethnobotanist with an interest in seed preservation and director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University, Nabhan is remarkably knowledgeable about plant species and the traditions of local tribes; indeed, his nature writings and conservation activism have won him a MacArthur award. But Nabhan's tone is so phlegmatic that his accounts have little emotional impact. (After an unsettling attempt to slaughter some turkeys he had raised, an effort that left him splattered with blood, he describes himself as "a little shook up.") His reactions become predictable (and preachy): he tastes a native food, recounts its history and waxes na‹ve about how wonderful it is ("If a native food tasted this good, why did it ever fall out of favor?"). His project sometimes seems doctrinaire; he doesn't admit to ever craving an Oreo or tasting a local food that's not to his liking. Nabhan's book is informative, but doesn't leave a distinct flavor in the reader's mouth. 15 illus. and one map not seen by PW. (Nov.)Forecast: As an upbeat counterpart to Eric Schlosser's recent Fast Food Nation, this book may attract some attention. An author tour in areas where devotion to "local foods" is prevalent (Tucson, Phoenix, Portland, Bay Area) should also help.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (November 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393020177
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393020175
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,815,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Writer, professor, and conservationist Gary Paul Nabhan is the director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University. Winner of the John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing, a Western States Book Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship, Nabhan is author of Coming Home to Eat, The Forgotten Pollinators, and Why Some Like it Hot, among other books.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Melissa on August 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
I completely honor the impulse behind this book and believe in the importance of eating local. I also applaud Nabhan for thinking and writing about these issues before so many others (yet I'm also happy for the influx of recent local eating books and articles from Pollan, Kingsolver, McKibben, Alisa Smith & JB Mackinnon, and the blog by "No Impact Man"). Some scenes are powerful: eating ripe peaches, the short Thanksgiving section, reconnecting with family. The history and science sections are good too.

What surprised me, though, is that it seemed like throughout much of the book, Nabhan was in his Blazer, on a plane, or somewhere nowhere near home. Although he carried his fried grasshoppers and tortillas with him, I was longing to read more about the actual practices of growing and preparing local food (there is, however, plenty on roadkill). What surprised me more: the continual references to Spam, especially in relation to the sunset:

"As a Spam-colored sunset blanketed the western sky, the sweat on my back chilled" (40).
"At dusk they [mechanized dairy farms] took on a sickly greenish cast, the color of modly Spam" (158).
". . . each afternoon until the sun went down, gaudy as a thin slice of Spam" (276).

Why so much Spam? He buys a can of Spam in another odd section of the book where he spends $50 on a strange combination of food for a brunch that he and his partner, Laurie, don't eat. In another section, he throws a bunch of food in the compost bin because it uses cactuses in the advertising but doesn't contain cactus juice. I was puzzled by the waste. Why not eat the food and not buy it again? (Or in the supermarket venture, why not buy foods suitable for a decent brunch?
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By J.W.K on February 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
Gary Paul Nabham has really put together a beautiful and inspiring apologia for the emerging local, cultural, slow food philosophy. Like a simmering stew, the book bubbles over with diveristy, as the author runs in and out of the poetic, historical, cultural and academic. Whereas others reviewers have found fault with the seemingly "unfocused" nature of the book, I was happily entertained. From cover to cover, the subject matter remains fresh and suprising. Some of the foods you can expect to encounter include boiled venison, baked rabbit, grilled corvina, tomatillo consommes, squash souffles, tepary bean burritos wrapped in mesquite tortillas, freshly picked and lightly steamed lamb quarters, purslane, tansy mustards, cress, prickly pear punch, mistletoe and Mormon tea. You will encounter organpipe cactus jam, stewed pumpkin, pinole, creosote bush salve, jojoba oil, damiana tea and pit roasted agaves - or "tatemada" - an ancient tradition the author and some local Indians revived, among others. Although the book runs thin on recipes (there are none), it liberally bastes philosophy: "If food is the sumptuous sea of energy we dive into and swim through every day, I have lived but one brief moment leaping like a flying fish and catching a glimmering glimpse of that sea roiling all around us. And then just as quickly, I splashed back beneath its surface, to be overmore immersed in what effortlessly buoys us up." When Nabham is not introducing you old, now by-and-large forgotten foods and the cultures they come from, he is reminding you of the pitfalls of the emerging global marketplace: for example, "the average American brings home nearly 3,300 pounds of foodstuffs each year for his or her consumption...much of it never eaten.Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Farmbrarian on October 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
Gary Paul Nabhan's book about his year long local eating experiment gives readers good insight into Nabhan's personal life, but surprisingly little information about his local eating foray. For one year, Nabhan plans to prepare 80% of his meals using foods grown within a few hundred miles of his Arizona home. This is certainly a noble act, but I found myself continuously asking how he actually did it. Sure, he tells of gathering traditional food from a local desert, slaughtering turkeys he raised and eating peaches from his own tree. But we're talking about a thousand or so meals, which would require a lot more local food than he discusses. This omission left a lot to be desired for me.

Aside from information about Nabhan's wife and other local eating acquaintances, he briefly discusses food politics. Here the reader encounters some interesting information, but is still left thirsting for more.

Nabhan has good intentions, however the book is neither informative nor inspiring enough to be compared to other tales of local eating, such as Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lisa VINE VOICE on October 16, 2012
Format: Paperback
While supposed to be about a year of eating local food, this book seems to wander around and not get into the practical issues of actually eating that local food, but rather go off on tangents about overfishing and WTO and GMOs. Since he lives in a desert environment, the local food aspects are alien - and he manages *not* to bring to life gathering native american foodstuffs. I think he is trying to be lyrical, like Logsdon or Janisse Ray, mixing facts and personal journey; but fails. It just doesn't work with his writing style, the personal details focus on successes and glory rather than the interesting parts, and the fact-parts clump together in too-large, indigestable lumps.

I don't find anything to disagree with; he makes very important points and has a clear message. Perhaps since I've been eating local/home grown for a long time, and read many food systems books, that there doesn't seem anything new information-wise to make up for the lack of enjoyability. I repect Nabham's work, and liked one of his previous books very much, but I have to say this one is a dud.
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