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Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods Paperback – November 17, 2002
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 nave 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.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
In a quote on the cover of the paperback edition I have, the author Michael Pollan refers to the work as "The first manifesto of the local food movement..." I think manifesto is a very good, if not careful choice of words by Mr. Pollan. As an example, I quote a sentence from page 131 that would fit just as well into another famous manifesto, "It seemed to me essential that each of us somehow begin to volunteer time in the fields and orchards that produce our food, and to grasp how they change from season to season, year to year, and decade to decade." To be sure, the author is capable of very florid, prosaic, passionate language when describing the local native people, the desert scenery or a newly discovered gastronomic delight, "...it tasted as though I were eating a meal just one step removed from sunlight." However, this book often also reads like a polemic or a sermon and there is no shortage of industries against which the author preaches. Don't get me wrong, I very much agree with the author's core sentiment that food consumers, every one of us, need to reconnect with where our food comes from and how it is produced. We should be thinking along the lines of fresh, seasonal, local and sustainable. I have read Where our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov's Quest to End Famine and Why Some Like it Hot: Foods, Genes and Cultural Diversity also written by Dr. Nabhan and have found both to be very informative with a very worthwhile perspective on their respective topics.
It comes as no surprise that the author has very little nice to say about the processed food industry, "The sickening taste of overprocessed, chemically preserved foods rose from my belly and filled my mouth." It also comes as no surprise he chooses seed companies and agricultural chemical companies as regular targets for his vitriol. What does come as a bit of a surprise is that he seems to imply he condones the actions of eco-terrorists who have vandalized labs and crops by comparing them to the patriots who perpetrated the Boston Tea Party. He also seems to be against produce packers and shippers and all other "middlemen" who absorb 93 cents of every dollar spent on food by consumers while only 7 cents is returned to the stewards of the land, the farmer (okay, I am kinda with him on that one). To enumerate, he is against: the pharmaceutical industry and the airline industry (p.81), the real estate industry and retirement communities (p.111), the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service (p.130), the health-food and nutraceutical industries "...packages, bottles, and jars full of memory-enhancing, cholesterol-lowering, ejaculation-erupting ingredients masquerading as food." (p.166), Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry "...it continued to reek with the toxic perfumes of industrial agriculture." (p.167), the Environmental Protection Agency for its very cozy relationship with the industries it is assigned to regulate (p.183), the commercial fishing industry (p.218, p.231), and corporate owned franchise restaurants (p.258).
I think there are more than just a few spiritual and zealous overtones in this book as well. I can't help but think of as overzealous the example on page 112 where the author, who has already gone through and purged his home of all packaged foods that were not produced locally and sustainably, describes how he again goes through his pantry and refrigerator and purges all food items he has since purchased which use the apparently sacrosanct Saguaro Cactus on their label without actually containing any saguaro cactus in their list of ingredients. I wonder if he then also went to his closet and purged it of all Izod and Polo shirts because they did not actually contain any sustainably harvested alligator and horse products, respectively. Nowhere do I think this sentiment is more evident than on page 295 where the author waxes rhapsodically about washing and caring for the feet of others while on the 240 mile long Desert Walk for Biodiversity , Heritage and Health. I can't help but think this is a not even a thinly veiled biblical allusion and can only guess who the author would cast in the leading role. Finally, I have to think the author might be prone to a bit of hyperbole when it helps his cause as I read his list of ingredients for a jar of bean dip in his refrigerator and then surmised where each ingredient was likely produced. Though it might serve his cause to suggest that valuable energy, water and land were utilized in a greenhouse in Arizona to grow the tomatoes that went into the tomato paste for the aforementioned dip, it is highly unlikely. Two-thirds to three quarters of the world's processing tomatoes, and subsequently tomato paste, are produced in the fields of California each year at such a low cost per unit that tomato paste has become little more than a commodity. Turkey, Italy and to a lesser extent Israel and Australia contribute to the remainder of the world's tomato paste supply; all from open field production. If you are interested in reading a similar account of a family that tried to eat locally and sustainably that is more humorous and less rhetoric laden, than I recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by the Pulitzer nominated novelist Barbara Kingsolver.
This is a book about sustainable, local food driving local communities. It is obvious that the author is passionate about food safety and heritage. Yet the writing is dull, monotonous, and lifeless. A little less ego could have resulted in better editing, or perhaps a ghost writer could have brought the words to life, converting this tome of garrulous lecturing into a riveting page-turner that could inspire people to bring their own food choices into a closer geographic circle. After reading two-thirds of this "manifesto of the local food movement" (as quoted by Michael Pollan on the cover), I feel no fire under my rump to rush out spend $15 to have someone turn my own flour into tortillas (as is explained in detail in the book).
I didn't care for the laborious journeys into history, where, among other things, I am told that mescal fibers have been found in human feces left behind in caves 8500 years ago. And, I'm no prude, but the amount of sexually-driven writing is insane: he wrote "trying to explain what saguaro fruit tastes like is a little like explaining lovemaking to a virgin" (p.106). This was followed up with "I might as well have conceded that I was merely a means for sperm to generate more sperm" (p.109). And then, "mud on our bare skin was delicious" (p.123). Even the lady with the eggs for sale sign in front of her home was tied to sexuality, as he described others who saw her as "so smitten by her warmth and beauty that they had not even noticed her deep devotion to raising turkey, ducks, chicken and geese" (p.124). He even discussed "ejaculation-erupting ingredients masquerading as food" (p.166).
The book is punctuated with the almost purposefully-bizarre: ancient grains mixed with the blood of human sacrifice (p.120), snacking on a necklace adorned with dry-roasted caterpillar larvae (p.134), and offering the possible excuse of "looking for the hallucinogenic mucus of desert toads to lick so we can get high" (p.135). I wonder what contortions my face must have underwent while reading this, as my brain digested one super-weird passage after another.
This book wanders, has no clear thesis despite the strong message on the cover, and falls extremely short of what I think was the author's goal. It is BORING and if you find yourself in possession of it, the best you can do with it is recycle the paper it is printed on. Gary Paul Nabhan is a narcissistic food fetishist who doesn't know how to edit. With so many other great books on sustainable food, I strongly recommend you steer clear of this one.
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.