Grist recently compiled a list of favorite food books of 2010 with the help of its contributors and other prominent individuals in the food world (Eliot Coleman, Michael Pollan, Anna Lappe and many more). Based on their perspectives, I look forward to reading their picks from the year. I thought I'd review two books - "The Town that Food Saved" (on the Grist list) and "Organic Manifesto" - that you should consider adding to your own list:
The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food (Rodale) by Ben Hewitt: I'd heard about Hardwick, VT from different features written about the town and thought it was a quite the progressive venture. Author and hobby farmer Ben Hewitt gives an insightful, behind-the-scenes and comprehensive take on the Vermont town. I think too often the "local food movement" is painted as impermeable; the optimism and enthusiasm for the movement can overcome - or overshadow - the very real problems of the existing industrial food system or the impact of big egos among advocates. "The Town that Food Saved" is an authoritative and good natured piece of literary journalism; Hewitt is one of the first authors who investigates the entire movement in the context of the small town: as it exists, what it wants to become, and the issues that remain. He profiles the movers and shakers of Hardwick's food community, from its new crop of "agriprenuers" - or enthusiastic "outsiders" who are merging and spreading their ideals with the opportunity to make money - to the true locals who have always lived self-sufficiently and don't necessarily believe or approve of this so-called "movement" and the widespread attention it seems to be bringing their town. Hewitt is one of a few writers to actually capture the whole story of local food economies. Although it is hopeful and promising, Hardwick and its residents need to maintain their longevity and continue to serve as a model for other local food economies. Hewitt has a built in follow-up work - by covering real-time history, the notion of "local food" shows no sign of slowing down in Hardwick.
Organic Manifesto (Rodale) by Maria Rodale: Some people are just born into the right family. Maria Rodale is one of them. As a member of the famous Rodale clan, among them her grandfather and organic farming forefather J.I. Rodale, Ms. Rodale now serves as CEO and Chairman of Rodale, Inc and continues on the family legacy. I have deep respect for Rodale and frequently visit her blog (Maria's Farm Country Kitchen), but I must admit that if I just went by the introduction in the "Organic Manifesto," I would have stopped reading. It seemed a little too preachy, self-serving and cliche - we can save the world simply by eating and buying organic? I am an avid organic, local food proponent, but I couldn't help but make the argument that this was probably going to be a book, though with good intentions, written by and for people of means. I was intrigued and read on. The book is amazingly well researched and provides enticing pieces of history from the early days of industrial agricultural (the connection among pharmaceutical giants, the gas used in the Nazi death chambers and the continued use of these deadly substances in the development of pesticides is worth buying the book alone). Rodale thoughtfully weaves in experiences from her upbringing and doesn't leave the reader all bummed out like so many other books of the ilk; there's a number of feasible solutions that we, as eaters, need to make if we want to take back out food system. Chief among them: Demand organic.