Friday, September 18, 2009

Review: Just Food by James E. McWilliams

We suffer today from food anxiety, bombarded as we are with confusing messages about how to eat an ethical diet. Should we eat locally? Is organic really better for the environment? Can genetically modified foods be good for you?

JUST FOOD does for fresh food what
Fast Food Nation (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) did for fast food, challenging conventional views, and cutting through layers of myth and misinformation. For instance, an imported tomato is more energy-efficient than a local greenhouse-grown tomato. And farm-raised freshwater fish may soon be the most sustainable source of protein.

Informative and surprising, JUST FOOD tells us how to decide what to eat, and how our choices can help save the planet and feed the world.

Received from the publisher, Hachette, for review.

Some of my favorite, thought provoking quotes from the book were:

The misunderstanding ultimately boils down to the misleading allure of a lost age of food production - a golden age of ecological purity, in which the earth was in balance, humans collectively respected the environment, biodiversity flourished, family farms nurtured morality, and ecological harmony prevailed. The thing is, there was no golden age.

Agriculture is more devastating ecologically than anything else we could do except pouring concrete on the land.

The typical household wastes more than 1.28 pounds of food a day, 27 percent of which is vegetables. This amounts to about 14 percent of overall food purchases being tossed in the trash.

... about 70 percent of the water in the American West goes directly into raising pigs, chicken, and cattle.

... it takes 2400 liters of water to make a hamburger (as opposed to 13 liters to make a tomato) and fifty times as much water to produce a pound of meat as to grow a pound of grain.

Buying local is smart when natural conditions justify the productions of local goods.

We can keep things local - we should keep things local - but we must also stop insisting that our behavior is, if universalized, a
viable answer to the world's present and future food problems.

Socially conscious consumers know that the conventional norm of agribusiness-driven food production is not environmentally, if not morally, bankrupt.

The world's land supply is being overwhelmed. And it's being overwhelmed by animals that by design waste energy, harm the environment, and, when eaten excessively, ruin our health.

The section on fish was especially shocking:

... major fish stocks are on pace to collapse by 2048.

... we end up eating only about 10 percent of all marine life that's killed in order to feed us.

Over the course of a year, aquaponics will generate about 35,000 pounds of edible flesh [fish] per acre while the grass-fed [beef] operation will generate about 75 pounds.

Granted, this is a book on how to feed an overpopulated world, but it continues to ignore the root problem of overpopulation and population control so we actually have more hope for a future. The author is also rather preaching to the choir on this one. Bubba is certainly not going to give up his burger to go with his beer.

There was one particularly striking quote used to begin chapter four:

To be an environmentalist who happens to eat meat is like being a philanthropist who doesn't happen to give to charity. - Howard F. Lyman

This one gets four stars. I really enjoyed the author's style and while it can be rather dry at points, it does contain a great deal of important information. And, although I do not agree with all of the author's suggestions, the material presented is certainly thought provoking and should prompt readers into investigating the issues further.

★★★★ = Really Liked It


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