September 20, 2004

Coming Home to Eat: the pleasures and politics of local foods

Genre: Health, Mind & Body
Author:Gary Paul Nabhan
While hanging out at a local, independent bookstore in town, I peered toward the "staff picks" table and eyed a book that I thought might be interesting. The book was called Coming Home to Eat. And as I sat in the store's big, overstuffed chair and began to read, I became hooked.

Gary Nabhan helped start the movement to save seeds, not genetically altered or hybrid seeds, but native seeds (as God had originally designed them). With a degree in agriculture, Nabhan has long been interested in the plight of family farms, the use of pesticides, etc. But at some point he began to see the value in eating foods that were grown locally as well as foods that were native to the area where he lived. With that in mind, he set out to eat locally (within 250 miles of his house) for one year. (If 4 out of 5 foods that he ate were local, he was satisfied with that.)

This book is a chronicle of that year. Written in a story format, he explores questions that both his friends and neighbors bring up as well as ones that nag at him personally. He tests the viability of living locally and admits to problems as well as to the overwhelming benefits (especially to the native peoples that live near him in Arizona and Mexico). When his story intersects with a political, social or agricultural issue, he delves a little deeper explaining the problems and possible solutions. He brought out facets of farming, cooking and eating that I hadn't even considered before (even though I've been investigating the organic vs. commercial issue for a few years now). And he brought in elements of food that I believe are true but seldom touched upon (such as the political or spiritual aspects of food and the land upon which it is grown).

Though Nabhan gives no indication of being a Christian in this book (If I had to guess, I say he was "spiritual" without committing to any particular religious affiliation.), he seems to have a far better sense of the ties between God and God's creation than most Christians I know. He recognizes the intimate place that food has in our lives, as well as the value of a connection to the earth. (While reading the book it dawned on me that here in Colorado we might pray for rain to end this drought so that there won't be watering restrictions for our lawns, but how often do we pray recognizing that the weather affects the food we eat? Seldom if ever, I suspect. We have a vague sense that the farmers aren't doing well, but we don't feel it personally, as if our own food resources were at stake... as if we could truly starve without rain.)

Nabham includes a quote from a manifesto produced by the Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture that sums up the local food issue fairly well, "When we buy local food, we are supporting community health: a network of farmers, food processors and fellow customers who live and work in our community, our regional landscape and our local economy. Personal health... and the health of the environment is at stake: Local foods do not generate the same pollution and waste the same energy as foods that are trucked, shipped or flown in from far away. [By eating locally] we are protecting our wildlife habitats, our waterways, and workers who are also our neighbors."

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