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Food Politics, Illustrated

You’re far more likely to get a stomach ache than a belly laugh from food news on any given day; there’s not a lot of humor in stories about contaminated food, diet-related disease, abused livestock, exploited workers, malnourished kids, and bone-headed agricultural policies. But this seemingly bleak beat has given cartoonists a surprising amount of fodder. And Marion Nestle, the noted NYU nutrition professor, public health advocate, and tireless food politics blogger/tweeter, has compiled the cream of this non-genetically modified crop in her just-published book from Rodale, Eat Drink Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics. Read more

A Look at Why I Farm

Part memoir, part manifesto, part nostalgia and part a warning about the future, Gary Romano’s Why I Farm spells out the pluses and minuses of working as a small farmer in the United States today.  He also explains clearly why the contemporary consumer needs small farmers to succeed and why so many naive newcomers to agriculture make mistakes and fail.  His subtitle, “Risking It All for a Life on the Land,” points to the balance, the perpetual vacillation between risk and reward that small farmers face every single day. Read more

Eating for Life: Review of “The Longevity Kitchen” by Rebecca Katz

Of all the life changes that having a baby brings on, perhaps the most pivotal is that it makes you examine what would happen to this new little being if you were suddenly gone. Our own mortality is abruptly mirrored back to us with the entrance of offspring, so some of us sign up for life insurance, talk about creating trust accounts, or set up legal documents and wills. I think that to truly take care of our children and create a stronger sense of security, separate from the paperwork and bureaucracy, parents need to take care of themselves first. And there is no better time like the fresh spring season to start. Luckily, we have Rebecca Katz’s  newest book, The Longevity Kitchen , to guide us. Read more

The Last Word: Poor Man’s Feast by Elissa Altman

W.H. Auden once said of legendary food writer MFK Fisher “I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose.”

This is how I feel about Elissa Altman.

I am far from the first to say so.  Altman was once described as “The illegitimate love child of David Sedaris and MFK Fisher,” which is also quite fitting, since she approaches her craft the way she does her life, with humor and love, and not without some occasional sarcasm.

She wields a sharp wit and an even sharper eye for detail in her new memoir, Poor Man’s Feast – A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking (Chronicle, 2013). Read more

Book Review: “A Girl and Her Pig” by April Bloomfield

They’ll tell you not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case perhaps you should make an exception.  In A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories, April Bloomfield delivers exactly what the book’s cover implies – a straightforward approach to food from a working class Birmingham girl who found her niche.

As a child in England, Bloomfield wanted to be a Policewoman, but circumstances conspired as they so often do and she followed her sister into cooking school.  Unlike her sister, though, Bloomfield found her way into the profession and on to New York, where her no-nonsense take on real food has won her accolades piled upon accolades. Read more

New Book Takes a Look at Urban Farms Across the U.S.

It was an overcast but hot and humid Sunday July afternoon when 50 volunteers arrived to clear a sizable lot of land at Phoenix Press in New Haven, Connecticut, underneath their wind turbine, that is soon to become New Haven Farms’ fifth farm site.

As a founding member of New Haven Farms, it is exciting to see our urban farm sites sprout up around the edges of Fair Haven, an historic area of New Haven and one that has been home to immigrant populations for over 100 years. The mission of New Haven Farms is to promote health and community development through urban agriculture and our goal is to establish and cultivate year-round urban farms that produce nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits, in collaboration with community members who are both within 200 percent of the federal poverty level and suffering from diabetes, pre-diabetes, or have at least two risk factors for diabetes. The organization is now partnering with the Fair Haven Community Health Center (FHCHC) to rigorously build farms in the lowest income neighborhoods of New Haven, and investigate the impact of increased exposure and consumption of fresh, local nutrient-dense foods on this underserved community’s health. Its CSA program began the first week of July–called the New Haven Farms Fresh Produce Prescription Program.

Looking at the barren, rocky site at Phoenix Press gave me a rush. It may look desolate now but I can visualize a farm here, and I can imagine all the green and luscious, nutritious produce that will rise forth out of this lot within a year’s time [with the help of a lot of compost!] So when the afternoon was over and the volunteers got back on their bus, I returned home and immediately opened Sarah Rich’s beautiful book, Urban Farms and allowed myself to be inspired and imagine what this new farm site can become. This book chronicles the urban agriculture movement through gorgeous photography and thoughtful essays that would inspire any good urbanite to pick up a shovel and find a nearby community garden. Read more

One Straw Revolution Continues: Sowing Seeds in the Desert

Perhaps the Fall came not in the shape of an apple, but in the form of a seed. The Fruit of Knowledge was actually a grain. When we started to cultivate the land for wheat, corn and rice, we severed our original connection to nature, and from that first act of taking ownership of the soil other ecological evils eventually sprouted. The serpent’s temptation arrived as a plow, a digging stick.

This reconfiguration of the end of Eden parable comes courtesy of Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. Jackson has dedicated his life to solving what he calls “the 10,000-year-old problem of agriculture.” As readers of this website know, tilling the soil year after year comes with serious risks—release of CO2 into the atmosphere, erosion, declining fertility and, eventually, poor crop yields. Jackson has sought to address the conundrum of agriculture (today’s harvests threaten tomorrow’s) by developing perennial grains. Other researchers, including those committed to industrial agriculture, have focused on low-till and no-till methods that require little soil disturbance while still relying on annual crops. Either way, the goal is the same: To feed ourselves without cutting into the epidermis of the earth.

I was well versed in these questions of soil conservation by the time I read Masanobu Fukuoka’s classic, The One Straw Revolution, and the book hit me with the force of revelation. Read more