By Greta Meyers
Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly
by James E. McWilliams
There is nothing quite like slicing and eating a bright and juicy local heirloom tomato in August. Knowing it has traveled minimal miles from soil to plate provides us with a meaningful connection to food and the community. But is the local food movement the simple solution to the world’s food crisis? James E. McWilliams would say no. In his book, Just Food, he provides a rational and evidence-based argument for this answer.
McWilliams, an Associate Professor of History at Texas State University, has published several books and peer-reviewed journal articles on the history of food, agriculture, and pest control in the United States. The author commends the Locavore movement for drawing attention to the food system, but points out that a strict adherence to their “food miles” principle only mildly decreases the carbon footprint of our diets. The book proposes a multi-pronged approach to eating responsibly, envisioning the establishment of new sustainable systems to feed the rapidly expanding global population.
McWilliams begins by proposing we strive for a golden mean, meaning a food economy balanced somewhere between industrial agriculture and small local farms, moving away from dichotomies like organic vs. conventional. The following chapters discuss a number of strategies that could be employed to combat the complex problem of feeding the world’s population without destroying the planet. The book tackles issues such as pesticide and synthetic fertilizer use, genetic modification, aquaculture, vegetarianism and agricultural subsidies.
McWilliams does an excellent job address-ing both sides of the debate with well-researched discussions. However, the book does not read like a scholarly article and instead is written in a manner that easily reaches a wide audience. Overall, the book is balanced and rational, but the author does come to some controversial conclusions regarding topics like genetic modification that may seem polemic to some. Nonetheless, Just Food provides readers with a realistic look into the food system and some surprising insights into eating ethically.