Weekend Review: Recipe for America by Jill Richardson
I picked up this book because I've been reading Jill's blog, La Vida Locavore, for quite some time. As far as food blogs go, I read many that are straight up recipes and food writing, some that chart personal journeys of trying to eat healthfully in our broken food system, but Jill's is one of my favorites that covers actual food policy. It helps guide me in the "activism" portion of the pie chart of how I want to live my life. In Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It (2009), Richardson is writing "the book I wish I could have read three years ago, when I first began pondering America's problem with obesity." She starts off by describing the current mainstream food system from the point of view of an eater. Her solution to the fact that healthful, affordable, accessible, delicious food is so hard to come by, is sustainable agriculture. She touches on the problems with industrial-sized organic agriculture, abusive labor practices, pollution, etc. and closes by talking about how to remove barriers to new and current farmers so that they are able to farm sustainably.
While I applaud her efforts to synthesize the numerous tangents of this huge issue, I didn't come away from the book having learned anything I didn't already know, nor did I feel very compelled to pick up the mantle of this fight. She tried to cover all of the issues around our food system, which didn't allow her to explore any of them with much depth. Now, I know my reaction could very well be because I have already completely immersed myself in the world of the food system. For someone else, this could be a very useful primer to many elements of this issue. Ultimately, her suggestions for how to "cook up a recipe for America" include signing up to receive action alerts, following these issues on blogs, tracking legislation, and writing letters to the editor. While I know that all of those things are important (and they are all things that I regularly do) they are not very sexy or exciting. If this book is geared towards someone who is new to, but genuinely wants to learn about the broken food system, it leaves them feeling that there isn't much that they can do in their own lives right now that will matter. Personally, I think this is the crucial step for convincing those who are on the fence. They need to know not only how these issues affect them personally, but how they can take personal actions to remedy them. For me, it was very empowering to start my own garden and to start buying produce directly from a local farmer. Is this action going to save the whole food system? Of course not. But it's part of the process that drives these issues home for us.
Overall I think this book might be helpful for someone just dipping their toe in the food policy waters, but they should look elsewhere to get inspired to take the time to enact actual change. The element of the food system fight that she's interested in--policy--is honestly better served on her blog rather than in the form of a book. It's helpful to be able to read her daily updates about policy as they are happening and to follow her links in order to make comments on pending legislation, for example. But, one can't do this with a book. It feels like a text that is already very dated and soon won't be of much use. As a somewhat nitpicky side note, this book suffers greatly from the lack of a good copy editor. There were grammatical errors on almost every single page. Not tiny stuff like a misplaced comma, but really distracting errors like verb agreement. Definitely check out her blog, but you could probably skip the book.