Thursday, 27 August 2009

McWilliams and locavores

I will certainly read it, but, from the title, I'm not really looking forward to James McWilliams' new book, Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly.

In a recent radio interview, McWilliams really objected to a certain kind of strictly dogmatic 100-mile-circle type food discipline. That seems like a true and fairly bland point. It would be good environmentalism if Americans ate food that has less processing, less meat, and comes from closer to home, on average, but that doesn't mean all food should come from right nearby.

In the meanwhile, Kerry Trueman's review at Eating Liberally certainly was fun. The lead sentence describes the book as "the literary equivalent of a turd blossom, the Texan term for a flower that pops up out of a cow patty."

Kerry reminds the reader of McWilliams' credulous New York Times piece about a study of trichinosis in free-range pork, which was the subject of an editor's note acknowledging that the study's Pork Board funding should have been mentioned.

She gives examples of McWilliams' "pointless ponderings": "What would happen to local traffic patterns if every consumer in Austin made daily trips in their SUVs to visit small local farms to buy locally produced food?" Hmm. I guess I never really wondered that. But, if I had, I would have agreed it was a bad idea.

And, generously, she draws out "the needle in McWilliams' hyperbolic, straw man-stuffed haystack." She says McWilliams' criticism of current meat consumption patterns hits home more strongly than does his caricature of locavores: "McWilliams evidently made the calculus that it would be more lucrative to demonize farmers' market fanatics than mindless meat eaters, but his opportunistic posturing ultimately overwhelms the more thoughtful analyses contained in this book."

I'm just glad McWilliams relented on the originally planned subtitle for the book: "How Locavores Are Endangering The Future of Food." With that title, I would have felt free to skip the book altogether.

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