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Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, July 1, 2007

Books Look at 'New' Ways to Get Our Daily Bread

In July life is at its most abundant, and so are the plants that provide us our seasonal food. Corn, watermelon, cantaloupe, summer squash, tomatoes, blueberries, cherries, peaches and raspberries will all be available (if the frost didn't get them earlier this spring).But did you ever notice how at the grocery stores everything seems to be available all the time? In the darkest part of December you can eat the same fruits and vegetables, though they have been shipped from California, Washington state, Mexico or Peru.

Even in July local groceries do not feature our local harvest, but rather the same international selection. The food we eat typically travels between 1,500 and 3,000 miles from farm to plate. On an average only one out of the 10 things we eat is grown locally.

You may think it convenient to have strawberries at Christmas, but it seems a shame that so much fuel has to be expended to bring our food to us in July, when we could get it so much closer to home and support our own farmers.

It's not easy to find locally grown food, however. My family is a shareholder in the Seton Harvest CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), run by the Daughters of Charity, but they can take only 100 or so members at this time. Fortunately, Evansville's weekly Farmers Market will resume Friday at the Kenny Kent lot across from the Old Post Office at Second, Vine and Sycamore streets.

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee (Penguin, 2007).

Alice Waters is a pioneer of the local eating movement. From the founding of her restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., in 1971, she has insisted on providing fresh, local food.

She has always promoted a hunter-gatherer culture at Chez Panisse, sending staff members out into the countryside looking for good farm food or even wild plants, and encouraging farmers to cultivate heritage breeds of livestock and plants.

Originally, she did so because fresh food just tasted better, but over the years her social conscience has grown. Today she spearheads the Edible Schoolyards project for middle school students, where they harvest, cook and serve the food they grow themselves at school

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende (HarperCollins, 2004).

As a graduate student at MIT, the author had grown increasingly uncomfortable with society's worship of technology.

On a bus trip home to Kansas during semester break, he met an Amish man who lived in a community without electricity, telephones and motor vehicles. Brende and his new wife decided to move there to gather material for his master's thesis.

Besides growing their own food and making a go of it without modern conveniences, the Brendes discovered how a self-reliant community must rely on one another daily for support. Even more life-changing was the realization that leisure didn't have to end when work began, but that they could be combined into a slower-paced life.

Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith & J.B. Mackinnon (Harmony Books, 2007).

The authors are two young Canadian freelance writers who are the creators of the 100-mile diet. (Visit www.100milediet.org.)

The genesis of the movement was a meal that grew out of a head of cabbage, when they were staying at their cabin without electricity in northern British Columbia. They and their friends took to the fields and streams and came up with a delicious local feast.

When they got back home they resolved that for one year everything they ate would originate within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver. Like us in Evansville, the sources of their food were not immediately apparent, but through diligent searching they came up with everything they needed to live a healthy life.

Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods by Gary Paul Nabhan (Norton, 2002).

Nabhan is one of our best nature writers, and this book is, as Alice Waters has said, truly "amazing and eloquent."

Nabhan lives in the Sonora Desert near Tucson, Ariz., so his 15-month resolution to make four out of five meals with ingredients from within 250 miles of home was quite a challenge.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver (HarperCollins, 2007).

The popular novelist has returned to her native Appalachia and the farming life of her youth. She and her husband, biologist Steven Hopp, and two daughters recount how for a year they, too, ate only local foods.

Kingsolver is a woman of amazing energy who can garden and preserve food with the best of them. Hopp provides useful sidebars on the political and health issues surrounding our industrialized global food system.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.