Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Review: Just Food by James E. McWilliams

After being away for the weekend, I wondered how my little urban garden was doing.  It was okay.  The lavender died, but the cherry tomato plant has produced four tomatoes, my basil plant has produced enough for one batch of pesto, and my lettuce is probably a week away from a harvest of a couple of salads.  I'm not sure I'll recoup what I put into them, but it's in the trying, right?

Along the lines of that little urban garden, I recently read Just Food by James E. McWilliams, which is an interesting look at food movements and their real impact on the globe.

Synopsis:  The basic premise of Just Food is that the eat local and organic movement is not the answer to our world's problems.  Although it has been touted as the way to save the environment, it is actually going to create a problem in production, which will lead to starvation and a severe lack of goods.  McWilliams also looks at safe ways of using modern technologies and chemicals for increased production with a smaller carbon footprint.  In short, what are some options for producing safe food for consumption, that will feed the world, and not destroy the environment for the future.

Review:  Just Food is not for the faint of heart or causal reader.  James E. McWilliams has written a strong argument about the misleading ideals being spread about the "locavore" movement and how it is causing consumers to vilify methods of production that could reduce costs and still save the environment.  The book is heavy handed in its use of facts, data, and research, which gives it good backing, but makes for weighty reading. 

McWilliams really has seven key arguments that he makes in the book:
  • The "Food Miles" argument can actually hurt our local environment. 
  • Organic Agriculture  with its small farming methods will not be able sustain a global population. 
  • A judicious use of Biotechnology and Chemicals should be our goal. (To produce the most possible per acre, in a safe and effective way.)
  • Reduce tillage, which harms much needed topsoil.
  • Integrate livestock and plant crops, for a functioning ecosystem that works together.
  • Introduce more freshwater aquaculture to produce sustainable markets of fish without stripping the oceans.

Each of his arguments make real sense when backed with such strong research and evidence.  Although the reading was a bit tough for a casual reader, with some general interest as I had, it is a great book for putting the "locavore" movement into perspective.  In short, I thought that McWilliams felt like the moderate voice in the argument.  Sometimes I feel like I have to become a radical in my diet and the way I live to really make a statement, and that can just be too big of a commitment.  This book, however, explains why a more moderate approach to food and where it comes from might actually be saving us. 

In a lot of ways, I still feel pretty helpless in any sort of global change.  So here's my take away.  This book is trying to solve a pretty big problem, on a grand scale, not just what I put on my table.  Although he doesn't even really touch on health issues, what he says makes a lot of sense.  He's not trying to tell us not to eat what we like, but he does show the value of eating more vegetables, fruits, and farm-raised fish.  When we see how we used to eat, even fifty years ago, it just makes sense that we need to shift back to whole foods and less meat.  If we could just shift to a healthier way of eating, the demand on markets would also change, so I suppose that being a smarter consumer could make a difference.  That's the idea, right?

*FTC Disclosure:  This review is based on a review copy provided by the publisher.


  1. I'm jealous of your garden! this sounds like an interesting book, but there is no way I would have been able to finish it. I loved your review of it though!

  2. Interesting ideas...I agree that we need to shift away from the overprocessed, packaged foods that dominate our stores, but I think trying to go back to growing fruits and vegetables on a large scale simply won't work. For those people who do garden, or have space to do so, it must be much easier. I mean, people lived off the land for years. But I think it would be hard to find a balance between that and our current way of living.

    Anyway, interesting title. I may have to look into it!

  3. Buckeye Girl--We'll see if the garden keeps growing and produces something. :) Yes, this book was kind of a tricky read, but had good points.

    Allie--Yea, he basically presents the medium-sized farms, with a focus on new methods to utilize what area we do have for growth. It is a tough issue, for sure. I hope my own little backstep garden actually produces something! LOL.