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Local food for smart people

Eat Local: Simple Steps to Enjoy Real, Healthy & Affordable Food by Jasia Steinmetz, New World Publishing, 186pp, $12.95.Eat Local: Simple Steps to Enjoy Real, Healthy & Affordable Food by Jasia Steinmetz, New World Publishing, 186pp, $12.95.If you’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma or seen the documentaries Fresh! and Food, Inc. then you already know that the problem with food today is that most of it is produced less for the benefit of eaters than for the profit of agribusiness corporations.

But going on about confinement chicken houses or lakes of pig manure at factory farms might be kind of a heavy message for a family member, friend or co-worker whose interest in food extends only as far as how it tastes, what it costs and whether it will make you fat or not.

Eat Local: Simple Steps to Enjoy Real, Healthy & Affordable Food, is the book for smart people who haven’t ever given their food, or the international market that distributes it, much thought.

Written by Wisconsin-based nutritionist Jasia Steinmetz, Eat Local talks just enough about the problems with long-distance industrial food to make the reader see that eating locally grown must be a better way. Then, the bulk of the book is all about helping the reader find that better way.

Topics range from questions to ask grocery store managers (Do you sell local food and label it as such and are you willing to add new local items?) to places to buy local food besides a grocery store (farmers markets, buying clubs, community supported agriculture, farm stands) to a chapter on the Slow Food movement that makes it seem positively, well, unpretentious.

Hold the burger, double lettuce

Steinmetz, like many of her nutritionist colleagues, doesn’t hide her bias against meat and towards a vegetarian diet. And though she gives small-scale meat production a quick mention, it’s clear that her heart is with “the plant based-diet,” which she sees as not only healthier but also more compassionate.

Of course, a pasture-centric farmer like Joel Salatin, star of the aforementioned Omnivore’s Dilemma and numerous documentaries, would quibble with both of these points, arguing that the problem is not meat per se, but rather, industrialized meat. Likewise, followers of Weston A. Price and fans of paleo and other traditional diets would demur from Steinmetz’s distaste for the animal-based foods that have kept humans healthy since our ancestors stood on two feet in the Rift Valley of Africa.

But Steinmetz isn’t too dogmatic, which helps make Eat Local a good introduction to the subject. The book’s accessible prose and cuddly book design (here, I actually don’t mind the publisher’s use of clip art) add to the feeling of welcome.

At the book’s end, there’s even a bit for the reader more experienced in local food issues, including a nice list of Internet resources, whether you want to find places to buy local food around in your area or join an activist groups such as the National Family Farm Coalition or the Community Food Security Coalition.

As somebody who wants to make food an issue for local government, I was interested to learn about Farm to School programs (there’s even funding available from the USDA) and Food Policy Councils, that support local ordinances friendly to local food from zoning to curbside compost.

– Erik Curren, Transition Voice

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