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Review | Change Comes to Dinner By Katherine Gustafson

Posted by Rebecca G. Aguilar, M.Ed. on March 2, 2012

Change Comes to Dinner by Katherine Gustafson ISBN-13: 9780312577377
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 5/8/2012
Pages: 288

What does a bowl of heirloom beans taste like? Fairness and democracy? Vibrant farm communities? An elegant food economy solution? Or do the beans simply satisfy our appetites?

Award-winning journalist Katherine Gustafson engages in a quest to meet the “intrepid souls” who are growing our new food economy.

Released in May, Change Comes to Dinner: How Vertical Farmers, Urban Growers, and Other Innovators are Revolutionizing How America Eats is the culmination of her exhaustive interviews and research.

“I had long known I wasn’t cut out to be a muckraking journalist,” Gustafson professes in this readable, well-researched book. “Instead, I decided, I would go hoperacking.”

Finding inspired initiatives as well as unusual, even cumbersome business ventures, Gustafson hoped to shed light on “what we have to be glad about.”

A visit to the University of Montana revealed a food service program that supports local producers and improves efficiency while reducing waste. Gustafson discovered how the priorities of institutions can change the food buying habits of an entire community.

Gustafson also found sustainable food programs that help refugees, immigrants and at-risk teens grow and sell organic garden produce. She interviewed prison inmates who cultivate organic seedlings and she visited the DC Central Kitchen, a nonprofit where ex-convicts cook 4,500 meals every day to feed hungry people.

Preferring the term “food swamps” over “food deserts”, Gustafson writes that hunger is not the most urgent problem and argues the most egregious issues come from denial of access and distribution.

She dissects agriculture’s “misdirected” efforts to improve yields and instead raises concerns about food waste— the EPA statistics are a “staggering” 34 million tons a year.

Sustainable innovations like direct seeding on no-till soil or aquaponic greenhouses could help grow vegetables at the South Pole... or anywhere that lacks the conditions.

Gustafson instead pondered concerns in the new food movement about how we should produce what we eat:

What are the worthiest alternatives to the soil- depleted, pesticide-laden megafarms that have become the standard-bearers for U.S. agriculture?

Are buying sustainable products and moving away from the commodification of food the most enlightened moral decisions?

In her research on native plants and food diversity, Gustafson interviewed ranchers and farmers cultivating heritage animal breeds and heirloom plant species not usually found in supermarkets.

Her trek circled back to an interview with Steve Sando, owner of Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Food. Sando has created a niche market for Mexican farmers who grow the heirloom beans, corns and chiles their ancestors cultivated.

Gustafson writes of the interview with Sando:

When I harangued him to confess his role as a grand pooh-bah in the growing sustainable food movement, he demurred, insisting again and again that he’s “not qualified for much besides eating and selling beans.”

Gustafson, like everyone who buys Sando’s beans online, makes the purchase because they taste good. Strident foodie voices might complicate the digestion of a tasty bowl of heirloom beans. How much of a carbon foot print is made to transport them to a customer’s front door?

Sando replies to Gustafson’s local food dilemma:

My wisdom says that vegetables on the whole should be local, that dairy and meat regional, and that grains should grow where they grow best.

Change Comes to Dinner by Katherine Gustafson is a highly worthwhile read... quality journalism to motivate the most apathetic of us to buy local, organic and seasonal.

Category: Nonfiction, Food

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