The pleasures are few, the politics plenty, in this preachy treatise on the politically correct production and consumption of food.
Known for his work as a “seed saver” and explainer of traditional Native American agricultural practices, Nabhan (The Culture of Habitat, 1997, etc.) conducts what might have been an interesting experiment in these pages: after having visited his ancestral Lebanon and eaten some nice, fresh hummus, kibbi, and baba ghannouj, he decided to weed through his pantry back home in Arizona, ditch food that was not locally produced, and thereafter, as much as possible, eat only local goodsesquite flour, cactus pads, squash, and “maybe some fat lizards, and a snake or two.” The odd and sometimes unpalatable ingredient aside, the point is a good one; most of us, Nabhan notes, eat foods that are shipped in from points of origin thousands of miles distant, foods bathed in chemicals and preservatives. Exploring what local food entails (and using a formula from other of his books), he visits Indian villages and fields in Mexico and the Southwest, as well as a few alternative farms elsewhere, drawing on the wisdom of the elders to show the rottenness of the dominant culture. Those tours over, Nabhan peppers the later pages of his account with earnest, stiff denunciations of such local produce-unfriendly entities as the World Trade Organization and Monsanto, the chemico-agribusinesses that is the world’s chief producer of genetically modified seeds. Although his intentions are good, the author’s energetic self-congratulation, clumsy prose, and florid epiphanies—“If food is the sumptuous sea of energy which we dive into and swim through every day, I have lived but one brief moment leaping like a flying fish and catching a glimmering glimpse of that sea roiling all around us”—make this a chore to read.
Of interest only to food activists and organic-gardening buffs—who are probably already converts to the cause.