McWilliams (History/Texas State Univ.; A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America, 2005, etc.) argues for moderation and compromise in today’s raging food fights.
Until recently, the author was a locavore—one who eats locally produced food. Though he still believes that it is a dietary commitment with many virtues, he argues that it’s also a feeble, ineffective way to feed the world’s hungry billions. He claims he has no political axe to grind, but he begins with a caricature of the locavores, taking some gratuitous shots at Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry—though he does favorably quote the former later on. Once he’s blown away his straw men, McWilliams presents some appealing alternatives to the views of both the agrarian romantics on the left and the agribusiness capitalists on the right. He says that we’ve exaggerated the importance of the concept of “food miles” (how far—and how expensively—food travels from farm to fork), and he declares that “organic” is appealing and preferable, but wonders how long the earth could accommodate a process that, because of its lower yields, requires more land. The author advocates a judicious use of genetically engineered seeds and food products, believes we must reduce our passion for land-animal protein—it requires far too many resources to produce and pollutes the air, land and water—and urges more attention to the nascent science of aquaponics (fish and plant life grown together in symbiotic cycles). McWilliams then examines political and trade issues and offers more “rational subsidy suggestions”—including government support for crop diversity, aquaponics and seed drilling. He concludes that the best food-production model may be “a broad pattern of regionally integrated, technologically advanced, middle-sized farms.”
Rich in research, provocative in conception and nettlesome to both the right and the left.