A journalist, activist, and filmmaker examines how soil-conscious farming practices may affect climate change and aims to move consumer sentiment to support them.
Tickell (Biodiesel America: How to Achieve Energy Security, Free America from Middle-East Oil Dependence, and Make Money Growing Fuel, 2006, etc.), whose films include Fuel and The Big Fix, is a vocal disciple of value-based consumerism. Unfortunately, in seeking to convert the uninitiated, the author too often preaches to the choir. The book will appeal the most to readers who are already pro-organic foodies and/or anti–GMO crusaders. Refreshingly, the narrative is richly visual, likely due to the author’s primary vocation as a respected documentary filmmaker; his description of the arrival of the French Minister of Agriculture reads like a scene from a James Bond film. However, the science at the center of this thesis is lacking. Tickell argues that the reason these farming techniques will transform agriculture is because they foster the health of the billions of microbes and fungi that live in the soil, but he only rarely mentions the name of a single species (there are thousands). Furthermore, it takes more than two-thirds of the text for the author to note that soil microorganisms thrive when suspended in water and go dormant without it, a premise central to his thesis. Similarly, Tickell discusses soil microbes that break down methane, a greenhouse gas found in cow excrement, but he fails to adequately explain the scientific research focused on it. In addition, the entirety of the book takes place in France or the United States, where food is plentiful. What happens when you take Tickell’s ideas to nations that struggle to feed their people?
Fellow members of the author’s choir will find some useful nuggets, but readers seeking to learn more about microbial soil health and its implications for farm practices and climate change should look elsewhere. Regarding microbes and our bodies, a good start is Alanna Collen’s 10% Human (2015).