Book Review: Just Food

And lamb isn’t the only product that falls into this category.

Localism is not always the most environmentally sound solution if more emissions are generated at other stages of the product life cycle.

Stirring up an organic panic

Here’s a news flash: organic practices can’t feed the world. It’s all basic math. Scientific studies consistently produce lower yields between 25 and 82 percent. Therefore, to produce enough food, farmers would need that much more land to sustain current production levels.

The underlying temper of our times is that anything processed or industrialized can be seen as adulterated and harmful, while anything that appears to be natural or close to nature can be regarded as pure and uncorrupted. The reality of contemporary food production, whether organic or conventional, whether large-scale or small, stubbornly fails to follow this purified/corrupted script.

The author lists several “organic” practices, one of which the use of sodium nitrate. This product, mined in South America, is considered natural and is used to grow winter vegetables in dry soil. Used as a soluble fertilizer to enhance the soil’s nitrogen content, organic farmers seem oblivious to the mining and shipping costs to the environment, the groundwater pollution sodium nitrate causes (artificially beefs up the nitrogen and phosphorous in soil), as well as its detrimental effects on soil salinization. Still, it’s “natural.”

A judicious use

McWilliams impressed me. Although he and I disagree about the causes of global warming (or the lack of global warming), I was impressed by his willingness to search for the truth, even if it didn’t fit his version of reality. That’s the mark of a real journalist. He ended the book with several very good conclusions:

  • Go beyond food miles
  • Go beyond organic and conventional methods
  • Judiciously use biotechnology
  • Judiciously use chemicals
  • Reduce tillage
  • Integrate livestock and plant crops
  • Explore more freshwater aquaculture

We have a lot of people to feed. Just Food is a great way to point us in the right direction.

Buy or don’t buy?

If you’re concerned about the environmental effects the production of your food is having on our world, you’ll enjoy reading Just Food. I’ve never been that concerned myself, but I still enjoyed reading it anyway, mostly because I felt that the author was real, honest, and willing to change his way of thinking if the facts presented themselves accordingly.

If you would like to win my copy (which I received free from the publisher – thank you Little, Brown & Company), just leave a comment on this post.

Note: I received this book gratis from the publisher.