Reclaiming Our Food (Book Review)
Recently a friend of mine emailed me a link to an article talking about how Virginia is a leader in the local food movement nationwide. It turns out the author, Tanya Denckla Cobb lives and teaches in Charlottesville, Virginia – just a little over an hour from us. She is a writer, professional environmental mediator, and teaches food system planning at the University of Virginia. I was also delighted to discover that she has recently written a book about the local food movement called ‘Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement is Changing the Way We Eat‘.
The local food movement is a decentralized cultural shift in the way we think about, grow and consume food. Tanya Denckla Cobb’s book is the quintessential survey of the diversity, creativity and viability of this movement. Reading this book is like going on a roadtrip with the author to meet the multitude of people and organizations that are using food as a means to renew and transform their communities.
Accompanied by the beautiful and candid imagery of photographer Jason Houston, the author’s narrative comes alive as you see the faces and hands of the main characters in this living cross-section of America. One part photo essay, one part food system philosophy, and one part storytelling- featuring nearly 60 grassroots food projects- this is the book I have always wished someone would write to prove once and for all that there is truly a revolution happening across all our major cultural divides. There is a deep shift occurring across geographic, racial, economic, political and religious divides – as communities come together around the importance of soil and food, land and table.
On reading this collection of inspiring food, land and community centered projects I was struck by how many different ways there are to arrive at the importance of sustainable agriculture and local food. And it is not a movement for just the economically affluent and the cultural elite – this is a broad-based people’s movement. Communities of all kinds – from rich to poor, urban to rural and everything inbetween, are reshaping their local economic and social landscapes. It is a revolution, if we are willing, that leaves no one behind.
One of the highlights for me was reading about two organizations local to us here in the Lynchburg, Virginia regional area – the Society of St. Andrew, a national anti-hunger, gleaning network and Lynchburg Grows, an urban farm that serves disabled citizens, at-risk youth and the community at large. This book is a brilliant cross-section of food projects like these that are rooted in particular communities all over the nation.
Near the beginning of the book, the author states:
“The grassroots food movement is a broad tent encompassing a multitude of initiatives…Some focus on food, some on the environment, and some on community…Their motivations are diverse, from something as simple as wanting to sell fresh tomatoes to local restaurants to a deeply spiritual yearning to heal the land and our relationship with it…No matter the starting point, no matter how richly diverse the motivations or approaches, the stories in this book demonstrate that, over time, successful grassroots food projects ultimately converge around two central points: local food and community” (p.8, and p.9)
She goes on to further explain the roots and source of this growing grassroots food movement:
“Suddenly the connecting thread became apparent. Across America, the grassroots food movement seems to be arising from a common feeling that we have lost our center. Across our nation, we see spiritual restlessness, children disconnected from nature, people disconnected from each other, a proliferation of foods that fail to nourish either body or spirit, and a lack of community, neighborliness, and relationship. This book tells the story of people who are seeking to find a new center, to create meaning and purpose in their lives, to restore harmony and balance in their relationships with the land, food and each other” (p.9)
If you have wondered if the local food movement is a lasting legacy or merely a passing fad – this book will help you begin to wrap your mind around it’s deep importance. If you are already an advocate or practitioner of local food and sustainable agriculture – this book will be a heartfelt encouragement that you are not crazy and you are not alone. If you are totally uninterested in issues of food and agriculture – this would be a great starting point to educate yourself and to begin to accept the fact that we all have a role to play in this revolution.
(above: video trailer for the book ‘Reclaiming Our Food’ by Tanya Denckla Cobb)
You can follow the conversation beyond the book at the author’s website: www.tanyadencklacobb.com.
A big thanks to Tanya and the fine folks at Storey Publishing for providing us a review copy of this incredible book.
(Editor’s Note- Disclosure: Sustainable Traditions receives free review books including the book reviewed above. SustainableTraditions.com is an independent website free to express opinions and reviews unhindered by any contractual requirements to any publishers or organizations.)