I wonder if anyone could possibly read Brian Halweil’s Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket and fail to be inspired to do something, anything, in order to help create a grassroots local food movement in their own hometown.
He sure got me fired up, in large part because while the book is a textbook and a manifesto and is filled with a lot of really disturbing and depressing facts about the attempts agribusiness has made to monopolize world food supplies–it is also filled with success stories.
He tells the stories of thousands of people around the world who got fed up with the way that corporate agricultural giants did business and instead of being ground under bootheels, stepped up and changed the rules of the game.
One of my favorite anectdotes involves a group of women in Zimbabwe whose husbands had been laid off in a factory closing, decided to go into the peanut butter-making business. They realized that the peanut butter they were buying was made by foreign-owned corporations with imported nuts, yet peanuts are a major crop in Zimbabwe. They decided that they could buy peanuts from local farmers and produce peanut butter more cheaply, thus saving local consumers money, supporting local farmers and providing local jobs.
It sounds kind of like a weird pipe dream–but they did it. It worked. Their homegrown company is self-sufficient, has turned a serious profit and their product has been outselling mainstream brands in local stores and supermarkets.
Halweil’s information gathering is truly global–his statistics and anectdotes are drawn in from around the globe. He even mention people and businesses closer to home–ACEnet (The Appalachian Center for Economic Networks) and Casa Nueva, a worker-owned restaurant that sources 85 percent of their food locally, are both based in Athens, Ohio, and are part of the backbone of the serious community efforts to create a viable, sustainable local foodshed in southeastern Ohio.
ACEnet’s community kitchen and business education programs are held up by Halweil as being great examples of grassroots organizations helping citizens start up small, local food-based businesses. He mentions several of the dozens of local food startups that have been given a leg up by ACEnet in the past decade, including Herbal Sage Tea Company and Integration Acres.
The book fairly teems with inspirational stories; each chapter ends with an in-depth profile of an individual or group whose efforts have succeeded in promoting the cause of a safe, inexpensive and reliable local food supply. Far too many books of this kind focus so intensely on the negative, on the overwhelmingly dysfunctional state of agriculture today, that it tends to make the reader feel as if we are powerless to stop the tide of unsustainably-raised, nutritionally inferior and grotty-tasting foodstuffs that threatens to engulf the plates of the world. Halweil’s approach is not to rely on fear and anxiety to sell his message; he doesn’t sugar-coat the ugly facts in order to get his readers to swallow them, but instead balances them with concrete ideas for what ordinary citizens can do, and have done, in order to make the dire situation better.
And I think that is what the main thrust of the book is–it is about reminding people that we all have the power to change the world, in large and small ways, with each action we undertake. It is about standing up and doing something–not just laying down and accepting that the world is the way it is, and there is no sense in bothering to try and change it. Halweil compiles a list of things that anyone can do to help step away from the unsustainable agriculture merry-go-round, and then in his appendices, gives a huge list of resources with web addresses to help the reader find more information on how to achieve their own personal goals of food independence.
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