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Just Food

A challenge to current ideas about responsible eating.

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It isn’t hard to agree with James McWilliams, in his deliberately provocative Just Food, when he compares challenging people’s ideas about what they eat to challenging ideas about their religion. But some of the other pronouncements in his book, subtitled “Where Locavores Get It Wrong And How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly,” are harder to swallow.

McWilliams, an associate professor at Texas State University, spends much of the book’s early chapters attacking the trend of eating locally grown food, arguing that it is a form of “green lite” rather than a meaningful practice. He is attempting a valuable service – challenging pat assumptions, digging beneath slogans and oversimplifications – but starts the process in such a goading, patronizing way that he alienates the very audience that should be most receptive to his message.

He sets up a straw man – the idea that smug, elitist “locavores” believe locally grown food is the only solution to the world’s food woes – and proceeds, not surprisingly, to easily knock it down. McWilliams, himself a disillusioned former locavore, writes that he hopes to “expand the dialogue about sustainable food without causing yet another tawdry food fight between radicalized perspectives and opposing interest groups.” Unfortunately, his charged language sets up just the sort of parsnip-slinging he claims to oppose.

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