Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly
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Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  355 ratings  ·  94 reviews
We suffer today from food anxiety, bombarded as we are with confusing messages about how to eat an ethical diet. Should we eat locally? Is organic really better for the environment? Can genetically modified foods be good for you?

JUST FOOD does for fresh food what Fast Food Nation (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) did for fast food, challenging conventional views, and cutting throu...more
Hardcover, 222 pages
Published August 26th 2009 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2009)
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Community Reviews

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Lena
Let me begin this review by saying that the subtitle of this book – Where Locavores Get it Wrong – is a bit misleading. Author James McWilliams isn't on a rampage against locavorism per se, but rather against overly simplistic "solutions" to the incredibly complex problem of how to feed our planet's 7 billion-and-still-growing population in a way that is truly environmentally sustainable.

McWilliams is a history professor down in Austin and a former locavore himself. But one day, he found himsel...more
Susan Albert
Just Foods is an important book in the continuing (and continually escalating) debate over how we should grow our food and what we should eat. Environmental historian and reformed locavore James McWilliams, invites us to think logically and dispassionately about some of the most important food issues of our time--and of the future. Having read two of McWilliams' previous books, I expected a controversial, detailed, and well-documented discussion. I wasn't disappointed.

In summary, McWilliams arg...more
Richard
Late breaking addition: Want to read the micro-version of this book? Check out the editorial, Math Lessons for Locavores in the New York Times, August 19, 2010. It doesn’t get into the complexities that McWilliams does, but it encapsulates the first chapter of this book quite nicely.

• • • • • • • • • • • •

In Just Food, James McWilliams goes all heretical on his former fellow-travelers in the food-reform-movement cabal. He looks a bit deeper into the global political realit...more
Zelda
I was pretty happy to be finished with the book. It starts out pretty hot with a no-holds barred butchering of the sacred cows of responsible eating. Food miles? Bollocks. Organic? Schmorganic. Frankenfood? It's what's for dinner! I was feasting on the charry remnants of those slaughtered heifers of hoity-toity loco-vorianism when the fun came to a screeching halt. The author thinks we shouldn't eat meat. At all. Ever. Oops.

But, he knows we will so he has some ideas about that. And he has numbe...more
Andrew Breslin
McWilliams is an excellent researcher. He has some very worthwhile ideas. And he seems to have a genuinely balanced perspective. As unconventional as it is in our increasingly polarized society, he swims against the current of schismogenesis and attempts to actually discuss and raise awareness of agricultural issues, rather than preaching to one of two choirs who mostly scream at one another when they interact at all. It's really a shame that the book is so astoundingly boring.

Maybe that's not f...more
Jennifer
Each year, I try to read one book that goes against the grain of how I think about things. I picked “Just Food” without knowing much about it except for the subtitle, “Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly.” I am not a card-carrying loacavore by any means; I do not belong to a CSA, nor do I calculate the meal on my plate in food miles. But I do patronize the local farmer’s market in the warmer months and buy corn on the cob from any farm kid I see selling it on the si...more
Christy
A disclaimer: I only made it through the first chapter. I would like to try again, when I have calmed down a bit.

As someone who relies on the people around us to eat locally-grown organic produce, I probably have quite a different view than the author and most people who will read this book. That being said, the author made some sweeping generalizations about how we as Americans consume local goods. His claim that most people can't tell the difference between a store-bought tomato and a freshly...more
Shawn
this book was good i thought about giving it 4 stars but could not bring my self to overlook the fact that he never thought to question If the solutions he was presenting where just putting off the collapse of our whole food system. I like reading an alternative point of view and like what he said about meat, organic food and local food. but felt like he adviods the hard fact that we are killing the earth and if we don't do some thing radical very soon it will be to late. I could not agree with...more
Mike Rooney
Pretty good book. Challenges the conventional farm system and locavorism. Basically seeks to get people to realize there aren't easy, pat answers to the question of how we can have a just and compassionate food system that doesn't further climate change and also produces enough food to feed the 9 to 10 billion people that will inhabit this planet in the near future. One of his better points is that simply deciding to eat as much local food as possible is too simplistic of a guiding rule for just...more
Keith Akers
This is clearly an important book, and the "star-rating" system doesn't really do justice to it. So if you're wondering whether to read this book, consider it a five-star review. It has some flaws, but as someone said of Kant (if I recall correctly), the mistakes of a great thinker are more valuable than a thousand correct platitudes from a lesser one.

McWilliams takes on one of the hottest topics in food politics, the whole question of the "locavores" who emphasize the need for eating locally. I...more
Linnea
An interesting and worthwhile read, McWilliams takes on a lot of assumptions about the environmental benefits of eating locally and other issues of responsible eating and points out some unexpected problems--especially for feeding the world responsibly. He makes some particularly good points about genetically modified crops and higher yields/lower land use. He also stresses the value of expanding healthy fish farming as a good solution to some of the food crises facing the world. However, he alm...more
Candace
I have been immersed in food politics for a long time. I did not think that there would be any groundbreaking book that would change my deeply-held beliefs about how we should eat. And then "Just Food" came along. At first, I was skeptical of McWilliams' theory of the "golden mean": that we should strive for the most sustainable model of food production that can feed the most people worldwide, rather than looking for a more ideal solution. As his argument unfolded, however, I came to agree with...more
Laura
I certainly don't agree with the entirety of McWilliams' argument but I have been thinking a lot about many of his points - particularly about meat consumption. He's right that there is far more to responsible eating than just buying food that is grown/raised close by. The issue is far more complex than that.
Bob Holt
One of the most balanced, even-handed, and heavily-researched books on eating responsibly and environmentally out of the many I've read. Not as engaging as The Omnivore's Dilemma, but certainly more all-encompassing of the realities of food production.
Sally
Well researched and thought out, but quite dry. Feels like studying or reading someone else's dissertation, making it less accessible and therefore less effective.
Becky R.
Just Food is not for the faint of heart or causal reader. James E. McWilliams has written a strong argument about the misleading ideals being spread about the "locavore" movement and how it is causing consumers to vilify methods of production that could reduce costs and still save the environment. The book is heavy handed in its use of facts, data, and research, which gives it good backing, but makes for weighty reading.

McWilliams really has seven key arguments that he makes in the book:

* The...more
Julia
McWilliams takes down the environmentalist's sacred cows of food miles, organic, and grass-fed, and redeems the often demonized GMO foods and aquaculture, all in the name of finding a better way to evaluate the sustainability of global food production. When he finally gets down to the nuts and bolts of his argument it is solid, well-researched, and well-referenced. However, his writing still is a little tedious and simplistic. He restates his argument multiple times before offering details. He s...more
Loren
Goodreads Just Food four stars
I applaud this book. I thought because it was a few years old it would be outdated. Much to the contrary. It is a must read for anyone who claims to try to eat eco-responsibly. McWilliams is definitely the Skeptical Environmentalist of the food world, asking the tough questions and weighing a debate that should happen.
If you did not know that the world suddenly switching to a completely organic and localized food system on a global scale would result in mass starvat...more
Sandy D.
Interesting note: my copy of this book has the subtitle "Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly". I think this is a better subtitle than "How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food", but maybe danger sells better.

Anyway, this is an important, timely, and well-researched book, but is unfortunately not always the most gripping reading. McWilliams doesn't actually say that eating locally is always wrong, just that it is too simplistic and not always the best choice...more
David
This was a good, if not difficult, book for me to read. I am open to hearing different opinions on the subject of the future of food, agribusiness vs. organics, GM seeds, etc., and I was excited to read a well-written book by a local author. I also think it's an extremely important subject and set of challenges and I care deeply about food and the planet. But in the end, what I didn't like about this book had nothing to do with the opinions or proposals set before us by the author, but something...more
Nisha
Just Food
By James E. McWilliams
Little, Brown and Co., 222 pages, $29

It isn't easy telling people what they don't want to hear, but that is exactly what Texas history professor James E. McWilliams does in his latest book.

He attacks the locavore -- a person who seeks out locally grown and produced food -- and suggests their deep-rooted belief that local food can save the world is not only short-sighted but a luxury of the privileged western world.

In Just Food, McWilliams attempts to demonstrate ho...more
Anu Khosla
Really liked this book, this is a great next read for people who have read "Omnivore's Dilemma" and want another perspective on the issue of sustainable agriculture.

In particular, I thought his chapters on biotechnology and aquaculture were really great. I really appreciated that he tapped into where the environmental movement is sometimes at a crossroads with humanitarian and economic development goals.

Of course, there were points of disagreement for me with some of his ideas. In particular I...more
Katie
I picked up this book knowing that I probably would not agree with the content, but hoping that reading a different perspective would provide food for thought. The author introduces the book by describing his journey from a member of the locavore ideology to a more balanced view of food production. He wishes to provide arguments for a more balanced and global view of sustainable food production than can be provided by the elitist locavore movement. His first two chapters deal with problems assoc...more
Jessica N.
I was intrigued by the title of this book, and was happy to discover that I won it via a Goodreads giveaway! Thanks!
I've always wondered if eating "local" was as fabulous as people say. Living in Washington state, we have many "green" people touting the joys of responsible eating. People are huge on eating local. I appreciated the fact that now, after reading this book, I don't feel so guilty and irresponsible for buying food that has been shipped in from far away places. Yes, I'll buy that appl...more
Diane
I'm giving this book five stars because I learned so much from it. I've been an organic locavore foodie for a long time now, box-toting CSA member, a big Pollan fan, etc. But from McWilliams I got a much broader perspective on the food challenges facing the world's 7 billion-and-growing population, as well as a clear sense of how limited small local organic operations are in offering the hope of feeding all of us sustainably. (& how lucky are Southern Californians in the year-round growing s...more
Amber Anderson
Interesting...Never put that much thought into conventional vs. organic in terms of environmental impact, but now I that I know that organic yields are consistently lower than conventional yields, and that natural pesticides can be just as (if not more so) harmful as conventional ones, I opt for conventional produce more often.

Of course, people who babble about "food miles" are often motivated by concerns over globalization, or "our cultish attraction to the fetish of localism", but usually the...more
Chana
A real eye opener to the world-wide business of mass food production. Some scary stuff in here, the subsidiaries information is particularly upsetting. I will be keeping this one (rather than passing it on like I do most of my books) but it will be in bookstores soon and I would recommend it to everyone. (even though I personally am looking forward to putting my head back in the sand with a nice relaxing fictional murder mystery!) The information is pretty well-presented considering that it is a...more
Gloria
A book that is worthwhile to read/skim if you are interested in food in general.

That said, not too much new for me but still thought it worthwhile.

He takes on the thing that drives me nuts---the fetishizing of food miles---so that is great.

I think his chapter on aquaculture and aquaponics really really interesting, and probably the most informative for me.

Also, his commentary re grass-fed meat (better but still should be treated as caviar, and not a global solutions....) interesting.

Subtitle bug...more
Amanda Banks
I actually finished this book a few weeks ago, but wasn't sure how to review it initially. This isn't because I didn't like it: I actually loved it so much that I dramatically changed my eating habits after reading it. I think it's because I liked it so much that I didn't want to write an unworthy review.

The basic argument of the book is that the current emphasis in ethical eating on consuming "locally grown" food is wasteful, inefficient, unsustainable from both an environmental and population...more
Greg
It points to the seemingly obvious (in hindsight) conclusion that there is no 'simple' solution to the problem of sustainable eating. The point is made clearly and emphatically. I knew a lot of the objections to organic and local eating as a sustainability plan going in, but the main takeaway for me was how environmentally destructive it is to consume meat. Everyone has an idea that this is probably the case, but probably have little idea of how much of a negative impact this act has. For exampl...more
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McWilliams is a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. Books include Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly (Little, Brown) and A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America (Columbia University Press). His writing on food, agriculture, and animals has appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s, The Washington Post, Slate, Forbes, Travel an...more
More about James E. McWilliams...
A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America The Pecan: A History of America's Native Nut The Politics of the Pasture (ebook) How Two Cattle Inspired a National Debate about Eating Animals American Pests: The Losing War on Insects from Colonial Times to DDT Building the Bay Colony: Local Economy and Culture in Early Massachusetts

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“However close you can be to a vegan diet and further from the mean American diet, the better you are for the planet." quoted by Gidon Eshel (Bard College geographer)” 2 likes
“We instinctively feel an overwhelming desire to take sides: organic or conventional, fair or free trade, "pure" or genetically engineered food, wild or farm-raised fish. Like most things in life, though, the sensible answer lies somewhere between the extremes, somewhere in that dull but respectable placed called the pragmatic center. To be a centrist when it comes to food is, unfortunately, to be a radical.” 2 likes
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