James E. McWilliams' New Book Just Food

I rarely recommend books (frankly, what appeals to me may not to you, and vice versa), but I'm going to do so now.

First some background on the author: James E. McWilliams is a historian at Texas State University. He's written several books, one of which, A Revolution In Eating, is hands-down the single best history of American food written by anyone. (Alas, it's a history of colonial American foodways. I sure wish he'd write a history of 19th and 20th century food.) (*2) (*3)

His latest book is Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. The subtitle is misleading --- the chapter on "where locavores get it wrong" is just that: a single chapter in a 200-plus page book. (*1)

Instead, this is a brilliant, thoughtful analysis of the complexities of the modern global food system, with equally thoughtful ideas about how we can change the food system in order to improve the quality of the climate and thus life on planet earth.

Those looking for a Pollanesque polemic (or a paean to the pleasures of gardening, heirloom tomatoes, and farmer's markets) will have to go elsewhere. Instead, Just Food explores the substantive research, scientific and otherwise, being conducted around the world as farmers, economists, agronomists, and the like try to figure out where modern food systems went wrong and what to do about it (oh, and still feed the world.) (No problem; we'll have the answers by Friday...)

Yes, because I was familiar with McWilliams' earlier work, and because I am a historian myself, I was predisposed to this book even before it came out. It does not disappoint (plus, McWilliams is a terrific writer; in other hands, this might have been a cruel snore; in his hands, it's a lively engaging narrative).

But because he is a historian, he approaches his material the way we historians do: by taking the Long View of the Big Picture. As a result, his analysis and his conclusions are considerably more substantive and thoughtful than what usually passes for discussion about the "food situation." (*4)

So --- if you're interested in learning more about the "food situation"; if you're wondering why Time magazine's recent cover story was about food; if you're interested in the climate crisis or life on planet earth, or, hey, your stomach, read this book.

_____________ *1: It's entirely possible that McWilliams didn't even choose that title. You'd be amazed at what happens once a book goes into production. I was surprised as hell to by the subtitle of my beer book.

*2: There are several excellent historical studies of American food in those eras, but I'd still love to see McWilliams' take on it.

*3: Full disclosure: I do not know McWilliams; I only know his work.

*4: As I've noted here before, I avoid using the phrase "food crisis."

A Guy After My Own (Fat) Heart

"Fat" is so unhip. So so so unhip. Just like me. That's not why I like fat. (After all, what's the point of trying to be unhip? The minute you try, you're not, if you know what I mean.)

I like fat because fat is good. Good for you; good to eat. Sounds weird, eh? Especially in these don't-eat-that-it'll-kill-you days. But the human body wants and needs fat. Just like it wants and needs cholesterol.

Of course what it wants/needs is REAL fat and cholesterol, not the fake shit that'll kill you. And which does not taste good.

So I'm delighted to find a kindred spirit in the form of Zachary Cohen, who urges us all to eat more fat. Plus, his blog is one of those only-in-the-age-of-the-internet things: a blog devoted to the "emerging American meal."

Although to be precise, the blog is itself a spinoff of a television program Zachary is producing, "Farm to Table." Good stuff all around (especially for me, who am spending much of my time thinking about American food, albeit in a historical perspective). Give it a look.

Brits' Views on Drinking, Class, and Other Matters

Astute Reader Dexter (our man-on-the-beach in Hawaii) sends along a group of links to some fascinating discussions about beer, beer's image, and other matters -- from a British perspective.

As always, make sure to read the comments posted at each entry; those make some of the best reading.

First this from the Real Ale Blog.

Then this from Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog.

The estimable Pete Brown also weighs in here.

And this, too, from Pete.

To that last entry from Pete, Dexter adds his own punchline: a terrific riff of Aquarius" --- and, presumably, my own recent series titled Is This the Age of E-Quarius?

Golden liquid dreams of visions Mystic hoppy revelations And the mind's true libations

Love it! Major tip o' the mug to Dexter for taking the time. (And sorry I didn't get to this sooner. Was focused on correcting all those dead links. Which, I might add, have been repaired.)

Must-Reads for Monday Morning: Microbrews, Drugs, and Journalists

How's that for a snappy title on the first Monday of daylight savings time?

From Stan: this bittersweet "turn out the lights" nod to newsmaking.

This on why we need to legalize illegal drugs (tip o' the mug to Jacob Grier).

And finally, from the folks at Reasontv, a subset of the Reason Foundation (which is, if I understand it correctly, one of the marketing partners for the upcoming fim Beer Wars): a short video about beer, consumer choice, and, er, revolution? More or less. It's short on factual accuracy, but hey, I'm used to that and besides, it features Jay Brooks (and a bunch of other good guys).