Friday, April 8, 2016

What I've Been Reading: "Eat Local for Less" by Julie Castillo

A couple months ago, I was in the middle of reading Plastic-Free by Beth Terry (I’ve reviewed it here), and a theme that kept popping up in the text was this simple idea: if you want to reduce waste, eat local food. I was interested to learn more about “locavorism,” and decided to find out if our library had any books about it. The search engine led me to a promising title, and so I checked out Julie Castillo’s book Eat Local for Less: The Ultimate Guide to Opting Out of Our Broken Industrial Food System

Written in an engaging and zealous style, this book is part locavore manifesto and part rant, but mostly a detailed and informative guide to finding sources of local food, changing your diet habits to make use of what’s available in your region, and eating seasonally, sustainably, and humanely. 

Castillo begins by explaining the history of food and how it relates to society, using her background as an anthropologist to elaborate. She emphasizes that the industrial food system isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that a global food economy is vital to a planet with such a big population. But she also makes a compelling case for eating a mostly local diet, using a plethora of arguments, from “It saves fuel and transportation” to “It makes you more invested in your community” and everything in between. Through her writing, she paints a vivid picture of a life that is firmly rooted in the seasons, the community, and the local economy. 

The middle section of the book has a lot of excellent resources, such as a side-by-side comparison of places to buy local foods (farms, co-ops, farmer’s markets, your garden), ideas for how to find local food in your area, simple recipes with foods that are grown almost anywhere in the US, and tips about how to change your diet so that your grocery budget stays the same (hint: you have to eat completely differently). 

After that, a few chapters discuss cooking and gardening, but she freely admits that she’s still pretty new to both of these, so there weren’t as many helpful tips here. She then concludes the book with chapters about how local food encourages conservation and community, and how she thinks that local food impacts the world at large. There’s also a very defensive chapter about how everyone criticizes her and calls her names (it’s kind of amusing to read). But her final conclusion is uplifting, helping you vividly imagine her optimistic vision for the future.

All in all, I loved this book. The writing was vivid and accessible, giving me a lot of things to think about and helpful resources for continuing my journey. It helped me, more than ever, see the importance of supporting the local economy, and gave me motivation to take practical steps toward that— since then, I’ve spent hours online researching the different markets and farms in the area, and learned about a lot of places I never would have discovered otherwise. 

It also encouraged me to plug into my community more, which I’m still in the process of doing, from chatting with the neighbors (much easier when the weather is nice) to attending neighborhood meetings to voting in municipal elections. 

Finally, it made me believe in the importance of my home garden more than ever— because picking fresh tomatoes out of your backyard, being as local as you can possibly get, is a small but important way to take some of the demand off a huge and gas-guzzling food system.

Castillo is a visionary, and while I don’t always agree with everything she says, this book is definitely worth the read.


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