Recipe for America

by Jill Richardson

Reviewed September 2009 by Tracie Butler-Kurth, Community Membership Coordinator.

A few weeks ago, CISA had the pleasure of hosting Jill Richardson, founder of the blog La Vida Locavore, when she was in New England touting her recently published book “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We can Do to Fix It.” Jill met with CISA community members during a reception at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls and spoke extensively about her book during the public portion of her evening.

While the book does not reveal any startling new approaches to sustaining agriculture, Jill quickly and easily unpacks the work of Marion Nestle, Michael Pollan and others. She brings you along on the journey she took from being a “starving” graduate student to healthcare software analyst and finally to blogger and food activist. As she weaves through the complex reasons for the difficulties in tracing our food sources, Jill aptly points out that some market barriers were erected to cut competition, some naively created to protect us from bad food, and some developed in concert with our migration to urban/suburban lives.

Rather than espousing that everyone make immediate or drastic changes in their diet, Jill implores us to examine the food on our plates and consider the ramifications of knowing so little about what we are putting in our mouths. We are a health food obsessed nation, worrying about calorie counts, sodium levels, and trans fats. Yet Jill points out American waistlines continue to grow along with childhood obesity rates. For this reason, she believes that any improvements to our food system must begin with schools having access to and funding for healthy, locally grown food (preferably organic). As a society we need to re-learn how to eat. If we can make the system work for schools, we can make it work for other large-scale markets. Jill also advocates for requiring large, industrialized farms to conform to common sense regulations even if it means the food they produce will cost more. For example, she writes, “sending factory farm manure to sewage treatment plans would undoubtedly be more expensive for factory farm owners, but part of the cost of raising livestock should be the cost of properly disposing of their waste.” Once a resource that helped to build farm fertility, manure from industrial-scale operations is now a waste product-and a hazardous one, at that.

As the mother of an energetic and attention-seeking three-year old, I was glad for the book’s conversational tone and straightforward information. And meeting Jill in person helped me see past some of the book’s limitations. For example, Jill admitted that she should have included a section about the importance of cooperative grocery stores between the ones on farmers’ markets and Whole Foods Market (she has a love/hate relationship with the corporation). A feisty young woman in her late 20s, Jill’s grasp for the complex issues surrounding a sustainable food system becomes apparent the moment she opens her mouth. She talks swiftly and easily about bits and pieces of currently pending legislation, the pros and cons of each bill and its overall impact on our broken food system.

If you want to know more about how CISA’s work on the local level fits into the national scope, pick up a copy of Recipe for America (from a locally owned, independent book store, of course).