Our Food and Farming Book Picks for Summer 2022
Farming for Our Future: The Science, Law, and Policy of Climate-Neutral Agriculture
By Peter H. Lehner and Nathan A. Rosenberg
Thanks to academic language, copious citations, and deep policy nuance, Farming for Our Future will strike some readers as a straightforward research report. However, the sweeping changes that the authors propose represent a radical—and, many would argue, completely necessary—reimagining of federal farm policy, centered on climate action. After outlining the basic science, introducing stakeholders, and explaining the benefits and drawbacks of various climate-friendly farm practices and systems, Lehner and Rosenberg offer suggestions for aligning farm bill programs with carbon farming practices. They propose updates to crop insurance, requiring farmers who receive commodity payments to adopt climate-friendly practices, and the implementation of payments for ecosystem services. Conservation programs, they write, should dedicate more dollars to carbon farming practices while reducing or eliminating payments to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). As they point out, other government agencies and lawmakers can contribute to the goal of lessening agriculture’s climate impact: The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, could use its regulatory oversight under the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions from large CAFOs, and fertilizer fees could be written into tax policy to reduce overapplication of nitrogen. Finally, Lehner and Rosenberg tackle policy changes beyond the farm gate, such as incorporating climate impacts into federal dietary guidelines, procurement, and food assistance programs. While their suggestions are ambitious, the authors point out that agriculture is—and long has been—an industry shaped and subsidized by government dollars. Shaping it to adapt to and help mitigate the climate crisis, then, is simply a matter of priorities.
Ocean Cookbook 2022: Fish for Tonight, and for Tomorrow
By the Marine Stewardship Council
Make it a fish night. Thanks to The Marine Stewardship, it’s never been easier. This free, online cookbook features 18 seafood recipes such as one for a herbed hake polpettes by Cape Town-based cookbook author and food stylist Georgia East and another for Sylt blue mussels by German fisher and cook Jan Schot. Chefs and sustainable fishers created each of the recipes as a way to highlight sustainable, less popular options. Global seafood consumption has outpaced all other animal proteins, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and it is expected to double by 2050. But just like with other animal proteins, not all seafood is created equal, and The Ocean Cookbook highlights a range of fish and shellfish while subtly outlining the importance of knowing where your fish comes from and eating a wide variety of seafood. “As a child, I sometimes heard about fishermen who returned after a few days at sea without a catch,” writes Chef Dagny Ros in the recipe for Fish Balls with Remoulade Sauce and Cucumber Spaghetti. “I thought those were terrible stories. Nobody wants empty seas. Because of nature and our food, but also for our children, who may want to become fishermen themselves.” Most of the recipes take 10 steps or less to complete, and each includes information about the featured fish as well as tips for what fish to substitute if need be—if you can’t find haddock, for example, Hoki or ling will also work.
What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health
By David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé
If you eat animal-based foods, it’s common enough to pay attention to what those animals eat—i.e., grass versus feedlot corn. But what about our vegetables—does it matter what they eat? In the fascinating book What Your Food Ate, intellectual power couple Anne Biklé (a biologist) and David R. Montgomery (a geologist) document the salubrious impact that healthy soil has on vegetables. Curious, they did an experiment on their own garden in Seattle. After nourishing the lifeless glacial till in their backyard with compost, organic mulches, and cover crops for a decade, they submitted a sample of kale grown there to a lab. Not only did it have far higher levels of calcium, zinc, and folic acid than the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutritional standards for conventionally grown kale, it also contained 31 parts per million of sulforaphane, a cancer-fighting phytochemical. The couple writes about their own research and marshals evidence from no-till and regenerative farms from Connecticut to California, collecting soil samples and vegetables and testing them at the lab. Consistently, they found that farmers who don’t till their soil and who apply compost and manure (and no chemical fertilizers) not only have much higher soil organic matter but their vegetables contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Today, most farms in the U.S.—even organic ones—grow food in intensely tilled soil, which kills the mycorrhizal fungal life below the ground that transmits nutrients to plants. And conventional farms add chemical fertilizers and pesticides to that equation, further stripping the soil of life. Could a diet of the resulting nutrient-poor crops partially explain the dramatic increase in autoimmune conditions and other chronic diseases we see across America today? The science is still unclear, but Montgomery and Biklé build a convincing case: What our vegetables eat matters a great deal.
The Regenerative Garden: 80 Practical Projects for Creating a Self-sustaining Garden Ecosystem
By Stephanie Rose
What would a garden look like if you left it without care—without water, weeding, or fertilization—for a full year? When Stephanie Rose, master gardener, author, creator of the Garden Therapy website, asks most people this question, they describe a sad, forsaken place: dried out, pest-ridden, diseased, or dying. When she asks the same question about a garden space ignored for 10 years, however, she gets a much more verdant description, of a place returned to its natural ecosystem, full of plants and wildlife that thrive without human interference. In her new book, The Regenerative Garden, Rose lays out ways to create the second kind of home-garden environment, one that thrives on its own, with minimal work from the gardener. With vibrant, instructive photographs, Rose provides step-by-step instructions for DIY garden projects related to six areas: soil, water, plants, climate, ethics, and community. Some of the permaculture projects are foundational—such as how to amend your soil with compost or cover crops, save seeds, build a trellis, and grow a bee border—while others are more specific and involved, such as how to train trees or shrubs to grow up vertical surfaces or create an olla water catchment system. While some of the projects will require additional research to execute, this book serves as a solid starting point. Rose takes cost into account—encouraging gardeners to use clear umbrellas to create a mini-greenhouses, for example—and offers a supportive, non-judgmental tone throughout. “Any steps toward regeneration are the right steps,” she writes. “The goal here is not perfection, it’s progress.”
Iwígara: American Indian Ethnobotanical Traditions and Science
By Enrique Salmón
More than 20 years ago, a pair of botanists suggested that humans were predisposed to “plant blindness”—a phenomenon in which people seem chronically incapable of recognizing, or appreciating, the verdant flora around them. But this idea may be less a human tendency than a modern affliction of those growing up in a Western world disconnected from the plants that have fed, clothed, sheltered, adorned, and healed Indigenous peoples for time untold. In Iwígara, ethnobotantist Enrique Salmón offers an antidote to plant blindness: kinship, which is behind the indigenous Rarámuri concept of iwígara. “Knowing that I am related to everything around me and share breath with all living things helps me to focus on my responsibility to honor all forms of life,” he writes in the introduction. Drawing on his own Rarámuri heritage, Salmón profiles 80 plants with particular cultural importance to the diverse Indigenous peoples of North America, highlighting everything from the familiar ash trees and beans in our yards to the fuchsia florets of the Joe Pye weed and the shining red fruit of the bearberry. He aims to bridge the gap between botanical encyclopedias, listing requisite information for identifying and using each plant, and the storytelling typical of passing on Indigenous knowledge. The result is delightful portraits of the intimate and ongoing relationships between plants and their Indigenous stewards—and an invitation to become better acquainted with our photosynthesizing relatives.
Bright Green Future: How Everyday Heroes Are Reimagining the Way We Feed, Power, and Build Our World
By Gregory Schwartz, Ph.D., and Trevor Decker Cohen
The idea underlying this short, hope-filled book is simple: Highlight the positive changes taking place in four crucial areas of human existence. Tackling energy, industry, cities, and farms, the authors have chronicled dozens of effective, high-impact, and often community-driven innovations that have gotten results and offer the potential to inspire even greater change. Regular Civil Eats readers will recognize a number of familiar names, places, and organizations in this book—David Montgomery, Pine Ridge Reservation, Planting Justice, the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, Rebecca Burgess, Leah Penniman and Soul Fire Farm, and others all make appearances in the short chapters dedicated to innovations in food, farming, and community. But anyone looking for a refreshing bit of good news and some optimism about pockets of change in the world—whether from decarbonizing fashion, the building of agrihoods, or the undertaking of guerrilla neighborhood-improvement tactics—will benefit from reading this book cover to cover.
Philanthrocapitalism and the Erosion of Democracy: A Global Citizens Report on the Corporate Control of Technology, Health, and Agriculture
Edited by Vandana Shiva
In a world where many efforts are strapped for cash, philanthropic infusions into projects designed to do good seem like a necessary ingredient. In Philanthrocapitalism and The Erosion of Democracy, however, Dr. Vandana Shiva—a physicist, ecologist, and fearless advocate for biodiversity, conservation, and farmer’s rights—argues otherwise. Instead of bowing to world of philanthropy, Shiva not only questions it but outlines the harm she believes it has done, chiefly how many individuals have effectively coalesced into a singular force that has oversized control of our food, seeds, agriculture, and even our global health systems in the name of profit and market expansion. Shiva’s book offers a citizen’s report on the power of some of the world’s most powerful philanthropists, including Bill and Melinda Gates, and points to the often-failed solutions they peddle, as well as the extent to which she sees them moving our planet towards ecological collapse. Readers will never be able to look at philanthropy the same again—and it becomes clear throughout the book that this reality check is critical if we’re to do anything about it.
No Farms, No Food: Uniting Farmers and Environmentalists to Transform American Agriculture
By Don Stuart
Every five years, Congress authorizes the farm bill, the $1 trillion sprawling legislative package that determines the nation’s food programs and agricultural policies. On the cusp of the farm bill’s renewal in 2023 comes No Farms, No Food, a survey of the behind-the-scenes advocacy of American Farmland Trust (AFT). For more than 40 years, this national organization has built a coalition of farmers and environmentalists with the mission to protect U.S. farmland while improving agricultural practices. Based on its ongoing signature study, Farms Under Threat, the group has rallied for policy changes to address the alarming loss of agricultural lands and, more recently, the risks of climate change. Author Don Stuart, a former regional director with AFT, traces the nonprofit’s evolution from the 1980s farm crisis to today’s spiraling economic and environmental challenges to the food system. He shares the organization’s policy-making playbook along with summaries of its collaborative initiatives with farmers, land trusts, environmental groups, and local governments around the country. While it cleanly presents just one perspective, No Farms, No Food offers a sweeping history of the conservation agriculture movement.
The Blue Revolution: Hunting, Harvesting, and Farming Seafood in the Information Age
By Nicholas P. Sullivan
Over the last 20 years, scallop fishermen off the coast of New England have gone from being hunters to harvesters who rotate scallop beds to protect the health of the stock—and the Atlantic scallop industry is now regarded as a $600 million success story. But as Nicholas P. Sullivan details in The Blue Revolution, the industry’s outlook was bleak in the 1990s, when East Coast scallop landings took a nosedive. Their numbers rebounded after local waters were closed and fishermen, scientists, and academics teamed up to test survey techniques and collect data, paving the way for more responsible scallop fishery management. The nation’s oldest industry is now getting a big assist from the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s smart technology, i.e., robotics and satellite imagery to improve visibility into the health of seafood populations and help stakeholders manage them more sustainably. While the book provides a sometimes sobering snapshot of how humans have decimated populations of Atlantic Cod and other fish, it also illuminates new models that are being tested in New England, providing important lessons for fishing regions around the world.
How We Eat: The Brave New World of Food and Drink
By Paco Underhill
Did you know that blockchain technology is being used to trace lettuce heads from the field to the supermarket shelves? Or that the lighting that illuminates the eggplants and cucumbers in your supermarket aisle has been designed to give them a little extra shine? In How We Eat, author Paco Underhill, who made a successful career in consulting for international food companies, takes us behind the scenes of how our food is grown, distributed, and sold through the colorful stories that he has collected over his career. The book is a deep dive into the food ecosystem from seed to table through the lens of producers and key stakeholders. Readers meet a Walmart executive who shares a banana’s journey grocery store shelf. We tour a modern-day supermarket and gain insight into why “tomatoes look like rubies” and “limes look like emeralds.” And we meet a vast spectrum of characters including Tobias Peggs the founder and CEO of SquareRoots, a Brooklyn-based indoor farm. Despite its conversational and breezy tone, there is an underlying immediacy to Underhill’s book. To begin with, growers face pressure to produce enough food for our burgeoning global population—an estimated 10 billion by 2050. Fortunately, solutions are woven throughout the book. “Thanks to technology, we can know everything about our food, including where it was grown, how, and by whom,” Underhill writes. “We no longer ignore the inequities and the cruelties in our food chain.”
An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts
By the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection
In 1887, back before photography was common, the USDA wanted to create a national register of fruits for its newly formed Division of Pomology. The idea was to help the country’s growers accurately identify fruit and nut varietals as the science of plant breeding and production was becoming established. The agency hired botanical painter William Henry Prestele to create scientifically accurate illustrations of fruits and nuts, and over the next 40 years, it commissioned 65 other watercolor artists, including a significant number of women, to join him. Between 1886 and 1942, the group produced a collection of near 7,500 entries, the most compelling of which appear in An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts. A bright orange hardback book printed on high quality paper, the Catalog opens with an introduction by Adam Leith Gollner, author of The Fruit Hunters, and closes with excerpts of fruit-centered pieces by Michael Pollan and John McPhee. Its near 384 pages contain more than 300 full-page illustrations of apples, pears, grapes, citruses, berries, melons, tropical fruits, and nuts. For each specimen, we see various views—including a cross-section revealing its pit or seeds—often accompanied by notes relaying interesting details about the fruit or its painter. The illustrations are scientific, but they’re also works of art, and flipping through the coffee-table-style book can be an education, a meditation, and a pleasure.