The Austin Chronicle

Food, Foodies, Foodways

Cookbooks and cultural conversation starters top our summer reading list

Reviewed by Anna Toon, May 23, 2014, Food

Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

by Douglas Gayeton
Harper Design, 272 pp., $35

Douglas Gayeton took his daughter to Devil's Gulch in Marin County, Calif. Looking forward to introducing her to spawning salmon – the yearly event he joyously witnessed as a child – Gayeton was in for a disheartening revelation. There were no salmon.

Devastated by water pollution, land mismanagement, and urban sprawl, the salmon ground had collapsed. A distinct microcosm and signifier of the dangers of environmental degradation, the salmon episode inspired Gayeton's mission to travel the country over the course of three years learning from the foremost leaders in food and farming. Interviews with Alice Waters, Temple Grandin, Polyface Farms' guru Joel Salatin, and many other farmers, fishermen, and artisans comprise this incredibly dense guide to understanding sustainable agriculture.

With this book component of the Lexicon of Sustainability (, the massively crowd-sourced project, which includes the award-winning short-film project with PBS aptly titled "Know Your Food," Gayeton's objective is to provide as much information as possible. Additional multimedia content can be activated through smartphones, mobile devices, or tablets, and over 200 terms are decoded, seamlessly woven amongst interviews and anecdotes. As conversational as it is informative, Local serves as a valuable resource for greenhorns first learning about food miles and community-supported agriculture as well as seasoned advocates wanting to explore food hubs and cooperative distribution.

Divided into seven sections, the book is easily navigated and quickly devoured. Examining everything from GMOs and seed sovereignty to the politics of food and knowing your farmer, Gayeton advocates for crucial changes in the industrial food system. As environmental activist Vandana Shiva notes in the book, "either an alternative food system will be created or the Americans will kill themselves, either from not having food or having bad food." But make no mistake: Local is about climate change. According to Gayeton, every photograph, interview, and statistic, every page of his creation, is about explaining climate change. Advising conversations within the community as a way to build consensus and create reform, Gayeton writes, "Your words can change the world." It's all interconnected, after all.

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