A Review of Two Recent Books on Food:
A Food Road Map.
Kirstin Vander-Giessen Reitsma, ed.
Culture is Not Optional, 2008.
[ Culture Is Not Optional ]
How Organic Farming
Can Heal Our Planet,
Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe.
Rodale Press, 2010.
[ Amazon ]
The recent book EAT WELL: A FOOD ROAD MAP, published by Culture is Not Optional and edited by Kirstin Vander-Giessen Reitsma is a fabulous anthology that reflects on the Church’s various connections with the food that sustains us. Like any good diet — for the mind or the stomach — EAT WELL benefits from its diversity: essays, poetry, art, recipes, theology, an interview and even a couple of delightful lists of food-related resources for the Church, including one culled by bibliophile-extraordinaire Byron Borger. The pieces that are collected here serve well to ignite our imaginations and to open portals to new worlds of redemptive cooking and eating. Although there is much excellent work offered here, the most-thought provoking pieces were Sylvia Keesmat’s essay “Gardening in the Empire” (Sylvia is co-author with her husband Brian Walsh of COLOSSIANS REMIXED) and Laryn Kraggt-Bakker’s essay on dumpster diving as a redemptive practice. EAT WELL is a must-read book for those of us in the church who are committed to following the redemptive way of Christ in all we do.
On the other hand, for those who have not thought too much about the food they eat and where it comes from, Maria Rodale’s ORGANIC MANIFESTO is an eye-opening account of the ways that conventional methods of farming are posioning us and our ecosystems. I should be clear that ORGANIC MANIFESTO is not a book for those who have read the works of Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Wendell Berry and others and are familiar with all the food-related dangers of American culture. Rather, Rodale, representing a third generation of Rodales advocating for good, organic food and healthy living, makes a case to the larger culture — as her father and grandfather did — for organic farming and eating. Rodale has a wonderful high-level grasp of the complexity of the food-related sins of American culture and is at her best when pleading for systemic changes to our food systems: making pleas for changes to government, business, agriculture, economists and consumers. However, at the same time, her aguments can be overly simplistic and optimistic about what can be acheived simply by organic farming. For instance, there is only a dissmissive reference here to the absurd politics of “organic” labeling, which leads most farmers who practice sustainable agriculture, at least here in central Indiana, while agreeing with the basic tenets of organic farming, to resist the official “organic” label. ORGANIC MANIFESTO, works well as simply that, a manifesto, an introductory work that raises awareness, highlights the basic problems and calls for change.