Book Review: The Town That Food Saved

Book Review: The Town That Food Saved

May 26

Book cover for The Town That Food Saved by Ben HewittI’ve been working on this book for a while, reading chapters intermittently between all the other books and magazines on my plate. (Perhaps you remember Laura’s initial post on this book, after we first heard about it?)

Originally, Laura and I sought out this book after a friend mentioned Hardwick, Vermont, a small town that is trying to be a model for local food economies throughout the United States. After a few entrepreneurial individuals (they call themselves agrepreneurs) decided to make an example of Hardwick’s agricultural society, the town received a whirlwind of press coverage. The New York Times printed a feature on the town, and Dan Rather even did a television special on it.

Although we assumed that The Town That Food Saved by Ben Hewitt would contain an in-depth look at how the town functions, how it produces local food, we realized after the first few chapters that we were mistaken. It’s a well-written piece of literature, with some great character profiles in it, and it raises some very interesting questions. (What should a local food economy look like? Can local food really provide the bulk of every Americans calories? How do we make local food cater to all classes?) Unfortunately, Hewitt never examines that details that makes Hardwick tick. He doesn’t talk in numbers and figures, in schematics or business plans or distribution methods. Instead,  he speculates philosophically for pages at a time, asking his readers questions to which he himself doesn’t know the answers.

The most useful and informative content in the book is Hewitt’s quasi-journalistic glimpse behind the curtain of Hardwick’s media-driven facade. It seems that not everyone – in fact, not even most people – in and around Hardwick are on board with making their region an example for an entire nation. There are serious doubts about the quantity of local production, about the motives of the ‘agrepreneurs’ who are acting as mouthepieces to the media, and about the ability of Hardwick’s largely-low-class population to support anything other than the lowest price.

While I appreciate the many new ideas, concepts and possibilities introduced in this book, I also feel that it was just a glorified newspaper article. It lacked the depth I was hoping for, and built up a lot of unknowns with no resolution or solution. If I have taken anything solid from this book, it’s these two things:

  1. Compost is extremely important, both for life and for a local food cycle. It’s also, at its heart, a very subversive act in corporate America. Our agriculture is dependent — this is not hyperbole — on synthetic inputs, all of which are manufactured by private companies and subsidized by the government. Composting can reduce or eliminate our need for those. Compost, in a very real way, can make us independent more than growing our own food or spending our money on local producers.
  2. There is no blueprint for a healthy local food system. I desperately want to play a part in making Orlando’s food system more sustainable (and more delicious, of course). As with anything I build or assemble, my first instinct is to read the directions. In this case, I feel somewhat lost and powerless, because there ARE no directions. What needs to be done? What needs to happen first? Who needs to be involved? These are questions I’m on a mission to answer…

2 comments

  1. Deborah Sheehy

    Have you picked up the new book by Robin Mathers, The Feast Nearby? Here’s a link for one of the interviews. Looks like a solid book with ‘some’ of the depth you’re looking for. She has a way with words. http://www.takepart.com/news/2011/05/25/the-feast-nearby-self-preservation-through-barteri ng-foraging-eating-locally-and-keeping-chickens

    • Laura V.

      Thanks, Deborah. We just purchased it for our Nooks after reading your comment. It sounds like it’s right up our alley!

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