Book Review - Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It

Jill Richardson’s Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It, is the book for people who care about food and want to do more. This densely packed, surprisingly quick read will transform readers from interested to advocate, seamlessly.

Richardson began her own journey with the seemingly simple question "Why has obesity become so prevalent over the past twenty years?" for a post on the political blog, Daily Kos. Six hundred comments later, it was clear that a discussion of food and farm policy, and its relationship to the growing obesity epidemic, was one that readers were ready to have. The conversation continues today on Richardson’s blog La Vida Locavore.

After much time spent devouring leading titles on the topic, Richardson came to two conclusions: the obesity problem is inextricably linked to the development of the modern, global industrial food system; and no author had yet penned a lay person’s guide to fixing the problem. As a practitioner of the full immersion approach to exploring complicated problems, Richardson offers a slightly shorter route for those looking to jump in with both feet. "Recipe for America is the book I wish I could have read three years ago, when I first began pondering America’s problem with obesity," she wrote.

Like any good concoction, Recipe for America starts with a review of the basics: our experiences as eaters and shoppers, and why it can be hard to find "good food"; sustainable agriculture as a long-term solution; lessons learned from the Organic Standards; and an overview of the organizations at the heart of the sustainable agriculture and food systems movement. With the basics well understood, Richardson guides her readers to the main course: what we can do to fix the problem.

While the idea of exploring policy change might send some readers back to more standard comfort food, Recipe for America neither overwhelms nor intimidates with its recommendations. Rather, Richardson proposes a series of small tweaks or improvements within the current system, whose ripple effects would greatly bolster efforts to grow regional, sustainable, food systems. Still sound a little lofty? It’s not. In fact, the Cliff’s Notes might read something like this:

Food labels should give nutritional details. For example, GMOs yes or no, rBGH yes or no, country of origin, and additives yes or no and, if yes, what? Food labels should also jive with FDA recommendations.

Food safety policy should make our food safer and work for the farmers who grow our food. Safe food does not contribute to antibiotic resistance or risk spreading mad cow disease. The safety of our food supply should be regulated by one agency with no conflicts of interest in protecting the health of the general public.

Children should have access to good food. Unhealthy food should not be marketed to children by corporations or their schools. "Kid" foods should not contain added sugars, food dyes, or other additives that have been directly connected to health and behavioral problems.

Farming and processing should be safe for and respectful of workers and animals.

The Farm Bill should be changed to promote the growing and eating of healthful foods. Enough said.

Richardson’s ultra-practical analysis of current food and farm policy gives the impression of an attainable revolution. In conclusion, she asks: "Can we do it? Can we turn our currently unsustainable food system, a system that is unfair to workers, bad for our health, cruel to animals and destructive to our environment, into one that treats workers fairly, respects human and animal rights, nourishes our bodies and renews the land?" Her answer: "While none of the ideas I have talked about in this book will happen all by themselves, with a strong organized and sustained effort from citizens who are tired of a bad food system that profits the few at the expense of the many, we can make a sustainable food system a reality."

Far from leaving her readers overfull, Jill Richardson’s down to earth approach tackles the task of empowering her audience with such concrete swiftness that they will no doubt be ready to don an apron and RSVP to her invitation to take back the food system and food democracy – right after dinner.

 

footnotes

    Jill Richardson's Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It, is the book for people who care about food and want to do more. This densely packed, surprisingly quick read will transform readers from interested to advocate, seamlessly.