Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

Serious Reads: Change Comes to Dinner by Katherine Gustafson

Writer and journalist Katherine Gustafson became interested in food production through a spoonful of beans. They weren't just any beans—they were heirloom beans, soaked overnight and cooked to the perfect consistency with herbs and spices. With one bite, she knew those beans were different. She had to know what made them so special. She traces her journey in Change Comes to Dinner: How Vertical Farmers, Urban Growers, and Other Innovators are Revolutionizing How America Eats.

The quest to understand the origination of those heirloom beans led Gustafson around the country on a tour of sustainable food initiatives. She went out west to Missoula, Montana, where the University of Montana is working on sourcing more local food in its cafeterias. She traveled to Richmond, Virginia, where a local entrepreneur named Mark Lilly runs a mobile farm market. She networked with Nikki Henderson, the powerhouse director of the People's Grocery in Oakland, California.

Many of the leaders she met provided have novel ideas on finding and growing local food in order to build healthier communities. Some are cultivating new farmers through field education programs such as the Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society (PEAS) in Missoula. Others, such as Philadelphia's Roots to Reentry program, focus on rehabilitation and job training for members of under-served communities. And others still are focusing on larger-scale projects, such as Ed Osmun, who hopes to reform the way we slaughter meat and harvest seafood in the U.S.

Gustafson highlights some of the most promising agricultural ventures in the country. But because they are so promising, many of these stories have been told before. The organizations and individuals that Gustafson highlights are some of the bigger names in sustainable agriculture—people who are already making change and have gotten plenty of publicity. While uplifting, these stories did feel a bit tired. But even still,Change Comes to Dinner certainly provides a hopeful outlook for the future of sustainable food production. If you're looking for a helpful guide to the variety of ways in which people are changing the food system across the country, Gustafson's readable book is a nice synopsis.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.

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