James E McWilliams wrote Just Food for someone just like me.
Since 2014, I’ve had a stand at farmer’s markets in DC. During that time, I’ve spent countless days engaging with customers committed to purchasing ethically grown food products.
I’ve also worked with local farmers and purchased almost exclusively from organic farms. The effort paid off handsomely in 2015, when Fruitive became the United States’ first certified organic fast-casual restaurant.
But how much of a dent has my dedication to buying local organic produce really made in the environmental damage modern food production is doing?
Not as much as I hoped, when seen through Just Food’s globally-focused lens. As James so bluntly expresses it:
“Going local, in light of it all, is akin to making sure that everything is fine in our own neighborhood and then turning ourselves into a gated community.”
Using local suppliers does cut down on the energy needed to transport our food. But according to James, transportation accounts for only 11 percent of all food-related energy usage.
Just Food takes a scalpel-sharp look at how much energy is expended on a host of agricultural or other food-production methods,
It presents alarming statistics on the amount of fossil fuel expended during different phases of a food’s “life cycle.” They’re from Rich Pirog, director of Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems:
• Production and processing, 45.6 percent
• Restaurant preparation, 15.8 percent
• Home preparation, 25 percent.
This part of the discussion ends with a quote from Environmental Science and Technology:
“… although food is transported long distances in general… the… [greenhouse gas] emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase.”
So what is the most effective way to feed the world while protecting the environment?
Just Food does answer that question, but not without a struggle on James’ part. When he started writing, he never thought his research would convince him to give up meat. In fact, he looked hard for a reason keep eating it.
But in the end, he acknowledges, “Regrettably, I could find none, and thus I’m left to argue that if you want to start changing the environment with your diet, one of the most productive things you can do is quit eating meat.”
While sight of a BBQ restaurant still plunges him into a “Pavlovian meltdown,” James insists “I’ve grown fiercely dedicated to my choice, because I know that a diet that’s almost exclusively plant-based has direct environmental consequences for the better.”
Although sourcing my restaurants’ food locally might not have as great an environmental impact as I’d hoped, reading Just Food has affirmed me in an even more important way.
I now know that nothing I’ve done has mattered more than committing my business to be 100-percent plant based. I also have the facts I need to reconsider the best approaches to sustainable global food production.
James McWilliams has written a very important book!