Once upon a time in America we were all promised a future where there would be “better living through chemistry”. Well here we are. It’s the future. And the better living future we’re experiencing is chock full of unexpected consequences.
Jill Richardson’s new book, Recipe For America, is filled with stories about those consequences. As a contributor with Daily Kos and La Vida Locavore, she’s made her mark covering issues that relate to the food chain. She gets the connections between obesity and the current health care crisis. She makes the connections between policy and reality. And she’s offered up a paperback that backs up the horror stories with plans, goals and resources so that those of us who care about these issues can begin the process of taking our food chain out of the hands of those who put profits before people.
I sat down with Jill last week in San Diego to talk about the release of her book and her plans for the future. She explained to me that the purpose in writing the book was to help people make the connection between the sorts of personal actions they’re making (like planting gardens & buying organic) and the broader policy issues that have led to a crisis that has implications for the entire planet.
All this better living we’ve been sold means that, along with the facade that we’re “eatin’ good in the neighborhood”, the obesity rate for Americans more than doubled over the last three decades—and it tripled for children aged 6 – 11. Four of the top ten leading causes of death are directly related to diet. Our per-person expenditures for health care have also doubled over the last three decades. Pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and chemical residues are all implicated in complex health issues that appear to be connected to the seemingly limitless choices available in the supermarket aisles and chain restaurants of our nation.
One thing is for sure: all this better living is killing us.
Oh, and, by the way, it’s our fault.
At least that’s what the overlords of agribusiness and their food processing compadres would like us to believe. They have benefited by the lessons learned by big companies in their fifty year fight to save the tobacco industry in the face of an obvious public health threat. So now we’re now hearing lots of food industry rhetoric about “consumer choice”, CongressCritters are stalling for “further studies”, and spokespersons are hard at work denouncing, delaying and denying the ever increasing amount of data pointing towards the possibility their products and processes are poisoning us. They’ve learned well.
Jill Richardson certainly didn’t plan on a life of activism. As a healthcare software analyst, she was headed towards a life of working with medical professionals, demonstrating and teaching solutions that could make a difference in that field. As part of her work, she gained insight into the everyday problems faced by healthcare professionals. She kept hearing doctors telling the same stories over and over again about their patients; the fact was they spent most of their time dealing with chronic illnesses that were lifestyle related like high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Her subsequent research on dietary factors related to those chronic illnesses led to publication of a piece at Daily Kos entitled “Vegetables of Mass Destruction: Food, Poverty and Environmental Edition”. The response to the diary was remarkable—hundreds of readers left comments—and, although she didn’t know it yet, Jill was headed down a new path. Over the next couple of years she expanded her work to include a weekly column and started her own blog. What started out primarily as book research and internet searches grew to include field research and an ever-increasing network of contacts willing to help her dig for facts. Questions about our national diet led to an understanding that the industrialization of food had consequences that went way beyond the supermarket.
At the 2007 Netroots Conference, she landed the book deal. It’s just been published, and she’s soon headed off on a book tour, starting in San Diego on August 2nd. The first event, scheduled at Sea Rocket Bistro, is already booked solid and a second night has been added. (Contact them here for more info). Other dates on the tour can be found here.
LaVidaLocavore.org’s influence has already been included mentions on television and mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times. While quite modest about her accomplishments thus far, Jill’s passion for the cause and dedication to energizing the movement are undeniable. She’s already begun contemplating the global implications of US food policy in light of the historic agribusiness domination in our domestic corridors of power.
The corporate media push back on Recipe For America has already begun. Barnes & Noble booksellers are refusing to sell the book—I even tried placing a “special order” with them. There have already been a number of “trade” reviews that are shockingly similar in language and content, as if they’d been written from a script.
Recipe for America is not an exposé—although there are plenty of stories illustrating the consequences wrought upon people as the result of the current state of affairs in the food industry. It’s more like a tool kit, designed to give us a hand in countering the spinmeisters and lobbyists who play the game of preserving the status quo in agribusiness, food processing and food distribution. The book is a useful resource for activists as well as those who are merely concerned about basic issues of food wholesomeness.
This book plainly shows us how sustainable agriculture—where local farms raise food that is healthy for and does not harm the environment—offers the only solution to America’s food crisis. Jill also plugs the reader into the rising grassroots food movement, with lots of contact information, blogs to read and suggestions for action. If you care about the food you eat and the future of the planet it’s not enough to simply shop at the OB People’s Food Coop and the local Farmers Market. Buy this book, use it, and thank your lucky stars that there are people like Jill Richardson out there in this world willing to lead the fight for food safety, a greener planet and good nutrition.