A Sustainable Recipe for America

It isn’t often that I read a review that makes me want to get up and buy a book, but I just read one of the exceptions.

Paula Crossfields’ Civil Eats review on Jill Richardson’s Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It describes an intelligent and informed investigation of why sustainable food should be everyone’s priority.

Review Excerpt: “Like a handbook for the sustainable advocate in training, Recipe for America feels like a one-on-one session with a pro in the trenches. It gives the reader the tools they need to be up-to-date on the state of the food movement, the pending legislation and state of the political process as it pertains to food. So pick up a copy, and join the ranks. The good food movement needs YOU!”

This call to action is not about joining yet another “movement.” To me, its about understanding the importance and impact of our everyday food decisions, which Recipe for America appears to spell out in compelling terms, e.g.,:

Book Excerpt: “In the end, the numerous problems in our food system — pollution, human rights abuses, poor food safety, the breakdown of rural communities, the decline in our health — are hardly random. Instead, they stem from a common thread of industrialization, which occurred primarily over the second half of the twentieth century.

The challenge of slowing, then reversing, industrial food’s death grip on American consumers becomes clear when you consider how American’s shifting calories to sustainable foods would impact bottom lines.

According to Paul Roberts in The End of Food, our food system was generating 4,000 calories per person in 2000 (expect it is even higher today), up from 3,100 calories in 1950, already more calories than what an average individual needs.  People are consuming too much food, especially highly-processed types. On that point, Mr. Roberts cites that for every 100 calorie reduction in the American diet, industrial food companies will lose over $30 billion dollars per year. If we were to reset calories at 1950 levels, industrial food would lose over a quarter trillion dollars every year. Throw on top of that a recommend shift toward sustainable foods (i.e., not manufactured, highly processed foodlike substances), and you can see a double whammy of historic proportions forming.

Clearly, industrial food will not change on its own. It can’t afford to if it wants to survive as is.  Therefore, America’s consumers need to follow Ms. Richardson’s sound advice to help force the necessary changes:

Review Excerpt: But the greatest barrier of all, she writes, may be the lack of recognition on the part of the government that sustainable agriculture practices are superior to industrial agriculture, and for that to change, we need public outcry.

Each one of us can get a great jump on doing that by reading Recipe for America, becoming informed and knowledgeable, and crying out for change!

In the meantime, do what you can to vote with your dollars. Buy sustainable. Buy organic. Buy local/regional.

8 responses to “A Sustainable Recipe for America

  1. Thanks for posting on this book, Rob. I’m excited to pick up a copy, and then to pick up a copy of yours soon after. 🙂

    • Lee,


      I would love to write one and may try some day. For now my focus is on getting my hands good and dirty by launching and building sustainable food businesses. After meeting today, it looks like I have a start point for starting my “sustainable food” career.

      Stay tuned as I fully intend to blog about my direct experiences as part of Pro Food efforts.



  2. Karen Krause-Kimmel

    Thank you for the reminder on this book and showing why it is a tempting purchase that is critically important. Huge (hugely affected) public outcry indeed needed, because the ag industry must try to guarantee its profits. All need to be top of the heap on Wall Street to stay afloat.

    I look forward to seeing news of the results of your work mentioned in your response comment above.

    Thank you for all you are doing here on Twitter.

  3. Hm. I’ll be honest with you: while I agree that the food process needs to continue to evolve, I’m not so struck on that review. The reason for that is that there is no actual critique in the review itself.

    I am about halfway through the Roberts book and while there are things that I give him the nod on, there are others where I think he’s missing the point. I think it’s dangerous and divisive for all parties involved to treat books like these as fact rather than opinion. Books should generate questions and discussion, but we also need to look for the holes. “It gives the reader the tools they need to be up-to-date on the state of the food movement, the pending legislation and state of the political process as it pertains to food.” I note there that it doesn’t say it gives the tools to understand how farming operates, a rather big hole.

    In the Roberts book, I’m partway through the chapter that addresses food contamination, avian flu, etc. Again, while I can agree that there are improvements to be made in the food chain, I think this also needs to be compared and contrasted to food contamination pre-industrialization. While there are requests to improve safety, it also seems that there are requests to decrease it, such as by selling raw milk vs pasteurized, a huge opportunity for contamination to occur.

    The hardest thing to do is to critique the very people whose hopes you want to rally as part of the outcry, but that also needs to be done. As has been discussed before, much of the changes are also in response to consumer demand. Now a new demand for pro food is rising…but we also need to examine the implications of this. If costs are dramatically elevated to meet the demand, will it widen the gap between the haves and have-nots? What are the global implications of reducing output? Will it increase famine in developing countries?

    I realize those questions are beyond the scope of this particular post, but wanted to raise them as possible points of critique, which I feel should be used to review books of this nature. If books are accepted as gospel truth, without critique, we will be missing a lot of nuances and facts.

    • Gayle: Boiling down your comments, is it safe to say that you think our industrial food system is generally okay?

      I am drawing this conclusion based on the fact that your main arguments sound awfully familiar to me after six intensive months in this space on Twitter and via my blogging. They sound like the tired, stale and oft repeated claims I hear from industrial food advocates, although you skillfully weaved them into an attempt to discredit not only Recipe for America, but also Paul Robert’s The End of Food.

      If my assumption is correct, which will likely elicit a flood of flamings comments from the Big Ag/Big Food crowd regardless, then consider me someone who strongly disagrees with you. If I am wrong, then can you please enlighten me and the readers of this blog on what you actually believe.

      As for Ms. Richardson’s book, this type of investigative journalism (e.g., Fast Food Nation, In Defense of Food, etc.), along with food-related documentaries (e.g., Food, Inc, King Korn, FRESH), seem to be the only remaining media types that consistently raise awareness of the things that are actually going on around us. There is no corporate spin. There are no corporate funders. There is only the very real concern that what today’s industrialized, highly consolidated food system is doing to us, our children, our communities and our planet.

      • Hi Rob,
        I think you are reading a spin into my comments that isn’t there. I’m not attempting to discredit the books; I’m interested in building on them vis-a-vis critical thinking. Although there may not be corporate spin in the books, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t holes in the research and logic.

        Sorry to say that I am still taking in the whole picture and won’t be rushed to pronounce judgement on it until I’ve had time to look at as many angles that I can. What I do believe is that there are always many ways to do things differently from what is established, that curiosity and passion are strong driving forces for change, but that a driving force doesn’t necessarily pen the best narrative on what the best future for everyone should be.

        All best,

      • Gayle: I didn’t need to read anything into your comments, since you telegraphed your pass so well.

        You attempted to cast solid journalism as opinion, suggesting they are void of facts. You used fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) tactics several times, e.g., food contamination in pre-industrialized food, selling raw milk creates opportunity for contamination to occur, and the Pro Food will be expensive. You suggested that consumers drive most of the food that the industrial food system manufacturers.

        You even had the nerve to suggest that sustainable food will create a larger gap between the haves and have-nots and might contribute to famines in developing countries.

        These types of comments and tactics are cut-and-paste from The Big Ag & Big Food standard play book designed to preserve the status quo. And while your voice is welcome at Every Kitchen Table, such comments will not pass my desk without being identified for what they represent.

        What I hope you will consider are the core principles of Pro Food: Inclusive, Pro Farm, Pro Consumer, Pro Eating, Pro Cooking, Pro Community and Entrepreneurial. The near unanimous feedback received has been highly supportive, as Pro Food provides a solid platform for making the food we eat sustainable, healthy and a central piece of our daily lives, instead of the accessory it has become.



      • Hi Rob,

        I guess it would surprise you to learn, then, that I have not read any sources from “The Big Ag.” In fact, I have been looking for sources from that side to balance my readings.

        Firstly, solid journalism *is* a mix of facts and opinion, with opinion being the reason that it is compelling and the way that facts are linked.

        Secondly, regarding my comments, I deliberately cast the points you are railing against as questions, (they are things that I am questioning myself. part of the process of wondering if these changes can work), not as facts as you are purporting. If you have answers, then I would appreciate you posting them. If I had cast them as facts, I could understand why you are upset, but I didn’t and think that you are overreacting rather than conversing.

        Third, as far as I’m concerned, too, I did not use any sort of scare tactics: food contamination, raw milk concerns and cost are facts. Well, cost is debatable, but as the avg farmer is underpaid, I think it’s pretty likely that costs will rise. Actually, I believe that costs rising is actually supported in the Roberts book, where he talks about how the cost of food has not kept up with the price of inflation and we are truly not paying the real cost of food. Why are you attacking me for echoing what is in a book that you have quoted?

        I feel as if we are not communicating well here. I am not attacking you or your ideas. I am trying to look at both sides with an open mind, but I feel as if you are telling me that open minds aren’t welcome here. Please tell me that this is not what you are wanting to communicate.

        All best,

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