COMING HOME TO EAT: The Pleasure and Politics of Local Foods

Gary Paul Nabhan, Author
Gary Paul Nabhan, Author . Norton $24.95 (330p) ISBN 978-0-393-02017-5
Reviewed on: 06/25/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001

In this intriguing yet unsatisfying volume, the author chronicles a year of striving for a diet consisting of 90% native flora and fauna, found within 250 miles of his Arizona home. Nabhan (Cultures of Habitat) packs the book with telling local detail; the saguaro cactus, for example, is being cleared from the Sonoran Desert at a rate of 40 acres per day. An ethnobotanist with an interest in seed preservation and director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University, Nabhan is remarkably knowledgeable about plant species and the traditions of local tribes; indeed, his nature writings and conservation activism have won him a MacArthur award. But Nabhan's tone is so phlegmatic that his accounts have little emotional impact. (After an unsettling attempt to slaughter some turkeys he had raised, an effort that left him splattered with blood, he describes himself as "a little shook up.") His reactions become predictable (and preachy): he tastes a native food, recounts its history and waxes naïve about how wonderful it is ("If a native food tasted this good, why did it ever fall out of favor?"). His project sometimes seems doctrinaire; he doesn't admit to ever craving an Oreo or tasting a local food that's not to his liking. Nabhan's book is informative, but doesn't leave a distinct flavor in the reader's mouth. 15 illus. and one map not seen by PW. (Nov.)

Forecast: As an upbeat counterpart to Eric Schlosser's recent Fast Food Nation, this book may attract some attention. An author tour in areas where devotion to "local foods" is prevalent (Tucson, Phoenix, Portland, Bay Area) should also help.