On September 1, 2012 (right on time!) I sent the finished book to my NYC editor. I also walked it down the hill to a friend, magazine editor and biodynamic farmer. Her task: to tell me whether what I thought was in book is what an intelligent reader would get out of the book. Here’s what she wrote:
To me, this is a book about action, a book about doing something (as we say in anthroposophy ‘enacting will forces’). Your actions, what you actually did, and are doing. All the suggestions/action/evaluation steps you offer at the end of each chapter are an action map people can follow away from industrial food and toward sustainability and localism. You spelled out that it is not an either/or–local or industrial. Clearly the solution is all of the above, the scale has gotten tipped too far toward industrial mono-cropping, we need to bring it back home a bit.
I valued the irreverence and humor. It will have a unique place in the catalogue of food system books for that reason alone.
The star of the show is the island herself (I would love to see a map, illustrative in the way that the lady who draws those giant maps at the Whidbey Institute conferences does–with the farm names marked, etc… a two-page spread.) She is both the setting and a vibrant character. Again and again you pointed to and named where people and places were located, you road your bike places, the 10 mile radius, the 50 mile, etc. You created a sense of place, but also a sense of space, the idea of “where” was well represented. I loved that.
You as narrator and supporting actress–while sharing details and specifics about your life–notable, eccentric, so individual–you were at the same time ubiquitous and conveyed a sense of being ‘every woman.’ I felt as though I could relate to you, through your concerns, frustrations, sorrow, sickness, and humorous moments–many were universal.
Through your own biographical experiences, you “showed” the reader the story of food. Beginning with your own food history, childhood, the back to the land era, your frugality, each of these became a lens used to elucidate and educate the reader about our relationship with food and food system-based issues. Same again with your 10-mile diet, each of your experiences served as the basis to ponder the food system. Facts were well-embedded in the narrative. Effective.
You brought to life the supporting cast of farmers and friends through all of your details about how the people look, who they are married to, etc. They are the living the food story. I am reminded of a recent book Voo Doo Vintners written by wine writer for the Oregonian (her parents live here coincidentally–maybe you know her). The story of bd wine in Oregon — but it was not about wine in the way most wine books are about wine– we learn about the wines though the lens of the biographies of the growers, the stories of where they obtain their vine cuttings, their personal histories, how they landed on their land and so forth. Your book was similar in that way.
I did not mention specifically the theme of relationships, that theme was clearly woven throughout and permeates the whole book. You, the farmers/friends, and Whidbey collectively create a picture of a living model of striving–yes it’s imperfect, expensive, inadequate, and all the rest, but it is eager, vital, inter-active, inter-relational, generous, and not afraid to try despite the fact that the industrial food system looms overhead. Perhaps the biggest threat to our industrial food complex is for people to begin to experience a local food system through relationships with the people, with the land, through eating the food. I think you do a good job of communicating how that experience looks and feels in the book. Good work.