Resetting the Table: Eating in the Age of Climate Change, Part 1



As my farming season winds down, I am happy to have more time for reading. There are books and articles waiting for me on my desk and nightstand. But new things are always presenting themselves. When I found Jonathan Kauffman’s Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat (2018) by chance at the library a few weeks ago, I had to crack it open right away. (Thank you to whichever librarian set in on a display stand rather than reshelving it!) I couldn’t resist the title. Most of my life I’ve felt like I was born a few decades too late; that I would have made a good flower child.

Reading through Kaufman’s reporting on various trends in the 1960s and 70s offers history lessons through great storytelling on the one hand and cautionary tales of history repeating itself on another. I relished learning more about how foods I eat regularly like tofu and brown rice came to be staples of American vegetarians. On the other hand, the environmental and human health reasons these foods were first celebrated are still issues for us today. For example, Frances Moore Lappé’s suggestion that global hunger could be reduced if more people ate a plant-based diet—which she first introduced in Diet for a Small Planet (1971) and I first encountered in John Robbins’ Diet for a New America (1987)—still rings true. 

I’m not alone in my praise of Kauffman’s work. It was nominated for a James Beard book award in 2019. But, as in all things, I brought my own perspective to the reading. As a long-time vegetarian I was intrigued by the stories of how and why people first popularized the concept here in the United States. As an urban farmer, I was interested to learn more about the rise of organic farming practices, certification, and market growth. And as a MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader, it was exciting to see how many times the publication is mentioned throughout the book – as a space for sharing knowledge including recipes for cooking “new” foods like whole wheat bread following Haight-Ashbury’s Free Family “coffee can bread.” It’s exciting to be part of that legacy as I sit here blogging for other long-time readers and the next generation of back-to-the-landers and eco-conscious foodies.

But my perspective isn’t really all that special. We are all part of the legacy Kauffman outlines. Every time we make choices about what we eat we are making a statement about our values. The people he writes about ate by their convictions (at least most of the time). They rejected “plastic foods,” mass-processed products marketed as new and amazing but which were often, as we know from our own experiences today, tasteless or overly salted, loaded with artificial flavors and colors, and highly distanced from the land and farmers who provided their foundational substance.

Kauffman's book highlights the fact that mainstream media is just picking up on ideas the counterculture, including MOTHER readers, have long been aware of. Climate change is impacting what we grow and how we eat. One of the things I plan to read next is Amanda Little’s The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World (2019). I’m a bit terrified of what I’ll learn, but I’m sure it will inspire me to renew my commitments and set new goals for promoting local agriculture and eating a whole foods, hippie-inspired diet.

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