The Locavore's Dilemma

Customers dig into colorful sushi lunches at the Blowfish in Ocean Springs, Miss.
Customers dig into colorful sushi lunches at the Blowfish in Ocean Springs, Miss. (William Colgin/associated Press)
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By Nora Krug
Sunday, June 1, 2008

PLENTY Eating Locally on the 100-Mile DietBy Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon Three Rivers. 264 pp. $13.95

It's trendy these days to be a locavore -- to know where your food comes from, and, ideally, to make sure the source isn't far from home. Writers like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver have helped make locavorism the latest thing, but back in 2005, two young journalists hatched an experiment in extreme local eating: For one year, they ate only food produced within 100 miles of their apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia. Plenty, their joint memoir of this adventure, is a refreshing twist on locavore literature. The authors, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, are saddled with numerous handicaps, among them minimal experience in gardening, a small budget and limited access to grocery stores stocked with indigenous fare. Hardship breeds ingenuity, however, and the joy of the book comes from watching the authors discover the hidden bounty of their surroundings and attempt to transform their urban home into an agrarian test kitchen. In a failed effort to make flour, for instance, MacKinnon painstakingly separates wheat from chaff using his Visa card; the apartment is later found to be infested with weevils. These hardships are no match for the couple's can-do, if at times preachy, attitude ("Distance is the enemy of awareness," MacKinnon writes). By the end of the book, Smith and MacKinnon have become so passionate about their new lifestyle that they even find joy in making their own salt.

THE SUSHI ECONOMY Globalization and the Making Of a Modern DelicacyBy Sasha Issenberg Gotham. 323 pp. $15

The raw simplicity of sushi may make diners feel as if they have escaped the modern world, writes Sasha Issenberg, but that minimalism obscures a deeper truth: "In few places are the complex dynamics of globalization revealed as visibly as in the tuna's journey from the sea to the sushi bar." In The Sushi Economy Issenberg chronicles this voyage in a globetrotting culinary and cultural history that takes him to, among other places, the tuna ranches of Port Lincoln, Australia; the fisheries of Gloucester, Mass.; Tsukiji, Tokyo's famed fish market and, oddly, a sushi restaurant in Austin, Tex. Issenberg has a tendency to wax philosophical ("Eating seafood is an ongoing flirtation in a long, unconsummated romance with the open water"), but he is a thorough reporter who extracts colorful details from the people he profiles. "We did not know why canned tuna was white, and raw tuna meat was red," says Akira Okazaki, a Japan Airlines executive who in the 1970s helped develop the refrigerated containers that revolutionized the seafood cargo business. The work of such pioneers, Issenberg notes, has led to an unpleasant reality for locavores. "Today, the places with the freshest fish," he writes, "are airport cargo hangars and refrigerated storage facilities located near highway exchanges. No one itches to tie on a lobster bib there."

From Our Previous Reviews

· Perfect Spy (Smithsonian, $14.95) is an apt title for Larry Berman's biography of Pham Xuan An, a Vietnamese journalist who aided American reporters while working as a Communist agent, said Robert G. Kaiser.

· Matthew Sharpe's "hilarious, poignant" novel Jamestown (Harcourt, $14) "reimagines the first permanent English settlement in America as a modern-day dystopia, an absurd hybrid of Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Walt Disney's 'Pocahontas,' " Ron Charles suggested.

· Horses "are expensive, fragile and complicated," wrote Jane Smiley, "but irrational horse lovers persist in riding them, racing them, driving them, paying for them and pondering them." J. Edward Chamberlin is one such thinker, and, in Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilization (BlueBridge, $13.95), he explores how the animal's domestication "shaped the spread of human settlement around the globe."

· In The Boys from Dolores (Vintage, $15.95), Patrick Symmes looks at Fidel Castro's revolution from the perspective of the former Cuban leader's prep-school classmates, offering "a priceless archive of the Cuban diaspora," Wendy Gimbel wrote.

· Amid new controversies about the risks and benefits of vaccines, Arthur Allen's history Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver (Norton, $17.95) shows how "we have come a long, depressing way from the glory days of vaccine heroism," wrote Laurie Garrett.

Nora Krug is a regular contributor to Book World.

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