Ann Vileisis

Ann Vileisis

Environmental historian Ann Vileisis is author of Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get It Back and Discovering the Unknown Landscape: A History of America's Wetlands, which won awards from the American Historical Association and the American Society for Environmental History.

Vileisis loves to explore and share history that helps to illuminate pressing modern-day issues. She became interested in environmental history while earning her B.A. at Yale University, went on to garner a M.A. from Utah State University, and has continued to pursue her research and writing as an independent scholar.

Vileisis has been a short-term fellow at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History and a writer-in-residence at Mesa Refuge in Point Reyes, California. She has spoken about her books at conferences, campuses, and a variety of other venues all across America.

Together with her husband author and photographer Tim Palmer, Vileisis lived for twelve years as a nomad, traveling in a Ford van as they did their research, writing, and photography. In 2002, while researching Kitchen Literacy, they settled in the small town on Oregon's coast, where she says she "recapitulated a transition from nomad to agriculturist" and became an avid gardener.

Vileisis now balances a life of research and writing with activism and engagement in a variety of local issues concerning the environment.

Photo Credit: Shrimp farming in Aceh, Indonesia. Photo by Mike Lusmore/Duckrabbit, 2012 via Flickr.com user WorldFish

#ForewordFriday: Thanksgiving Edition

As Thanksgiving approaches, take a moment to consider your food. Ask children where food comes from, and they’ll probably answer: “the supermarket.” Ask most adults, and their replies may not be much different. Where our foods are raised and what...

As Thanksgiving approaches, take a moment to consider your food. Ask children where food comes from, and they’ll probably answer: “the supermarket.” Ask most adults, and their replies may not be much different. Where our foods are raised and what happens to them between farm and supermarket shelf have become mysteries. How did we become so disconnected from the sources of our breads, beef, cheeses, cereal, apples, and countless other foods that nourish us every day? 
 
Ann Vileisis’s answer is a sensory-rich journey through the history of making dinner. Kitchen Literacy takes us from an eighteenth-century garden to today’s sleek supermarket aisles, and eventually to farmer’s markets that are now enjoying a resurgence. Vileisis chronicles profound changes in how American cooks have considered their foods over two centuries and delivers a powerful statement: what we don’t know could hurt us. 

Check out chapter one below. 

 
Photo Credit: Birds on a Wire by Flickr.com user Kiwi Flickr

While We're Away ... Enjoy These Field Notes Highlights

Photo by Rob Lee, used under...
Photo by Rob Lee, used under Creative Commons licensing. Photo by Rob Lee, used under Creative Commons licensing.

 

Our office will be closed for the holidays, so regular posts are on hiatus until the new year. But lest you miss us, I've pulled a handful of popular and enlightening posts from our archives for your reading pleasure. Why Biodiversity is Important to Solving Climate Chaos: Top 10 Reasons: Get your listicle fix in with this post from Dominick DellaSala, who enumerates why having a broad range of healthy species will help us address the looming climate crisis.

Helsinki. Photo by Niklas Sjöblom, used under Creative Commons licensing. Helsinki. Photo by Niklas Sjöblom, used under Creative Commons licensing.

 

The Role of Wonder in Planning: Timothy Beatley poignantly reminds us of the importance of incorporating respect and appreciation for the natural world into our built places.

Caribou in Denali National Park, Alaska. Photo by blmiers2, used under Creative Commons licensing. Caribou in Denali National Park, Alaska. Photo by blmiers2, used under Creative Commons licensing.

 

Hunting and the Land Ethic: Cristina Eisenberg goes elk hunting with renowned ecologists Michael Soulé and James Estes to keep an ecosystem in balance in this thoughtful piece. Conservation Efforts for the Rare Lakela's Mint, Dicerandra Immaculata: Cheryl Peterson tells the story of a pretty purple flower in Florida that is hanging in there.

Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina. Photo by pclvv, used under Creative Commons licensing. Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina. Photo by pclvv, used under Creative Commons licensing.

 

Confessions of an Ecoporn Addict: Charlie Chester explores the dark side of stunning nature images and lets a plain place where grizzly bears cross the road grow on him. Considering Bees, Industrious but Not Industrial: Ann Vileisis offers a summary of why bees are so important and the challenges they are facing.

adgad akdjf;ald Bluebird. Photo by digital4047, used under Creative Commons licensing.

 

Load Shedding or Load Sharing?: We take it for granted that unless a big storm hits, our lights will stay on. Edward Grumbine reports from Nepal, where a shortage of electricity means daily blackouts for "load shedding" and asks if the solution lies in "load sharing."

Wyoming. Photo by greg westfall, used under Creative Commons licensing. Wyoming. Photo by greg westfall, used under Creative Commons licensing.

 

Lessons from Los Angeles: Make Transit Hip: Darrin Nordahl offers lessons from LA's image rehabilitation campaign for public transportation. Happy holidays from the whole Island Press team—we'll be back in 2015 with more solutions that inspire change!

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Sowing seeds of good health and of unity

Ever since President Obama took office in January, he's kept his eye on the grand prize of making political discourse more civil. He's held up the ideal that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground and move beyond shrill partisan warring...

Ever since President Obama took office in January, he's kept his eye on the grand prize of making political discourse more civil. He's held up the ideal that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground and move beyond shrill partisan warring that has characterized politics for the last twenty-five years.

In looking for places to boost this unifying project, the sunny patch of common ground on the White House lawn holds great promise.

When First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters together with Washington school children recently turned soil to start the new White House vegetable garden, they tapped into a deep well of America's heritage--the agrarian ideal and the related notion of self-sufficiency--but also into modern dreams of a more healthful food system not just for elites but for everyone.

These ideals and dreams capture the imagination of people everywhere on the political spectrum.

In the past year, as I've given talks about my book Kitchen Literacy: how we've lost knowledge of where food comes from and why we need to get it back, I've found myself talking with people from far right to far left, some from traditional farm backgrounds, some from city centers, some Christian fundamentalists, some Buddhists, some young, some old. I have been inspired to find people of all sorts excited by the hope of rebuilding local, regional food systems that can revive rural economies and provide better, more wholesome foods to more people.

Like no other issue, the aim of rebuilding local agriculture has the potential to unite people in communities all across the nation-- to get us talking again about what is important and what is possible.

And strategies from both political camps are clearly needed.

With so many recent food recalls and food-borne illness problems, reforming government oversight of our food system is crucial. The USDA has a long history of sympathizing with producers, not consumers, creating an undeniable conflict of interest when it comes to food safety. Both FDA and the USDA have long been governed by leaders who rotate through revolving doors from big food and agri-business to government--drawing the credibility of the agencies into serious question. Another key area for reform is reducing farm subsidies that favor only the largest commodity crop producers.

But we also need a bottom up approach to rebuild our food systems on a regional and community levels. Already citizens are working at the grassroots to identify barriers to thriving regional agriculture and to figure out new solutions. Small farmers are seeing themselves not only as producers in a large corporate-governed commodity system, but also as entrepreneurs who can tap niche and local markets. And even consumers are figuring out how to parley the power of their pocketbooks by taking personal responsibility for their shopping, by supporting local farms at farmers markets and by starting backyard vegetable gardens.

On a practical level, the new White House vegetable garden will certainly grow great tasting lettuce for the first family and may even inspire local school kids to eat their veggies. On a more symbolic level, the garden can nurture a mix of personal responsibility and government reform that has the potential to re-unify America.

As new seeds poke their heads through soil this spring, we can be hopeful.