No One Eats Alone
6 x 9
6 x 9
In today’s fast-paced, fast food world, everyone seems to be eating alone, all the time—whether it’s at their desks or in the car. Even those who find time for a family meal are cut off from the people who grew, harvested, distributed, marketed, and sold the foods on their table. Few ever break bread with anyone outside their own socioeconomic group. So why does Michael Carolan say that that no one eats alone? Because all of us are affected by the other people in our vast foodscape. We can no longer afford to ignore these human connections as we struggle with dire problems like hunger, obesity, toxic pesticides, antibiotic resistance, depressed rural economies, and low-wage labor.
Carolan argues that building community is the key to healthy, equitable, and sustainable food. While researching No One Eats Alone, he interviewed more than 250 individuals, from flavorists to Fortune 500 executives, politicians to feedlot managers, low-income families to crop scientists, who play a role in the life of food. Advertising consultants told him of efforts to distance eaters and producers—most food firms don’t want their customers thinking about farm laborers or the people living downstream of processing plants. But he also found stories of people getting together to change their relationship to food and to each other.
There are community farms where suburban moms and immigrant families work side by side, reducing social distance as much as food miles. There are entrepreneurs with little capital or credit who are setting up online exchanges to share kitchen space, upending conventional notions of the economy of scale. There are parents and school board members who are working together to improve cafeteria food rather than relying on soda taxes to combat childhood obesity.
Carolan contends that real change only happens when we start acting like citizens first and consumers second. No One Eats Alone is a book about becoming better food citizens.
"Unlike many easy-fix food books touting local food as the answer, No One Eats Alone tackles both food and health from a systemic perspective. Its conclusions are likely to challenge eaters on all sides of the food conversation...No One Eats Alone is a singular specimen: a well-researched, thoughtful, and ultimately optimistic book on a popular subject that presents, and successfully defends, the point of view it expresses."
"Beyond eye-opening, this meticulously researched, deeply compelling narrative is a call to action. The revelation within is that what we eat is profoundly social. And therein lie the seeds for the next food revolution. I doubt I'll eat or shop the same again."
Kathy Edin, author of "$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America"
"Since time immemorial, stories have been central to human communities. Michael Carolan is a beautiful storyteller, one whose words, as you will feel, are from the heart. And yet, Michael's words are also brilliantly rigorous and thoughtful. What else can I say?"
Bruno Sobral, Director, One Health Institute, Colorado State University
"In highly accessible prose and without resorting to the solipsism of popular food writers, Michael Carolan does what few food scholars have ventured: warmly engages readers to think about where their food comes from. This easy-to-digest book is chock-full of stealth lessons on topics ranging from the Green Revolution to food quality standards to food fortification to social science methods. Carolan invites readers to actively participate in the foodscape, recognizing that changing it will take collective action and not just fork-voting."
Julie Guthman, author of "Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism"
Introduction: Changing the Foodscape
Chapter 1. Monocultures of the Mind and Body
Chapter 2. Knowing Quality
Chapter 3. Shaping Values
Chapter 4. Spatial Distance Versus Social Distance
Chapter 5. One Health
Chapter 6. From Slow Food to Connectivity
Chapter 7. Buying Behaviors Versus Building Community
Chapter 8. Getting Big Versus Getting Together
Chapter 9. Conclusion: Becoming Citizens
Michael Carolan will discuss and sign his latest book No One Eats Alone: Food as a Social Enterprise about becoming better food citizens.
In today's fast-paced, fast food world, everyone seems to be eating alone whether it's at their desks or in the car. Even those who find time for a family meal are cut off from the people who grew, harvested, distributed, marketed, and sold the foods on their table. Few ever break bread with anyone outside their own socioeconomic group.
So why does Carolan say that that no one eats alone? Because all of us are affected by the other people in our vast foodscape. We can no longer afford to ignore these human connections as we struggle with dire problems like hunger, obesity, toxic pesticides, antibiotic resistance, depressed rural economies, and low-wage labor. Carolan contends that real change only happens when we start acting like citizens first and consumers second.
Can't make it to the signing? Request an autographed copy here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tattered Cover Colfax Ave
2526 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80206, USA
Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 6:00pm
We all find ourselves eating alone at our desks or in front of the TV — however it is time to change our ways. The problems (hunger, obesity, toxic pesticides and low-wage labor) that plague our bodies and our fields can be changed through interaction and relationships. Learn about how community farms, online exchanges and assisted machine repairs have been changing the food industry. When our agriculture period began, we grew together, lived together and ate together. Michael is here to tell us how to get back to the beginnings for a healthier future!
Michael Carolan's No One Eats Alone: Food as a Social Enterprise is now available! We sat down with Carolan to talk about sustainable food, the process of writing the book, and why he claims that no one eats alone. Have more questions for Carolan? Share them in the comments below.
In today’s world, people are constantly eating alone—whether at their desk or in the car. So why do you claim that No One Eats Alone?
This claim ought to be among the book’s least contentious: that foodscapes are deeply peopled and that to eat is to be connected. People grow much of our food—most already know this. Less known is that people pick a lot of what we eat too, and slaughter, breed, transport, package, invent, cook, fortify, market, and sell it. There are even people tasked with coloring our food. I interviewed a gentleman while he held a color fan, like you would find at a paint store, that allows companies to custom order the color of their salmon (most requested No. 33, a nice rich pink). Then there are the people who study us so we’ll buy what their employer is selling.
No One Eats Alone was both thrilling and challenging to write because while it required interviewing more than 250 individuals from six continents, I only scratched the surface describing and explaining those connections. The real question lies in figuring out ways that better allow us to see and appreciate those connections, which brings us to the next question.
You argue that human connection is essential to achieving healthy, equitable, and sustainable food. At first, this may seem like a hokey or abstract concept. What does this look like, in practice? Can you give an example? Why is human connection essential to the success of food movements?
I am talking about having more than a human connection, actually. That’s part of the problem, that we conflate human connections with empathetic ones. We connect with humans all the time, but rarely as humans. A few years back I conducted what I refer to now as the strawberry study. I had a group of middle class eaters of different political persuasions get together over strawberries, once to watch a documentary about the industry and again to pick in the field for an entire day.
After watching the documentary, participants were able to recite certain facts, like top strawberry growing US states and countries and that the pesticide methyl bromide was being phased out in California. Having spent a day picking, however, they could not only talk about labor activities, they could feel them. When interviewed a few days later, the physicality of the experience came through—more than one use to term moved, as in “I was really moved by that experience”—shaping how they thought about the industry and those who toil so we can eat “cheap” strawberries. My point: there are different ways to connect with others as humans. It would be hokey to think we need to meet everyone in our foodscapes in order to know and empathize with them.
What role do racism, sexism, and other –isms play in our current food problems?
These –isms pervade society, so it would be foolish to say they do not also exist in our food worlds. Food is often discussed in gender-neutral terms, which is ridiculous when you consider who’s peopling our foodscapes—often women, especially when talking about who buys food and cooks it. So when well intentioned health professionals and food writers—sorry Michael Pollan—make recommendations like “Just cook” or “Plant a garden” I cringe because they reflect an insensitivity to the realities of who is doing what, especially among those struggling under the weight of time poverty.
I give examples throughout the book of how we can create alternative foodscapes that are sensitive to these realities, like community-based cooking classes or urban gardens that provide free childcare or elementary school experiential curriculum centered around food that work to disrupt traditional gendered norms at a very young age. I also tell stories about food and community activists working to avoid creating environments were eaters only eat “white”—a typical European diet. If we are what we eat, then we must make sure that the alternative foodscapes we help nurture recognize the diversity of those who are hungry.
You prefer the term “foodscape” to the more familiar “food system,” and you argue that we need to shift from a society of food “consumers” to one of food “citizens.” What are the differences between these terms? What power does language have to change the way we think about our relationship to food? To change the way we behave?
I opt for the term foodscape instead of the more familiar food system because the latter is too narrow for what I have in mind, often reducing the life of food to a commodity chain—producers, processors, distributors, retailers, and consumers. The hows and whys of food are more complex than that, involving questions of power, culture, relationships, feelings, citizenship, and more.
Relatedly, food consumers have a clear predefined location in that commodity chain, with clear predefined interests, namely, getting the best deal. But to be human, and to connect with other humans as humans, is to be more than just a consumer. We do not just buy stuff. We have lives outside retail markets, filled with families, loved ones, interests, and passions. We all live in a community, somewhere, perhaps in a rural community grappling with poverty and community disintegration. We all also live on this planet and do not want to see it destroyed. And, like or not, we’re all taxpayers and members of a social contract. Those interests are felt as citizens, not consumers. Terms like “foodscape” and “food citizen” are thus used to challenge readers to think about food and their relationship to it in new ways by telling stories about people connecting with others and the planet.
What are two actions someone can take to become a better food citizen? After that, where can they look for more guidance?
I am a big believer in the power of getting people from different backgrounds—economic, ethnic, religious, political, etc.—together. A recent Gallup study reveals that the best predictor of whether individuals support things like building a wall between the US and Mexico and who believe non-whites have not contributed as much to civilization as those of European descent is how white their social networks are. This also speaks to why I repeatedly take critics of the status quo to task whenever I hear them valorize spatial distance, as if that’s the endgame, the creation of something like a bikeable foodscape. I have seen plenty of “local” foodscapes crippled by social distance—there was a farmers’ market in a gated community, true story.
So what can you do? Work in a community garden or a soup kitchen. Join a cooperative. With others in your community, organize free cooking classes, making sure to supply childcare and transportation, if possible. Remember, we’ll never learn to break bread with someone different from ourselves if we can’t even stand having “them” in our community.
No One Eats Alone take a critical look at Big Food, as well as alternative food movements encouraging people to “eat local” or “eat organic,” but you are ultimately hopeful about the future of our foodscape. What gives you that hope?
My hope is not unfounded. I have been studying food since the late 1990s. During that time, I have seen a flourishing of alternative foodscapes around the world. Here are some data explaining my optimism: there were 8,268 farmers' markets operating in 2014, up 180 percent since 2006; since 2007, the number of food hubs — local groups that connect farmers to food-using businesses — increased by roughly 300 percent; and since 2006, the number of school districts with farm-to-school programs jumped almost 500 percent.
But those are just numbers. The real source of my optimism is experience, talking with the likes of students, young farmers, and food and community activists. The rate and intensity of these conversations increases with every passing year. I dare say anyone who reads No One Eats Alone will leave it more hopeful than when they started.
You interviewed over 250 people for this book. Is there a particular conversation or story that sticks out in your mind?
When you talk to that many people you end up with quite a collection of memorable stories. I regularly retell the story of my meeting with a gentleman who had worked many years for a Chinese company in charge of supplying most of the world’s vitamin D. Here was a company whose mission was to make the world healthier and yet most of our interview was spent discussing how unhealthy the industrial vitamin process in China was—polluting, exploitive, and energy intensive. I had a lot of great conversations like that, where you start out thinking one way and leave with your head spinning.
What do you hope readers take away from this book?
For a lot of readers, I expect they will discover that what they thought they knew about food, and about solutions to our food-based ills, were woefully incomplete in their reach and scope. Everyone will find nourishment in the countless examples where issues like hunger, malnutrition, food access, sustainability, and social justice are being tackled to benefit all and not just the one percent. And from that nourishment I hope to help spawn a desire to change the way we organize around food.
Katharine Sucher is the Publicity & Marketing Assistant at Island Press.
While researching No One Eats Alone, sociologist Michael Carolan interviewed more than 250 individuals, from flavorists to Fortune 500 executives, politicians to feedlot managers, low-income families to crop scientists, who play a role in the life of food. Advertising consultants told him of efforts to distance eaters and producers—most food firms don’t want their customers thinking about farm laborers or the people living downstream of processing plants. But he also found stories of people getting together to change their relationship to food and to each other. Ultimately, it is a book about becoming better food citizens, and a story of hope: "Unlike many easy-fix food books touting local food as the answer, No One Eats Alone tackles both food and health from a systemic perspective. Its conclusions are likely to challenge eaters on all sides of the food conversation...No One Eats Alone is a singular specimen: a well-researched, thoughtful, and ultimately optimistic book on a popular subject that presents, and successfully defends, the point of view it expresses" (Foreword).
Check out an excerpt from the book below.
Katharine Sucher is the Publicity & Marketing Assistant at Island Press.
Earlier this year, if you had asked me to tell you what a “gardener” looked like, I might have painted you a mental picture of someone not unlike my father: a white, middle-aged man who decided to take up gardening as a hobby after realizing he had more empty space in his rural Texas backyard than he knew what to do with. After spending a weekend shadowing the nation’s largest garden-building event, however, I have to admit that my idea of who a “gardener” is and what a “garden” looks like has dramatically changed.
Now, I’m more apt to picture an African American mother and daughter in the city, growing vegetables in a 4’x8’ victory garden and using their culinary skills to provide sustenance to malnourished neighbors. Or I might tell you about the Syrian refugee families using a small patch of soil in their front yard as a way to bring back a sense of normalcy to their uprooted lives.
And yet these were just two of the countless “faces of gardening” that I encountered during this spring’s annual Victory Garden Blitz in Milwaukee. Organized by the local non-profit Victory Garden Initiative (VGI), the annual Blitz aims to engage Milwaukee residents to grow their own food, and in the process help cultivate a community-based, socially just, environmentally sustainable food system. With the help of over 300 volunteers, VGI manages to install hundreds and hundreds of raised bed gardens to residents of diverse backgrounds and housing situations each year; no backyard needed! All that’s required is a 4’x8’ outdoor space to put the garden, and a willingness to get your hands a little dirty!
“One of the great things about gardening is that it brings people of all faiths and political backgrounds and races and ethnicities together,” VGI Community Programs Manager Kelly Moore Brands told me during the event. “Because everybody needs to eat, right?”
Beyond the diversity of the gardeners themselves, one of the other noteworthy things was the sheer variety of reasons why people took up urban gardening in the first place. Here are just a few of the things I heard while out and about in Milwaukee:
After a weekend of memorable quotes and colorful characters, I really got a sense of what Island Press author Michael Carolan identifies as the crucial missing ingredient from our current food movements: human connection. In his new book No One Eats Alone: Food as a Social Enterprise, Carolan argues that building community is the key to healthy, equitable, and sustainable food.
Victory Garden Initiative is doing just that, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for their big 10th anniversary Blitz in 2018 as they continue the food movement to MOVE GRASS and GROW FOOD!
For more on my exciting, inspiring weekend in Milwaukee, check out the video below where I interview VGI staff and victory garden recipients about the power and promise of urban gardening.
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Kyler Geoffroy is the Online Marketing Manager for Island Press
On the heels of nutritional literacy campaigns, restaurants, grocery stores, and health officials are busy promoting the benefits of nutritious foods to encourage people to choose them. There is a significant problem with that strategy, however: it risks turning people away from these foods, as eaters tend to rate foods they perceive as healthier as less tasty. So why not draw upon some of the same language used to describe, say, sizzling crispy bacon to talk about a zucchini dish? Sizzling crispy zucchini anyone?
In a recent article for Fast Company, Adele Peters describes research findings that reveal that our use of words and descriptions of foods shape choices and dietary behaviors. It is certainly makes sense that we should not expect people to choose healthy foods if they are not described in ways that align with what we are motivated to eat. But why stop there? Once we start talking about our veggies, beans, and fruits using tastier descriptors, what then? Sizzling crispy zucchini or sizzling crispy bacon? To me, both sound delicious. But While Peters’ article, The Simple Menu Innovations that Science Says Can Get People to Order Vegetarian Options, speaks of getting people to order vegetarian options, really the goal should be about something larger. In addition to what Peters is urging, we should also be asking how do we draw eaters to vegetarian options more often once we make those dishes sound like something even meat eaters would enjoy?
Not long ago I conducted research, bits of which I later published in a peer-reviewed article and in my book No One Eats Alone, which involved interviewing roughly 100 eaters, twice: first, just before they engaged in alternative food practices (e.g., farmers markets, community supported agriculture arrangements, food cooperatives) and again, after two years of exposure to these spaces. I was curious about how these experiences shaped participants’ feelings about food. I discovered that while many spoke about taste and health as principle reasons for trying in these offerings when first interviewed, those justifications changed by the time of the second interview, and as I previously described, I was able to link directly to their continued involvement in these alternative food practices. For most, the new or revised rationale for eating these foods and buying from these networks centered on wanting to support local growers and communities; quite a few also justified buying these foods for reasons related to environmental sustainability.
Our food systems, or what I prefer to call foodscapes, can pull us in different directions, leading us to exhibit extrinsic and/or intrinsic values.
Extrinsic values, those that pull us inward, concern social standing and self-advancement. People with deeply held extrinsic values are likely to obsess over financial success, status, and fame. Conversely, intrinsic values, those that lead us outward, concern finding worth and reward with and through the support of, rather than at the expense, of others. Research suggests that when individuals place greater importance on extrinsic values they are more likely to express prejudice toward others, be less concerned about the environment, human rights, and animal welfare, and express lower levels of personal wellbeing and happiness. Can you guess about which values advertisers tend to target?
I mention this because Peters links taste to indulgence, asserting that we need to make healthy food sound more pleasurable and hedonistic. I counter that in looking for solutions to poor nutrition, for ways to encourage people to try or eat more vegetarian options, we need to think about the type of eaters we seek to create while being aware of those we might unintentionally create. In turning people on to vegetarian options, we should avoid unintentionally creating eaters who think only about themselves when making dietary decisions. For example, while we want them to eat properly for their health, we also would like them to incorporate thoughts of how their eating impacts community health.
This brings me back to my study: how we engage with food and those responsible for producing it matters greatly in shaping our feelings about what we ought to eat and why we ought to be eating it. I offer that we should be able to agree that while we do aim to create healthier eaters, we also seek to develop eater-citizens who give a damn about whether that sizzling crispy zucchini was picked under exploitive labor conditions or produced using methods that were unsustainable.
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Dr. Carolan is Associate Dean for Research for the College of Liberal Arts at Colorado State University.