Community Philosphy Blog and Library

How to Eat Sustainably

I wanted to share this article in the Atlantic by James McWilliams, the history professor who wrote Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. Predictably, McWilliams shares some criticism leveled at foodies, particularly those who advocate eating sustainably.

McWilliams essentially argues that people may advocate sustainable eating, but the richness and elitism of their grass-fed meat and specialty cheeses is really just gluttony in disguise. In order to eat sustainably, people must forego these habits–meat eating especially–and restrict their diets, ideally to the extent of principled veganism.

I wanted to share this article because it’s a good example of a common scenario: someone writing about food while ignoring farming. Here’s an illustration from the text:

To really eat ethically more often than not means to avoid the primacy and exclusivity of taste. It means to forgo foods usually associated with “fine dining”—rich cheeses, meat, luscious desserts, and seafood dished out in fancy restaurants—in exchange for (as Mark Bittman’s work quietly reiterates) a humble bowl of beans, greens, and whole grains cooked up at home (with the leftovers eaten all week for lunch). It means, in essence, embracing sacrifice, even asceticism. Any committed vegan will have some sense of what this entails.

As a farmer, I challenge the idea that eating ethically means eating meager portions and limited variety. Eating sustainably doesn’t mean eating ascetically, but seasonally. That means both periods of glut and fasting. When the harvest is in, enjoy the amount and array that the farm produces, and use the excess to prepare for the leaner months. As for rich cheeses and “seafood,” these items are all place-specific — eating fish in Boston isn’t elitist; it’s logical. McWilliams completely ignores what eating locally means — if your local farm produces it, it’s a good idea to support it.

Anyway, give it a read and let us know what you think.

Photo by Neysa King.

Neysa is currently farming an acre of organic vegetables in Austin, Texas. For updates on her farm, visit or follow her on twitter @farmerneysa


4 Responses to “How to Eat Sustainably”

  1. Jennifer White Says:

    nice artical

  2. I don’t know what his leftovers are like, but mine are nothing like asceticism. True, there’s plenty of preciousness in the sustainable food movement, but it isn’t the heart of the change that’s taking place – if anything I see these perhaps less-effective, more gourmand approaches as helpful stop-gaps that lead people towards new ideas in food. They are mind-openers. And in terms of something like fine charcuterie – when enough people buy it and it’s made from non-modified Berkshires – it can inform positive change in local farming practices because it becomes financially feasible for farmers to have the healthy measure of inefficiency necessary to raise happy, old world pigs. It’s not going to happen overnight, but together we are moving forward, and I think connecting together all the things that are working rather than being overly pessimistic and insisting on a strict and unrealistic diet as a panacea may slow things more than fancy cheese might be a sustainability miss.

  3. The month that we’ve gone without spending any money on food – the food we are eating is either grown/raised here in our backyard or is from stored food that we purchased from local sources in bulk – our diet is farm from ascetic. Obviously this writer doesn’t know what good food is.

  4. I really like your writing style, excellent information, appreciate it for putting up :D. “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is the significance of a clean desk” by Laurence J. Peter.

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