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My Interview with Joan Gussow

by: Jill Richardson

Fri Feb 25, 2011 at 12:14:04 PM PST

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Joan Gussow, author of This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, has recently published a new book, Growing, Older, and she was kind enough to agree to an interview. I'd love to call Gussow "the first locavore," but of course that is silly. Humans were all locavores until very recently. Maybe we can call her the first modern urban locavore? Back in 1969, when she got started, no doubt there were still rural families who grew their food. But not in New York City, where Gussow worked, and probably not in the New York suburbs where she lived either.

Her idea of eating locally was motivated by ideals and environmental and social concerns, not motivated by necessity. Once she started calling for people to eat local, at the time nobody thought it was possible. So she called their bluff and actually did it by growing all of the fruits and vegetables she and her family ate all year, and doing so on a rather small amount of land.

Her books remind me of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a bit, although This Organic Life was written first so maybe my comparison is backwards. Both of Gussow's books are excellent. The new one, Growing, Older, began by making me cry my eyes out as I read about the death of Gussow's husband, and as the book went on, there were no more tears, but the book was moving, profound, and, in parts, laugh out loud funny. It's wonderful to read such a candid book written by a fellow ethical eater who struggles with some of the same issues that I do and perhaps you do too. Gussow is just so human and it is really easy to see yourself in her words as you read her books.  

Jill Richardson :: My Interview with Joan Gussow
I'd like to post our interview one question at a time, because her answers are quite long and wonderful. Here's the first.

Q: You spoke about why you first came to the idea of eating local food and one thing I see in some editorials that are critical of people who eat local food is the notion that it's purely food miles and it's purely transportation that would cause someone eat local, and saving on transportation alone does not justify eating locally. Can you recap what brought you to the idea of going local.

Gussow: "I went into nutrition because I was concerned about world hunger, and I was looking at the whole "could we produce enough food." I went to all kinds of things - what was the limiting thing in food production? I finally ended up with solar energy. Everything else could be recaptured, or found, or used, or something, except energy, and therefore the limit was ultimately solar energy.

"At the time we didn't have so much of an energy shortage in general - you know, a fossil fuels shortage - and we weren't aware of it, let's put it that way, in the beginning when I first started. And then I realized how much energy was embedded in the food system in general in the way we grow food and so forth. And it wasn't just transportation at all at that point. I was just interested in the whole way energy flowed and how little attention we paid to that as nutritionists.

"And so I was looking at all these issues like exporting our high tech agriculture overseas where people were, many times, growing [food] sustainably as it was and they had too much labor and here we were exporting a machine-intensive, chemical-intensive agriculture to places that had too much labor. We were contaminating the earth, pushing chemicals on people who didn't know how to use pesticides or herbicides, we were using up precious water supplies, etc etc.

"There were all these issues about how food was being grown around the world and we didn't know anything about it. We didn't know what we were doing because we had no idea where our food was coming from. So whatever was going on where it was being grown, we didn't have a clue about. And so I decided that it was important to bring food growing close to home so that people would at least know what agriculture required, you know, top soil, farmer skills, water, solar energy, all those things it needed.

"And so that was my original motive, was to say you had to have farms around so people knew what agriculture required and could help protect the planet from high intensity agriculture (which was destroying things). And in order to know a farmer, you had to have them close to home, and in order to have them close to home, you had to eat what he would produce (or she) and so forth. So that's how I got to it.

"And I wasn't even, in the beginning - it's so interesting - I look back now - I don't even think I was aware of the problem of farmland loss and farmer loss at the time. I was just aware of the ignorance of the American people and thought this was a way to help remedy it."

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Slow Food, Slow Money... (4.00 / 2)
Slow Interviews!

I like.


well, we talked for an hour (4.00 / 2)
and most of it was her talking, since that was the point :) Although I can't use all of it. We got off onto some tangents... I could have talked to her about gardening for an hour, easily. I might post some of the gardening stuff anyway. Point is... once it's transcribed, it's gonna be LONG. More than someone would want to read in one sitting, I can promise.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

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