Book Review: The New Food Revolution

By / Food / April 19th, 2012 / 1

The first few pages of Jennifer Cockrall-King’s Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution really struck a nerve. She had very carefully dismantled almost everything I had come to believe about grocery shopping. With lots of up-to-date research backing her argument, Cockrall-King effectively explains why we shouldn’t blithely put our faith in the industrial food system. The first chapter, “The Façade of the Modern Grocery Store,” is subdivided into sections with headings like, “The Illusion of Choice” and “Nine Meals From Anarchy.” “Wait a minute!” I thought, “Isn’t this book about gardening in the city?” Turns out it is. But first, Cockrall-King spends four chapters laying the groundwork. She presents a tremendous amount of facts and figures that describe a system of industrial food management on the edge. Don’t be afraid of the statistics, though. They’re an easy read. The message, however, is much more ominous. Think about this the next time you find yourself pushing a cart through the aisles of your favourite grocery store: if there were a crisis, that food on the shelf wouldn’t be there after three days. Three days. That’s it. So, that abundance we see displayed so prettily belies the precarious nature of how food is grown, shipped and sold. Stop reading after those first four chapters and you’re likely to feel quite depressed. Luckily, Cockrall-King does a good job of offering a solution.

That solution revolves around what grassroots groups are doing to bring gardening to new heights. Called “urban agriculture”, the term encompasses every form of gardening taking place in backyards, front yards or on communal lots in any part of the urban landscape. Cockrall-King explores the reasons why people engage in growing their own food and the benefits of doing so. She argues that current food policies, at every level of government, are insufficient at ensuring a healthy, continuous food supply not only in times of crisis, but at any given moment. Through her travels all over the world, she finds that gardeners are enthusiastic, and urban planting is alive and well.

Cockrall-King structures this book as a kind of narrative — a story told by gardeners of every ability level. For those of us who have not been immersed in this gardener’s paradise, and for those of us who visit the grocery store every week and think we’re doing something helpful for the planet by making local choices, this book is a wake-up call. But, it’s not all bad news. Ultimately, Cockrall-King wants to provide us with enough examples to encourage us to find our own place within this movement. Change may come slowly, she suggests, but it will come. For anyone interested in doing more within his or her own community, Cockrall-King provides a concise resource of organizations working throughout North America and Europe. The one niggling criticism I have is the use of Imperial measurements (and Metric measurements in brackets). First, providing both styles of measurement slows the reader down and is distracting. Second, the book is aimed at an international market, which, for the most part, uses the Metric system. Perhaps sticking to that style would have provided more consistency.  

Overall, I really enjoyed Food and the City. Despite the depth of information, it was a quick read, and I found a lot to take with to the grocery store and become a better gardener.


Rosemary Mantini has always loved words. When she isn't working as the Associate Editor at Tidings Magazine, she's helping others achieve their writing dreams, and sometimes she even relaxes with a good book and a glass of wine.

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