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Inflammatory New Book Attacking Local Food Movement Has One Grain of Truth Buried Under Heaps of Manure

"Just Food" is framed as the lament of a lapsed locavore who has been driven into the arms of Agribiz by food-mile militants who, according to him, number in the millions.

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McWilliams ignores both these aspects of buying local and dwells obsessively on food miles, presumably because he couldn't acknowledge these benefits of shopping at farmers markets without undermining his own arguments.

This pattern is repeated throughout the book; McWilliams selectively cites the facts that support his claims and omits those that don't. The valid points that he does make -- organic doesn't necessarily mean toxin-free, biotech could be a boon in noncorporate hands, aquaponics offers a sustainable source of protein -- get lost in this cynical, sales-grabbing shuffle -- collateral damage in his war on locavores.

It's too bad, because, sandwiched between the caricatures of loco locavores and McWilliams's hey-ho-GMO cheerleading, lies the meat of the matter: we can't go on eating animals at our current consumption levels, regardless of whether they're raised in factory farms or on grass.

In Chapter 4 of Just Food, "Meat -- The New Caviar," McWilliams tallies up the cost of our unprecedented appetite for animal products and concludes:

Environmentalists who ignore the ecological costs of producing meat are in denial of one of the greatest threats to the world's ecosystems and to the prospect of eating ethically. As responsible consumers, we really have no choice but to confront the reality bluntly articulated by World Watch:

"It has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future.

"Unlike so many other environmental issues, our response here can be direct and personal. As Gidon Eshel, a geographer at Bard College, writes, "However close you can be to a vegan diet and further from the mean American diet, the better you are for the planet."

And therein lies the needle in McWilliams' hyperbolic, straw-man-stuffed haystack: If you want to eat ethically, ease up on the meat, dairy and other animal products.

McWilliams evidently made the calculus that it would be more lucrative to demonize farmers market fanatics than mindless meat eaters, but his opportunistic posturing ultimately overwhelms the more thoughtful analyses contained in this book. Just Food is a tedious, tendentious read that doesn't compel and probably won't sell.

Kerry Trueman is the co-founder of EatingLiberally.org. You can follow her on Twitter.