'Coming Home To Eat' author speaks

Gary Paul Nabhan

Gary Paul Nabhan, who spent a year eating only foods produced in the desert Southwest within 250 miles of his home, discusses that experience at the Olin Arts Center Concert Hall at Bates College at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Nabhan’s appearance is the sixth annual Philip J. Otis Lecture at Bates, funded by the Otis Endowment, which helps support environmental programs at the college. The author will discuss his new book, “Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods” (W.W. Norton). Scheduled for publication this fall, the book describes Nabhan’s food adventure and his motives for undertaking it.

There’s culinary fascination in Nabhan’s tales of eating cactus buds, mesquite pods and Native American varieties of corn and squash, but the book’s overriding theme is much more serious. Behind the cornucopia of world foods that tempts every visitor to today’s supermarket, Nabhan believes, is an agribusiness industry that is proving a ruinous proposition for farmers, the environment and consumers themselves.

Director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University, Nabhan is expert in the political, economic and environmental issues involved in today’s agriculture. Modern industry practices, he says, entail tremendous fossil fuel consumption, the destruction of farmland and family farming, poor consumer nutrition and the loss of beneficial genetic traits in food crops and livestock.

An article about Nabhan in the May 2001 issue of Discover magazine lays out discouraging statistics about those impacts. For example, writes reporter Gretel H. Schueller, a typical piece of food travels 1,400 miles before it reaches the consumer. Nabhan, in response, aims to persuade readers to buy as much food as they can from local producers.

“Each time we put something in our mouths,” Nabhan told Schueller, “it’s a moral act, whether we admit it or not.” His message is a timely one in Maine, where the state Department of Agriculture is in the second year of a marketing campaign with the same goal, “Get real. Get Maine!”

Nabhan is the author of 12 books and the recipient of numerous awards for his work, including a MacArthur “genius” fellowship.

The Philip J. Otis Endowment was established in 1996 by Margaret V. B. and C. Angus Wurtele in memory of their son, Philip, Class of 1995, who died attempting to rescue an injured climber on Mt. Rainier. In recognition of Otis’ appreciation for the environment, the Otis Endowment helps support Bates programs in areas related to the environment, particularly the spiritual and moral dimensions of our relationship with the environment.

The Otis Lecture brings speakers of regional, national and international reputation to Bates.

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