Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Land, food, sustainability and culture

Book discussion brings together local interests

Express Staff Writer

?Gardeners of Eden, Discovering Our Importance to Nature? by Dan Dagget. Thatcher Charitable Trust. $24.95. 144pp.

Land, food and culture are the lifeblood of most communities, particularly in the American West. Acknowledging the growing interest in these topics, The Community Library in Ketchum will host a book discussion called Land, Food, Sustainability and Culture on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at 6 p.m.

Led by rancher and environmentalist Diane Peavey, the discussion will focus on three books, "Gardeners of Eden, Rediscovering Our Importance to Nature" by Dan Dagget; "Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods" by Gary Nabhan; and "The Basque History of the World" by Mark Kurlansky.

Local ranchers, food producers and chefs will attend to talk about their relationships to these ideas and to the rugged landscapes and people of Central Idaho.

"There's a whole current of discussion in the community," said Mike Stevens, president of Carey-based Lava Lake Land and Livestock. Stevens will co-lead a discussion with Peavey. "We want to lead a discussion touching on the central themes of all three books," he said.

Dagget's book, "Gardeners of Eden,"presents new ideas and attitudes toward land preservation and use that are provocative but ultimately sensible.

"I encourage people to talk about Dan Dagget's book because there is a beneficial role for people to play in their landscape," Stevens said. "Mankind is a force of degradation, but we can play a beneficial role."

Dagget writes about nature with a wholehearted view.

But the controversy over land use takes on a fresh perspective when combined with the meaning and role of food in modern society. This is featured in Nabhan's "Coming Home to Eat."

"There is a lot of discussion and more on local food availability and food production," Stevens said. "Gary Nabhan's view is simply that eating locally and encouraging and sustaining local food production systems is not a quaint hobby for food aficionados. It is about maintaining our society and a sense of using less fossil fuels and encouraging land saving devices."

Ultimately, it is the person who prepares the food who witnesses this battle and becomes a "nexus" for communities and food, Stevens said.

"What does it really take to produce the food we want and want to eat?" Stevens asked. "Environmentalists did not have much in common with local ranchers and farmers and within bringing those opposing groups together it does not excuse anyone from managing the land well. It puts an onus on the environmentalist from where food is going to come from and putting a face with a farmer and rancher."

There is a serious interest in this idea and, through examinations of cultures of the past and present, new notions can be presented about the management of a changing environment.

In "The Basque History of the World," Kurlansky identifies the Basque culture through their history as a people who have adapted survival skills through welcoming and accepting outside influences. As an evolving people they have built a culture from regional conflict and exploration, which has sustained itself through its own adaptability.

Kurlansky has written several books on food and culture such as "Cod," "Salt" and his latest, "The Big Oyster." He believes that food is the best entrée into learning about a people and the evolution of economy and commerce. The addition of Kurlansky brings the discussion full circle.

"My sense is that we want to tie up the discussion with practical issues that affect the community and the content of each author," Stevens said. "It will not be geared to solving how to get a local food distribution in place. Our goal is not to formulate an agenda for further need."

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