What would you do if you lost your job and your marriage in the span of a week? Robin Mather became a locavore, attempting to live off local food on $40 a week in rural Michigan. Her new book chronicles the food she ate. It’s called The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried my marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on forty dollars a week). (Shwew!)
The title is a bit misleading. Save for a few paragraphs, you won’t find any stories about the author’s marriage or job loss. This is mostly a how-to guide about eating locally. Each entry on making your own cottage cheese, yogurt, or properly freezing asparagus opens with a short essay that offers small glimpses into the author’s life as it relates to the preparation and discovery of her local food.
Chock full of recipes and food preserving instructions, any aspiring locavore will find helpful tips in these pages. Despite the growing number of guides on locavore living, this one manages to find new ground to cover, like making hard cider and roasting your own coffee beans. And while a devoted locavore may already know the best way to can strawberries, what makes The Feast Nearby unique is its local context.
Mather shares journalistic reports on the local farmers, butcher, and food producers in the Michigan territory near her home, providing context on dairy regulations and slaughter houses. These educational and well-researched essays enrich the argument for a local, sustainable diet.
Many readers are sure to find the author’s approach to eating locally quite agreeable. “One thing about the eat-local movement I have come to dislike is a sort of militancy about how to do it ‘properly,’” writes Mather. Like the best locavore writers, Mather knows each person must create a structure that works for their own lifestyle, habits, and needs. Locavorism isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet. That’s what makes it uniquely local.
Perhaps the most endearing character in The Feast Nearby is a parrot with the wisdom of a six-year-old child. Mather’s interactions with the bird are loving and entertaining. In her chapter on roasting beets, Mather provides a serving to the bird. She describes his hesitance as he tastes this new vegetable for the first time. That night, as Mather readies for bed and offers the bird his usual bedtime snack of peanuts, the bird refuses, saying, “No… Want a beets.” The parrot’s appearance adds joy and humor to a book that is otherwise largely matter-of-fact.
Mather’s easy writing style makes The Feast Nearby a quick read. She writes fluidly and conversationally. “I think everything sweet in life should be balanced by a bit of reality,” she writes of her Gingered Cornmeal Shortbread, just one of nearly 100 mouth-watering recipes provided.
Readers looking for practical guidance on living la vida locavore in a book that’s complete with recipes and how-to instructions will find it in The Feast Nearby.
The Feast Nearby
by Robin Mather
Ten Speed Press, May 2011, $24.00, 272 pages