This week I finished up reading The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week) by Robin Mather. This is part memoir, part recipe book, part education in the world of local food.
It seems the “eat locally for a year” challenge has become an increasingly common topic for writers everywhere, perhaps since Barbara Kingsolver tackled the topic in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. When I got this book, I feared it would just be a rehashing of the same old topics.
Delightfully, it was not. Robin Mather has won several prestigious awards for her food writing. The book begins with her husband wanting a divorce the same week that she gets laid off from her job at the Chicago Tribune. To survive on the income of a freelance writer, she heads to her 650 sq. ft. lakeside cottage and decides to make her way by eating locally.
In my own life, I was raised in a very typical modern American family, food-wise. We ate entirely too much processed and fast food. As an adult who has become more aware of the effects of what I put into my body—both for my physical health and that of my community—I have had to learn every step of the way how to feed my own family in a way that is seasonal and frugal. I really wish that I had this book when I started learning to cook my own food. It would have gone a long way in teaching me how to shop, plan, and save in the kitchen.
Admittedly, Robin is living alone, so $40 a week doesn’t seem that far out for a weekly grocery bill. Still, she manages to afford some surprising luxuries with that budget (shade-grown coffee, saffron). Most impressively, she manages to have the bulk of her winter food stocked so that she really has to shop little during the winter months. Much of what she writes reads like a primer for those of us who are handicapped when it comes to meal-planning, preserving, and finding food deals. She heavily emphasizes dehydrating your veggies (which, to me, is so much simpler than quarts and quarts of canning).
The recipes featured in the book are all simple, easy-to-do, and appetizing. Because a bulk of the book is recipes, it does make for fast reading. My only complaint about the book is that I wish it had been a little more personal. While the books title seems to hint at some personal story within, the reality is that 97% of the book was food. Perhaps only 3% was personal. Robin just seems to go from steamrolled by her life’s sudden turn of events in the beginning to magically better at the end. Anyone who has been divorced knows that there was probably a little more evolution in the middle. I just wish we could have had a little more insight into her personal evolution as she goes on her food journey.
All in all, this is a great read for those interested in eating locally or from their own gardens.