Between the Covers: Fair Food by Dr. Oran Hesterman (and a Giveaway!)

It’s been called “illuminating” by Chef Alice Waters, “a must read” by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and was dubbed “an important, accessible book on a crucial subject” in a recent New York Times review.

Intrigued? You should be.

As author Dr. Oran Hesterman, president and CEO of Fair Food Network, describes in his new book Fair Food, Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All, “The food system that evolved to bring us abundant food at low cost has grown out of control, nourishing us by destroying some of what we hold most precious: our environment, our health and our future…[our food system] is broken and needs to be redesigned.”

Hesterman helps us understand what “food system” means by taking us on a journey following one crop, corn, from production to sale and consumption all the way to the end of the cycle – waste. When I think about corn, I think of corn on the cob so fresh and juicy it barely needs to be cooked. I had no idea the corn I envision makes up “only about one-half of 1 percent of the total corn crop grown in the United States.” The vast majority of corn is “field” corn. Often grown from genetically modified seeds, field corn is sprayed with herbicides and insecticides. Less than half of the field corn crop is fed to livestock, a little gets exported, almost a third becomes ethanol, and the remainder goes into processed foods and even non-food items.

Hesterman argues that a fair food system is equitable, and free from bias. He explores the plethora of unintended consequences endemic in our current food system such as: declining food quality, environmental issues, loss of farmland, problems of food access and food security, diet-related illness, worker exploitation, and an aging farmer population, among many others. As Hesterman reminds us, “…when any of our systems are broken, the pain is usually felt first – and worst – in those communities that historically have been excluded from opportunity and access. In the United States, this usually means inner-city, low-income communities, which are often communities of color.”

Fair Food starts with the problems to be addressed, but it doesn’t linger. Quickly the book moves on to solutions by providing examples of programs working to improve access to healthy food, provide healthy working conditions, and create equitable access to resources. Hesterman both describes and strives to foster “a redesigned system, one that is healthy for people, communities, and the environment.”

At times there is the tendency to vilify the big producers (big = bad, right?), In one of my favorite model examples, Hesterman encourages us to not count the big guys out. He suggests that changing the food system will need the support of major players. Players like Sysco, the largest food distributor in the United States.

Sysco’s CEO was concerned. Some of their growers were using too many pesticides and practicing poor land management techniques. Sysco realized they had the potential to have a major impact in changing agricultural practices. They worked with Cornell University to learn about and implement integrated pest management (IPM), a system designed to use the least amount of synthetic pesticides necessary, and only as a last resort. After five years, Sysco’s growers reduced their pesticide use by more than two million pounds. If like me, you hadn’t heard about this before, you might wonder why Sysco hasn’t been tooting their own horn about their accomplishments – it’s because they believe they still have a lot of work to do!

Hesterman argues that our food system needs to change locally, with big companies and institutions, and via legislation. I love Hesterman’s response. He says, “We need to shift from conscious consumers to engaged citizens.”

That’s a powerful call to action, and he backs it up by suggesting a variety of routes, from changing personal food purchasing decisions to advocating for governmental reform of public policy. I know I’ll be making good use of the fifty-plus pages of resources at the end of the book – filled with organizations working to change the food system in one way or another – and hope you will too.

Check out the book trailer and mark your calendars for this Saturday, June 18th! Dr. Oran B. Hesterman will be at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market (outside the Welcome Center, 315 Detroit Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan) conducting a public book signing to benefit Food Gatherers on June 18, 2011, from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Still reading and looking for the giveaway? Just leave us a comment on this post by the end of the day Thursday June 16th, and tell us what a fair food system means to you. One randomly chosen comment will receive a signed copy of the book, and we’ll announce the winner on our blog on Friday June 17th! If you’re too anxious to wait, you can learn more about the book, “Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All” by following the hyperlink, including where to purchase a copy for yourself!

Locally yours,


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9 Responses to Between the Covers: Fair Food by Dr. Oran Hesterman (and a Giveaway!)

  1. I’d really love to receive this book! I became interested in our food system & food policy, when I began a term paper as a class assignment for one of my courses in culinary school. The paper was on the FDA’s Risk Assessment Draft of cloned animal products for human consumption. I was suprised how decisions regarding health & safety were being made with limited scientific study and how much influence large, industrial, corporate food companies had over the FDA & decisions on whether a process or chemical was listed in food labeling. I’ve been reading & educating myself on the issues of our food system since and I am becoming a staunch supporter of organically grown, more sustainable farming, better labeling & more consumer awareness. I believe this book will help toward my food education, that I would certainly love to pass on.

    Thank You,


  2. Lucas DiGia says:

    A Fair Food System means the end of food deserts in urban areas around the country especially Detroit! It is affordable access to healthy and organic food!

  3. A fair food system is when everyone, from any income level, is able to get healthy, natural, good food.

  4. I’ve witnessed first-hand the plowing over of productive farmlands to make room for vinyl sided townhouses. A fair food system means sustainable farming so we not only have access to freshly grown food, but so do future generations.

  5. Mara says:

    I absolutely love new books. I have to cut myself off from buying every sustainability book on the market. HElp the habit!
    Food is so important…. in an even more holistic sense, we CONSUME our actions.

  6. Nicole says:

    Fair food system means paying what it’s really worth, taking care of the people that grow food, and the earth as well.

  7. Suzie says:

    Fair food to me means organic whole foods cost less than processed. Our food system is so backwards!

  8. speedydman says:

    Fair food is an opportunity to empower individuals, unite communities, rekindle an active participation in government and educate for sustainable balance in our environment!

  9. Pingback: Backyard Chickens: The Deep Litter Method | The Real Time Farms Blog

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