The Politics of the Pasture

How Two Cattle Inspired a National Debate about Eating Animals

On October 1, 2012, Green Mountain College in Vermont announced that is was going to slaughter its longtime oxen team Bill and Lou and, according to its mission of food sustainability, serve them as hamburger in the schools cafeteria.

What ensued was more explosive and far-reaching than anyone could have predicted. Immediately animal advocates entered the fray, sanctuaries offering to take the oxen in and anonymouis donors to make up for the lost revenue. As the public dialogue intensified, activists and studens engaged in a battle fought not only in the pasture but accross social media, spreading to the entire world. And in the midst of it all were Bill and Lout, “magnificent creates – and embodiment of power, with long horns and formidable muscle under coats the color of creamed coffee.”

Historian James McWilliams closely follows the payers, from GMC’s president and faculty to leading animal rights thinkers, as he investigates the political workings of a small agricultural college, the inherent flaws of ecological sustainability, and the ethical implication of eating animals. No matter what side of the debate one falls on, this case study poses vital and provocative qustions long after the controversy has died down.”

The Pecan

A History of America’s Native Nut

What would Thanksgiving be without pecan pie? New Orleans without pecan without pecan pralines? Southern cooks would have to hang up their aprons without America’s native nut, whose popularity has spread far beyond the tree’s natural home. But as familiar as the pecan is, most people don’t know the fascinating story of how native pecan trees fed Americans for thousands of years until the nut was “improved” with a little more than a century ago – and why that rapid domestication actualy threatens the pecan’s long-term future.

In The Pecan, acclaimed writer and historian James McWilliams explores the history of America’s most important commercial nut. He describes how essential the pecan was for Native Americans – by some calculations, an average pecan harvest had the food value of nearly 150,000 bison. McWilliams explains that, because of its natural edibility, abundance, and ease of harvesting, the pecan was left in its natural state longer than any other commercial fruit or nut crop in America. Yet once the process of “improvement” began, it took less than a century for the pecan to be almost totally domesticated. Today, more than 300 million pounds of pecans are produced every year in the United States – and as much of half of that total might be exported to China, which has fallen in love with America’s native nut. McWilliams also warns that as ubiquitous as the pecan has become, it is vulnerable to a “perfect storm” of economic threats and ecological disasters that could wipe it out within a generation. This lively history suggest why the pecan deserves to be recognized as a true American heirloom.

Just Food

Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly

We suffer today from food anxiety, bombarded as we are with confusing messages about how to eat an ethical diet. Should we eat locally? Is organic really better for the environment? Can genetically modified foods be good for you?

JUST FOOD does for fresh food what Fast Food Nation (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) did for fast food, challenging conventional views, and cutting through layers of myth and misinformation. For instance, an imported tomato is more energy-efficient than a local greenhouse-grown tomato. And farm-raised freshwater fish may soon be the most sustainable source of protein.

Informative and surprising, JUST FOOD tells us how to decide what to eat, and how our choices can help save the planet and feed the world.

American Pests

The Losing War on Insects from Colonial Times to DDT

The world of insects is one we only dimly understand. Yet from using arsenic, cobalt, and quicksilver to kill household infiltrators to employing the sophisticated tools of the Orkin Man, Americans have fought to eradicate the “bugs” they have learned to hate.

Inspired by the still-revolutionary theories of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, James E. McWilliams argues for a more harmonious and rational approach to our relationship with insects, one that does not harm our environment and, consequently, ourselves along the way. Beginning with the early techniques of colonial farmers and ending with the modern use of chemical insecticides, McWilliams deftly shows how America’s war on insects mirrors its continual struggle with nature, economic development, technology, and federal regulation. He reveals a very American paradox: the men and women who settled and developed this country sought to control the environment and achieve certain economic goals; yet their methods of agricultural expansion undermined their efforts and linked them even closer to the inexorable realities of the insect world.

A Revolution In Eating

How the Quest for Food Shaped America

Sugar, pork, beer, corn, cider, scrapple, and hoppin’ John all became staples in the diet of colonial America. The ways Americans cultivated and prepared food and the values they attributed to it played an important role in shaping the identity of the newborn nation. In A Revolution in Eating, James E. McWilliams presents a colorful and spirited tour of culinary attitudes, tastes, and techniques throughout colonial America.

Confronted by strange new animals, plants, and landscapes, settlers in the colonies and West Indies found new ways to produce food. Integrating their British and European tastes with the demands and bounty of the rugged American environment, early Americans developed a range of regional cuisines. From the kitchen tables of typical Puritan families to Iroquois longhouses in the backcountry and slave kitchens on southern plantations, McWilliams portrays the grand variety and inventiveness that characterized colonial cuisine. As colonial America grew, so did its palate, as interactions among European settlers, Native Americans, and African slaves created new dishes and attitudes about food. McWilliams considers how Indian corn, once thought by the colonists as “fit for swine,” became a fixture in the colonial diet. He also examines the ways in which African slaves influenced West Indian and American southern cuisine.

Building the Bay Colony

Local Economy and Culture in Early Massachusetts

Historians often consider transatlantic trade and the export of staples to have been the driving forces behind economic development in virtually all of colonial America. In From the Ground Up: How the Massachusetts Bay Colony Achieved Economic Success, James E. McWilliams challenges this assumption, showing how internal economic development, rather than exports that shareholders hoped would provide a handsome return on their investments, actually served as the backbone of the Massachusetts economy.

Starting with the basics – the building of farms, fences, stables, roads, and bridges – McWilliams demonstrates through careful analyses of farmer and merchant account books how these small infrastructure improvements established the foundation for more ambitious, overseas adventures. Using an intensely local lens, McWilliams explores the century-long process whereby the Massachusetts Bay Colony went from a distant outpost of the incipient British Empire to a stable society integrated into the transatlantic economy.