Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

Cooked
by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

unrest
by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Corked
by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto

More...

Boozehound
by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

Tomatoland
by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

Curry
by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

Ratio
by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

Candyfreak
by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

Cakewalk
by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

Gastrology
by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

Eating
by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide

The One-Straw Revolution

 

by Masanobu Fukuoka (
New York Review Books Classics, 2009
200 pages
ISBN: 978-1590173138

Review by Kim Jordan

I grew up on my dad’s farm stories, but I did so while I raised potted plants on apartment balconies and the windowsills of rental houses. His work on the farm gave him many tales but it was that very work, so unrelenting in its nature, that led him to seek his nomadic fortunes with the military and take us with him. Yet when we made our summer visits to my grandparent’s farm, the very farm on which he grew up, I longed for the rhythm of the seasons, the realness of growing food, and the beauty of the farm full of life.

Masanobu Fukuoka’s classic, The One-Straw Revolution, which was first published in October, 1975, appeals to the secret farmer in me. Not a farmer driving a tractor over miles of straight rows of corns, wearing a gas mask and long rubber gloves, but a farmer who covers winter fields with rice straw and sows seeds in ripening fields, a farmer who writes haiku in the winter, a farmer who reaps a harvest in harmony with the ways of nature. Fukuoka’s revolution is about natural farming, beginning with one straw of rice.

As humans, we like to control non-human things that can work just fine without us. Take insects, spiders, plants, and worms, all of which manage to find a balance in fields without chemicals, machinery, or fertilizer. And that balance still allows a farmer to attain a harvest equal to or greater than the average “modern” on a hillside near a small village in southern Japan. Over his lifetime as a farmer, Fukuoka noted that petrochemicals were disrupting the natural balance of the land. Instead of doing more to correct it, he did less and called this “natural farming.” Natural farming, in comparison to the easy “know-nothing” farming promised by agribusiness companies that prescribe cookie-cutter plans and schedules, asks the farmer to work with nature through the virtues of awareness, observation, connection, and persistence.

Fukuoka’s insight is that human intelligence is woefully insufficient—we just don’t know enough—and he set out to demonstrate our ignorance in 1938 through his method of “do-nothing farming,” a mode of farming in which the first question isn’t what to do, but rather, “How about not doing this?” In fact, the main need for human intervention comes when the natural balance of the land has already been disrupted. That’s when agricultural techniques are most needed. Human tampering can damage the soil and leave lingering problems that require correction. For Fukuoka, understanding the natural state and patterns of nature is vital. He writes, “Nature does not change, although the way of viewing nature invariably changes from age to age. No matter the age, natural farming exists forever as the wellspring of agriculture.”

No cultivation, no chemical fertilizer or prepared compost, no weeding by tillage or herbicides, and no dependence on chemicals. These are Fukuoka’s principles. How does he farm in light of them? He times the sowing of his seeds so that, while the current crop is still ripening in the field, they can germinate before the weeds. He covers his fields in rice straw directly after harvest, adding bits of poultry manure. And he conditions and nourishes the soil by using ground-cover crops, such as clover, vetch, and alfalfa soil. “The object seen in isolation from the whole,” he observes, “is not the real thing.” A natural farmer, he shows us how each object, each choice, plays its role in connecting all life. He writes, “Applying an insecticide is not simply a matter of eliminating the leaf-hoppers together with their natural predators. Many other essential dramas of nature are affected.”

My dad remembered the day they stopped drinking fresh milk on the farm and started going to the store to buy it. I asked him, “Which tasted better, farm milk or store bought?”

“Farm milk,” he replied.

Confused, I asked, “Then why did you buy the store stuff?”

He told me, “It was the times. Everyone shifted to larger dairies. We couldn’t compete anymore.” I was confused then and I still feel that confusion now: why have so few of us challenged industrialized farming techniques?

Fukuoka rebelled against the shift toward industrial agriculture and found a way forward. His legacy lies in a different—and powerful—question, “How about not doing this?” And his farm is a testament that, with one straw of rice, we can resist industrial agriculture.