Geography of Food
James Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D.
Updated February 6, 2012

Local is the new organic.

Welcome to my food page! I found that food was getting all over my web pages -- so to speak -- and I decided it was time to bring some of my varied food interests together in one place.

I had been thinking of this for a while, but a radio interview with Judith Jones was the final impetus. In "A Life in Food," Julia Child's first publisher explains the reasons I have become a "foodie" better than I can do. Take time to listen! I also highly recommend the film July & Julia, which is about blogging and food.

For me, good food is about enjoyment, health, the environment, and justice.

I live in a household with three people, a minpin, and an undetermined number of blogs. We all love food, study food, prepare food, and have opinions about food. Much of this makes its way onto the blogs.

Environmental Geography is my "main blog" with close to 500 entries (so far) on all things geographic. This includes many posts about food, especially coffee.

Nueva Receta Cada Semana is a joint project with Pamela Hayes-Bohanan, where we post at least one culinary adventure a week. Our range is wide, from thoughtful meals that use local, organic ingredients to indulgences that would make Elvis cringe. Fortunately, the former is by far the more common. Wine pairings are often included, as we are somewhat fixated on the wines of our region.

Celebrating the States is another joint project that Pam and I produced throughout 2010. We celebrated the anniversary of each state's admission to the United States with film, literature, and food related to that state. Some of the culinary finds were amazing, and the whole project was rife with geography lessons!

James cooking
Lovin' our kitchen!

Food Page Sections








In the Kitchen
Fast Recipes
When dining at home or cooking for friends, I like to do my best, and to show great care for the food. See my Fun Food page for a few of my favorite recipes (pancakes, crêpes, queso dip, and chilaquiles) and products. The dip recipe is both easy and popular, which is why it has been picked up by
For help in combining food and beverages, I highly recommend What to Drink with What You Eat.
I am open to suggestions about my YouTube playlist of videos about local and organic food. I was inspired to put it up when I read a New York Times article about food grown at the White House.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Find out at the Food Timeline, a librarian-hatched site that was brought to my attention by my favorite librarian.

Close to Home

The phrase at the top of this page -- local is the new organic -- captures a growing appreciation that getting food from near one's home may be have as many or more benefits as getting organic food from far away. E Magazine writer Brita Belli gives a good introduction to this reasoning in "The Growing Movement to know your Farmer and Your Food," republished on the Organic Consumers Association web site.

Starting in the spring of 2006, we have been farm boxers -- members of a local Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) cooperative. In the spring, we invest some money in the CSA and during the summer and fall we pick up our harvest each week. Each CSA is a bit different, but the principle is the same: customers become invested in the farm, and share in the bounty. Some CSAs either require some contribution of labor or give a discount to those who do work on the farm.

Our CSA is the Colchester Neighborhood Farm in Plympton, Massachusetts. The CSA helps to preserve an historic farm that has been owned by the same family for 200 years! The pressure to convert such farms to suburban development is tremendous. By participating in the CSA, we help to conserve open space and reduce automobile-dependent sprawl while putting healthier food on our table. Being stakeholders in the farm has helped us to return to old habits of mind, thinking of food as seasonal. Rather than identify what we want to cook each week and going to the grocery to fetch it from the four corners of the earth, we find out what is in season and find recipes to prepare it. We get better, fresher food without excessive fuel consumption and shipping!

Find CSAs anywhere in the U.S. and in a few other countries on the database of the Robyn Van En Center at Wilson College. (Note: Search by state name; the ZIP code search does not work, unless there is a farm in your zip code.)

In Massachusetts, find CSAs, other local farms, and important farming organizations through the state's MassGrown web site. If I pay a higher retail price for food -- or other goods and services -- from a local farm, I know that I have made an investment in my community. Farmers in suburban regions do the rest of us a favor by keeping their land in agriculture when it would be much easier to "cash out" and sell the land. The last farm to be sold in Bridgewater sold for over $13,000,000! Anybody who can resist that kind of money deserves a few bucks from me!
Restoring America's Food Traditions
Slow Food What is a good idea in Massachusetts is a good idea anywhere. See the RAFT project -- Restoring America's Food Traditions -- at Slow Food USA. It is a project in which seven prominent organizations are coming together to document, restore, and celebrate the incredible diversity of America's edible plants, animals, and food traditions. The organizers call this the country's first eco-gastronomic conservation project.

Visit Slow Food USA or Slow Food International for other ways to undo the damage of fast food!

From Far Away

As soon as I posted this page, a colleague sent me a link to the Sierra Club article "Them Belly Full but We Mindful ," which points out a great limitation of the locavore movement: we have come to enjoy food from far away. I confess a great weakness for coffee and tropical fruits, among other things that are not in my local foodshed. Indeed, I think that some level of connection to far-away foods and farmers is a healthy part of much-needed international discourse. In fact, for those foods we get from far away, attentiveness to food can translate to greater justice and cleaner environments in other lands.

One of my main food interests is actually a beverage -- coffee. See my geography of coffee page to see what I have been learning about the many connections between java and justice. I do not know very much about cacao (chocolate), but it is somewhat similar in terms of botany, geography, processing, and the trade and environmental matters involved. The Joanne Silberner's piece " How Chocolate Can the Planet " on NPR is a good introduction.

Another great example of a food I enjoy from far away is tropical fruit that I first encountered in northern Brazil. I am glad that Sambazon now makes some of it available available in the U.S. through Sambazon . It is even available right here in Bridgewater (only in blended form, and only the açai, but still a good thing) at Uplifting Connections (which also sells fair-trade coffee). My guest-blog article Churrascão tells more tales about food in Brazil -- not all of it healthy.


Food businesses know that people are concerned about the health and environmental consequences of their food choices. Some respond by offering better choices. Others respond by offering better labels! The new Organic Batter Blaster is a terrific example (this site looks like a joke, but it is not). This instant pancake batter may be made with organic ingredients, but it is tremendously over-packaged, and therefore much worse for the environment than virtually any other means of making pancakes.

Drinking water provides another example of mis-directed environmental concern. Worries about the quality of drinking water have become an excuse for overpackaging water. The petroluem used to bottle water in the United States would fuel 100,000 cars, and it usually offers only a bit of convenience, rather than any real health benefit. See CNAD's Kick the Bottled Water Habit campaign for more information.

As large producers move toward the organic market, they also lobby to weaken organic labeling requirements. So, whenever possible, the more we know about the sources of our food, the better.

Food Security

In another phase of my career, I worked for one of the leading producers of combat and humanitarian rations . From that experience, I learned about both the importance and the limitations of short-term, emergency feeding operations in crisis areas. The World Food Program of the United Nations will always, it seems, need to provide for emergency food where war or disaster interrupt the food supply. The Food and Agriculture Organization , also of the U.N., works on the development of policies to combat hunger in both rich and poor countries. It is a comprehensive source of data on nutrition and under-nourishment worldwide.

Guest at Your Table
              -- UUSC
Our family is fortunate enough to have all we need to eat. We are even more fortunate that we have the opportunity to eat dinner together most evenings. We make a special effort to do so, and we recognize that even some people who have enough food have to work at jobs that make it impossible, so we count ourselves lucky.

When we eat together, we start the meal by recounting at least three good things that happened to each of us that day -- because meal time can otherwise become a time of commiseration. We also try to remember those who are not as fortunate, and during the holiday season each year we have a productive reminder and a connection to the world through the Guest at Your Table program of the UUSC . At each meal during this time of year, we each put a few coins in a box and remember the food security and other social-justice programs that UUSC undertakes in the United States and abroad.

Other religious traditions -- or non-religious organizations of many kinds -- provide similar opportunities. The key, I think, is not which one we choose, but that we choose not to forget.

Another very powerful way to improve food security abroad and simplify your life at home is to use Heifer International for gift-giving occasions. This organization allows you to avoid the stress of shopping for gifts by giving farm animals to people who really need them. We have often found this much more satisifying than giving toys, clothes, or baubles to friends and relatives who already -- like us -- have too much stuff to keep track of anyway.

As world agriculture becomes ever more commodified, livestock and crops are losing biodiversity. Ironically, the genetic manipulation that makes "modern" agriculture possible depends in turn upon a wide array of genetic material in the food plants and animals. A focus on high yields, aesthetic perfection, and pesticide resistance means that the gene pool is getting dangerously narrow. The American Livestock Breeds Conservatory addresses this problem in animals; the Seed Savers Exchange helps farmers and gardeners to perpetuate heirloom varieties of crops.

Learn more about the problem from the radio pieceE-I-E-I-Endangered , which first aired on Living on Earth in November 2007. Farmer and scientist Jennifer Cermak conserves endangered farm animals at Berlin Farms, west of Boston, where she also operates a restaurant. The Boston Globe tells the story of this farm in more detail in "Farm life is just what the doctor ordered ." Her farm is not far from Davis Farmland in Sterling, which is a terrific place for farm education and livestock conservancy that also has a water park for kids.

I created this page during 2008, the International Year of the Potato! It sounds like a bit of a joke, but this is quite serious. Read the IPY Concept page to learn how serious attention to the potato can improve food security, biodiversity, nutrition, and can help countries achieve their development goals.

It is ironic that the sponsors of this effort include at least one company that has been responsible for over-processed, over-engineered french fries. Other sponsors include the kitchy-but-informative Potato Museum of Albuquerque.

During our 2004 trip to Romania, we made a remarkable discovery: potatoes have flavor! If they are grown without chemicals and served without weeks of shipping and storage, that is!

Closer to home, potatoes can be local and/or organic just about anywhere in the world. The IPY web site even includes instructions for growing potatoes at home . We have been thinking about it for a couple of years. It looks like 2008 will have to be the year!

TUNA POTATO: We have abandoned many of the cheap foods that got us through graduate school, but we still love a creation borne of necessity and small stipends: the tuna potato! Hot baked potato, a little butter, some shredded cheese, and cool tuna salad. Fiber, vitamins, and protein in comfort food for under a buck!
International Year of the Potato

My daughter Paloma is an animal lover and vegetarian, so she fits well under this veggie moose in Michigan.
The rest of the family are "flexitarians" who eat meat only occasionally.

Veggie Moose

Food and Meaning

Poultry Slam
This American Life is a radio magazine that is both deeply thoughtful and at times humorous. It is artfully produced. A 1998 episode entitled Poultry Slam includes five very different segments on birds as food, as pets, and as beings with moral significance. It is now rebroadcast each Thanksgiving.

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Students / International / Environment / Variety / James
James Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D.
Dept. of Geography
Bridgewater State University
Bridgewater, Massachusetts USA / EUA

Visitors since November 19, 2007