A Conversation With James McWilliams, Sustainable Food Expert

Historians in the News

Among today's writers on the topic of sustainable food, James McWilliams stands out—in part because he is a bit of an iconoclast. Whether arguing that it's time to rethink genetically modified foods, that free-range meat isn't better than factory-farmed, or that you can't simultaneously praise fancy cheeses and say you want to save the world, McWilliams is often provocative. You might say he's out to cause trouble. Or you might say he asks the hard questions that nobody else wants to ask. And it is my personal belief that part of the reason he is so infuriating is that his writing is so persuasive.

McWilliams is an associate professor of history at Texas State University, San Marcos, and the author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. I spoke with him yesterday as he was preparing to interview a pecan farmer while doing research for a short book, a natural history of the pecan.

What do you say when people ask, "What do you do?"

Well, you know, I guess I would say I get curious about certain aspects of the world around me, most of them having to do with food and agriculture, and I read and research and write about that. I cover issues of sustainability and the ethics of food production, and I do this both through a historical focus and a contemporary focus.

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