Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation
by Sharon Astyk

New Society Publishers, 2009. ISBN 978-0-865-71652-0.
Reviewed by Susan Wittig Albert
Posted on 10/27/2009

Nonfiction: Food/Cooking/Kitchen

Independence Days is a book about food security. Like Sharon Astyk's two previous books (Depletion and Abundance; A Nation of Farmers), this one focuses on the need to assume personal responsibility for food self-sufficiency and for shortening the supply chain from farm/garden to table. Unlike Asktyk's previous books, this one is also a how-to, as well as a why-we-should, complete with helpful instructions for creating and managing a food storage pantry, preserving fresh foods, and cultivating a frugal and self-reliant life style.

Astyk's arguments for the importance of personal food security ("one of the central issues of our time") are compelling. A looming energy crisis, soil and water depletion, and the threat of global warming—these are all reasons to be concerned about the reliability of our food supply and the need to take personal control, as far as possible, over the food we put on our family's table. "Independence days" (a concept Astyk borrows from Carla Emery) are days when we're eating food we grow ourselves or obtain locally. For Astyk, true independence is freedom from the industrial food system that feeds most Americans.

Hence this book, which recommends various methods for food preservation (canning, pickling, dehydrating, fermenting); for purchasing, stocking, and storing food in pantry, root cellar, and freezer; for acquiring tools and equipment, in addition to adequate supplies of water, medicine, and other necessities; and for creating and using community resources. All of this advice is sound, helpful, and inspiring. It is also very credible, for Astyk practices what she preaches, and it's good to know that she has tried the methods that she advocates. The various sections are also illustrated with recipes, more or less effectively. Some of the recipes contain non-local foods—coconut milk, quinoa, salmon—which I found distracting in a book about shortening the supply chain, and not all of them illustrate the principle she'd like to teach: baked apples and cranberries are good comfort food but the recipe doesn't fit very comfortably in a section on medicines. Recipes/formulas for home-grown herbal remedies would have been a better choice.

But these are minor quibbles. I like Sharon Astyk because she always tells me why I should do something, before she tells me how, and this book continues that practice. "This isn't just about the rice or the garden or the canning jars," she says. "This is a small but important step in making a better way of life." Yes, truly. I learned from Independence Days, and it strengthened my desire to be as independent as possible. If you're concerned about food security, this is a good book to read and use. If you're not, read it anyway. You'll learn why the American food supply should be at the top of your list of things to think about.

Sharon Astyk is writer, subsistence farmer, parent, activiest and prolific blogger. She farms in upstate New York with her family, raises livestock, and grows and preserves vegetables.

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