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Know the West

Yes, I'm gonna eat that!


After visiting the Fertile Crescent, where he eats "local" food for the first time, Lebanese-American writer Gary Paul Nabhan returns to the U.S. determined to do the same at his Tucson home. To most of us, that would have meant growing a larger garden and buying a lamb or cow from a neighbor.

But Nabhan, a MacArthur Fellow and famed ethnobotanist, goes all the way, throwing out most of the food in his pantry, enlisting help from friends, members of a nearby Indian tribe and strangers he meets during his quest. In Coming Home to Eat, Nabhan records his travails - and successes - while questioning his motives at every step.

The book could easily have been a bore, but Nabhan's ideology is overwhelmed by his pragmatic, hands-on curiosity. He parses out where our food comes from, he tells us how to forage for wild plants, how to hunt and cook wild birds, and how to organize a community around food and health. And, most welcome of all, he doesn't disguise the contradictions he lives with, recognizing the near impossibility of living in the "local eatery" of his relatives, thousands of miles away.

Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, by Gary Paul Nabhan, 330 pages, $24.95. W.W. Norton, New York.