Book Review: Methland
Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town
by Nick Redding (Bloomsbury USA – June 9, 2009)
When I saw Methland listed as a top food book of 2010 on grist.org I was surprised and intrigued. I didn’t know squat about meth or small town life, but I knew from traveling the country to work on Farm Together Now that there was a huge difference between thriving boutique-ish small towns that could support high-end sustainably produced food and those still dominated by industrially cultivated commodities which usually supported a few fat-cat landowners and otherwise desperate and failed local economies. Methland describes the latter kind of town. With richly developed characters not often seen in non-fiction, author Nick Redding tells the story of the consolidation of the food industry through the lens of the rise of Meth use, production and circulation in Oelwein, Iowa (and other midwestern towns like it). The analysis is that Meth is a working-person’s drug made by people coerced into long hours in tractor-trailers and meat-packing plants and abandoned farm houses that all reveal once and for all that small towns are quite depressed and no longer able to be ignorantly romanticized. While the author criticizes ag-industry giants like Cargill and Monsanto, he awkwardly acknowledges towards the end of the book that his father is an Iowa farmer who worked his way up the ranks of the Monsanto agricultural biotechnology company based in St. Louis. While this personal history does nothing to discredit the research and facts in the book, it does reveal how real people with real life stories are implicated in destroying our food system. I highly recommend reading Methland for anyone who wants to try-out (or return to) rural life from the city or suburbs. It is a good reminder that whatever you think you are looking for will have to concede to a new rural reality that is hard to change and hard to ignore.