Cathy Stanton, “Food Margins: Lessons from an Unlikely Grocer” (U Massachusetts Press, 2024)

An anthropologist walks into a grocery store—no that’s not the start of a joke, that’s the true story of how Cathy Stanton came to be involved with Quabbin Harvest, a food co-op in the former mill town of Orange, Massachusetts. 

Part memoir and part history, Stanton’s new book Food Margins: Lessons from an Unlikely Grocer (University of Massachusetts Press, 2024) traces the struggles of one small store in one small town and uncovers the long arc of the modern industrial food system coming into being. In that system, corporate giants offer the kind of abundance, affordability, and convenience that make it all but impossible for small-scale ventures to survive, as Stanton discovered when she joined local efforts to save the nascent food co-op. Drawing on her own deep knowledge of how the plantation, the factory, and the supermarket are politically, ecologically, and economically entangled, she comes to a new understanding of why it’s so hard to effect real change in how we get our food. On the margins of the dominant system, she learns that it’s possible to keep an alternative alive by making a fierce commitment to community and stepping outside her own comfort zone as a white middle-class shopper—a core demographic of today’s locavore movement. In Orange, one of the poorest towns in one of the wealthiest U.S. states, Stanton also tracks the story of American industrial growth, abandonment, and the divisive politics of the present day. Her co-op started out in the former Minute Tapioca factory complex, now a business incubator in one of countless communities trying to anchor capital more permanently. The parallel story of the iconic Minute Tapioca brand shows the rise of mass-produced commodity foods and their role in creating a system with troubling disparities in who is able to afford fresh and healthy food.Food Margins is a complex and compelling story of a de-industrialized, rural community that is imagining and creating a viable alternative to the mainstream in a time of increasingly urgent need to build a more socially and ecologically just food system. Stanton’s new book can help to fuel those conversations and actions with an insider view of the task at hand and an anthropologist’s sense of how it intersects wider struggles for equity and sustainability.

Cathy Stanton teaches Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Tufts University and lives in north-central Massachusetts, where she has been involved in local food projects for many years. She has written widely about sites of commemoration and heritage tourism, including at industrial and agricultural history sites. Website.

Brian Hamilton is chair of the Department of History and Social Science at Deerfield Academy. TwitterWebsite.

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