Something Like a Book Review

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The Good Food Revolution, written by Will Allen and Charles Wilson, is a book that I read about four or five years ago. The story remains in my mind, however, and has been something of an inspiration to me. Before I discuss the book, I would like to tell a short story about how the book and I came to meet.

At the second university I attended (out of three), I took an intensive writing course in Spanish. It was required for my major: Spanish Education. No problem, I thought. Well, it was the most difficult class I have ever taken. On the first day of class, our professor, una colombiana, told us that we would not be allowed to speak in English while in the classroom. Everyone nodded their heads in agreement.

On the second day of class, I, in a somewhat boisterous mood that day, spoke loudly in English. La profesora turned and yelled my name. The classroom fell silent.

“Alexandra!” she said before all. “If you speak in English again, I will take off 20% of your grade.”

I was in shock, as well as the rest of the students. I sat, stunned, staring at her with embarassment and anger. Leaving the classroom, I vowed to speak only Spanish in the class, and to speak Spanish well.

Having studied Spanish, English, and the educational theories of teaching either, I know that many young Spanish speakers have been yelled at and forbidden to speak their own languages in school. Now it had happened to me and I would accept it. A stronger piece of my character decided that I would accept the rebuke and the challenge.

So, I worked very hard and spoke only in Spanish while in that classroom. We learned so much that semester. The class culminated in a six page research paper, due entirely in Spanish. I wrote mine on the topic of motorcycles (don’t ask). I don’t remember the particular grade, but I will never forget what happened on the last day of class.

La profesora approached me in the hallway. We never spoke about the incident on the first day of class but I no longer felt the need to. She recommended I sign up for an Honors class. I was surprised, but thrilled. We had come to respect each other.

Taking the advice of a woman that I had come to regard highly, I signed up for an Honors class the next semester. Her referral got me in. On the list of required texts for the Honors class was The Good Food Revolution. I remember wondering, “What the hell do we need that book for?”

The Honors class was about mentoring others and, as I suspected, had a vague connection to The Good Food Revolution. The author, Will Allen, did mentor others along his way, but his book taught me so much more about taking chances, getting your hands dirty, and bringing people with you on your way to greatness.

Will Allen is a black man from the Wisconsin area. He discusses the connection between black people and farming: how it’s in their bones, how they have always cared for the land. After travelling abroad as a basketball player and later, selling medications as a pharmaceutical rep, Will Allen did something crazy. He quit his job and bought an old greenhouse. From there, he learned to grow food, help urban communities, and bring people together around the garden.

Will Allen experimented in everything from composting, to aquaponics, to vertical farming. After a lot of work in his own community, he and his daughter worked to build community gardens in Chicago and bring fresh food to people that don’t have access to it. He offered workshops in growing vegetables, raising fish, cooking what came from the garden. I believe his lessons are crucial today.

Allen tells his story with grace and includes pictures of his life in the book. The history he tells of black people in this country is tragic, but he offers good food as a solution to the problems of urban living. His moral is entirely uplifting: we can help those that have been oppressed by giving back to them their own skills, and teaching them to feed themselves well.

I have never forgotten this book and, though I don’t think it has much to do with mentoring, I have fallen in love with growing things, saving things, and turning old things into something new. Good food is important to our success as a community, as Allen demonstrates. We must work hard, but we are inherently equipped to do so.

You may not be very interested in this book. I wasn’t. But, I read it. I fell in love with it. And I never forgot it. If you are looking for an unforgettable story, a new skill or hobby, a black author to support, pick up a copy here, or listen with a free trial on Audible.

P.S. Next time you are challenged, lean into it. The challenge might just bring you closer to who you really are, who you are meant to be.