James McWilliams

September 25, 2011

As both my regular readers know, I periodically do a blog to report feedback that does not show up in the “comment” box. I have gotten a few robot entries that it was very tempting to approve. Most of the time I just get stuff like the following: “Hello there, I found your web site via Google while searching for a related topic, your site came up, it looks great. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.”

This is the kind of generic comment that robots make in hopes you will approve it, boosting their own search ratings. However, some recent robots have gotten creative. My post “Places that Do Not Change” elicited responses like “It is a horny world, HOT post!” and “What is up with blaming Greenspan and Bush? He made great points but you always strike while the irons hot, thats Capitalism. Also has our lifestyles really changed that much this year?” If anyone sees the connection, please do explain it for the rest of us. Here’s another twist: “I just thought you should know that you could do a lot better with your titles. Try to find out what keywords people use to find your site and incorporate them in your titles. For instance what do you think you can chance in Joan Dye Gussow Thornapple CSA? Best regards, Jenni”. But sorry, Jenni. This looks too much like cut and paste and not enough like you are actually responding to my blog.

I also got a creative one: “I lost my manual and have no idea how to recline the seat of my stroller. Anyone know how?” I very nearly approved this stunning comment owing to its obvious connection to the vague existential musings in “Places that Do Not Change”. But I resisted the temptation.

And sometimes I hear from human beings. Within about two hours of posting my September 4, 2011 blog, I got an e-mail from James McWilliams at my MSU account. Here is what he said:

Professor Thompson,
Not that I think you really care, but, a few clarifications on your recent post:

McWilliams is a young historian [I'M 42--IS THAT YOUNG?]with what look like impeccable credentials. But he wrote a singularly stupid book [I'LL ADMIT FLAWS, BUT MY BOOK CANNOT ACCURATELY BE CALLED "SINGULARLY" STUPID] called Just Food: How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly [YOU OBVIOUSLY DID NOT READ THE BOOK, AS YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW THE TITLE--YOU ARE QUOTING THE WRONG SUBTITLE--DON'T TRUST THE GOOGLE!!]. McWilliams also blogs. He combines militant vegetarianism [VEGANISM, PLEASE] with a love of Monsanto [SHOW ME, PLEASE, ONE SCRAP OF EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THIS LOVE. I DISLIKE MONSANTO VERY MUCH] and rabid [CAUTIOUS] advocacy of [FRESHWATER] fish farming.

Sir, subtleties seem to be lost on you, judging from your thumbnail sketch of me.


James E. McWilliams, Ph.D.
Professor of History
Texas State University–San Marcos

So I hauled his book off the shelf. I have indeed read it through to the end, as the underlining and brackets indicate. He’s right about the subtitle. It’s “Where Locovores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibily” And he’s actually right about it not being singularly stupid. A charitable reading suggests that he is interested in improving the quality of debate over food issues. He may think of himself as trying to be helpful to locovores and other foodies. He’s pretty pro-biotech in the book, but I can be almost as pro-biotech, and that could also be read in the spirit of improving the quality of thinking.

He does come off a bit like Dan Ackroyd in the old spoof that he and Jane Curtin used to do on Saturday Night Live in the 70s. Curtin was impersonating Shana Alexander, who would square off against conservative pundit James K. Kirkpatrick every week on a 60 Minutes feature called “Point/Counterpoint”. After some randomly whiny rant from Curtin, Ackroyd’s standard comeback was always the same: “Jane you ignorant slut!” It’s probably on You Tube, but I’m too lazy to search for a link.

So I may have been unduly put off by McWilliams combative style, and failed to give him credit for trying to do something I try to do myself: make things complicated. My apologies, Professor, and if by some extremely unlikely turn of events you find yourself reading this, congratulations on having horned in on mini-icon status in the Thronapple Blog. As for my loyal readers, I do want both of you to understand that this is not be construed as an actual endorsement of McWilliams book. But in a phrase we’ve used before, it does not (totally) suck.

And as for that “young” issue, any college professor who got their terminal degree in this century qualifies. Unless you were at least in your third decade when you first heard Ackroyd trash Curtin during the original broadcast you are, in my book, young,

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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