Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday Roundup

It's Monday. It's nearly October. It's nearly that time of year when the harvest is done. The furious, festering days standing over a boiling canner are nearly over. The winter garden seedlings will soon be planted. Then I'll find more time for reading, doing puzzles, trying to knit something . . . anything.

For now, I'm thumbing through The Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture after being blown away listening to it's editor, Andrew Kimbrell, speak on a Slow Food Nation panel. The book is monstrous in size and comprised of essays from Wendell Barry and other vibrant thinkers. It is also packed with photos - industrial agriculture juxtaposed with agrarian agriculture. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I'd say the book is worth borrowing from your local library for the pictures alone. They will make clear which is the better way to grow food.

What are you reading? Are you finding time in this busy harvest season to read? Are you planning your harvest of winter books?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Farewell My Subaru

Today we have a guest review coming to us from Maya at The Gamble Life. She has several other interesting reviews on her site through using the tool GoodReads. Maya gave us permission to reprint:

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Doug Fine moves to New Mexico and sets up his home trying to live entirely locally--this turns out primarily to mean going off the electric grid and growing a garden. It's a great goal and a great idea for a book, but this book is very, very light. He seems to approach the issues seriously in his actions, but his writing is more focused on being light-hearted and funny.

I thought the best part of the book was the Afterword where he lists his suggestions, but he calls them conclusions, of the most important steps to take to reduce one's carbon footprint.It did make me want to raise chickens. My family raised chickens when I was a kid and I have great memories of them running around in the backyard and of eating their eggs! I think raising chickens is going on my list of things I want to do when we get back to Austin.

I think this would be good for someone who is afraid of getting a depressing book on the environment. Although he does include related facts in little offset blurbs every few pages. I found them sort of annoying and wish they'd been worked into the text instead of just stuck in between different paragraphs.

I've been thinking a lot about what I can do to rely less on oil and I was hoping for a more serious book about what one person did. Instead it's a collection of mostly funny stories about setting up solar panels, biofuel, the hazards of coyotes on chickens, and how weeds can actually help a garden sometimes.

Thanks for letting us repost Maya! It is nice to bring different voices to The Blogging Bookworm.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Diet for a New America

Diet for a New America was a book that I read straight through, animatedly discussing various points of the book with my husband. In 1987 John Robbins published a landmark book that was a harsh look at the realities of agra-business and how it dramatically affects our health, our nation and our well being. I held my husband hostage on a road trip as I flung facts from the books and subjected him to some horrible pictures of tortured animals we call lunch.

The full title is Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness and the Future of Life on Earth. Robbins, and yes the name rings a bell as he is the son of THE Robbins from Baskin and Robbins. He split from his family to live a simplistic lifestyle both in the acquisition of material goods and food selection. Much of his work is now considered a foundation for eco-conscious food decisions.

It is also interesting to note that this book predates much of our debate about climate change and the role of meat production and the implications of such on our global welfare. Robbins speaks of the environmental impact in that:

-Excessive amount of water is used in the production of meat
-The methane and by products of animal farming are of great detriment to our earth
-The sheer amount of food used to “raise” food is an incredible waste

Many of his conclusions laid a foundation for ideas that are firmly in the green conscious dialogue, but yet one of the first scathing looks at the business of food. The food impact, the health impact, and the environmental impact are realms that I feel Robbins really broke new ground and gave us a book that we can all read and digest.

I found Robbins’ discussion of food combinations and nutrition requirements extremely interesting. I didn’t agree with everything that he said, but he made a valid case for a dramatically different look at our nutritional requirements. He feels that we’re created this great big protein myth, when much of our nutrition requirements are easily obtained through food combinations, beans, leafy greens and more. I know, it seems pretty logical to most of us.

Robbins makes a gut wrenching case against our modern concept of animal farming. He exposes the inhumanity of standard practices such as chicken caging, animal prods and pig farms to name a few. The pictures are not for the faint of heart, but really and truly……I think it is something that we all need to look at. He discusses our meat packing practices, and the cruelty involved in getting the animals there. He takes us back into the thought that we aren’t just eating something nice and neatly wrapped in a styro dish, but we should realize exactly what it is and where it came from.

I first read Diet for a New America years ago when I was a veggie for six years, and then went vegan for two years. Years later I was off the wagon and eating meat far too regularly in my opinion, as part of the general suburban diet that I just became rather desensitized to. I wasn’t really considering the environmental impact, nor the impact to my health. When I started implementing a greener lifestyle I re-read Diet, and was rejuvenated in efforts to consider my impact in day-to-day choices. We’ve upped the veggies, given up beef and pork (except when my husband does the shopping), buy cage free organic eggs and have implemented a healthier diet for this American. I’m still not back to veggie, but I’d say we try to think much more wisely about our food and where it comes from.

Robbins reworked some of his figures concerning food production in later work. Even conservative figures still put one pound of beef as needing 450 gallons of water to produce, a figure that those concerned about water shortages should certainly take a valuable look at. While he might not win everybody over on his emotional appeal, he does make many serious points on the environmental impact.

It isn’t a nicely packaged “green read” book of modern day, (laugh that we think 1987 is old) but it lays a good foundation for understanding how “green” and “food” and “business” all intersect in our modern day. I’d recommend it with 4 out of 5 for light green readers. It’s a good start into better eating , and different choices.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Three Pandas Planting

Three Pandas Planting by Megan Halsey is a simple introduction to eco-conscious actions that will be appropriate for preschool and up. The clear illustrations feature animals engaged in a variety of activities including:

-Water conservation efforts
-Collecting litter
-Using recyclable batteries

The book is brilliant in that counting, animal and “Green” efforts all mesh together. Your little one will delight in the simple illustrations and light tone, and parents will enjoy seeing their eco efforts reinforced in literature.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Monday Roundup

Hello Bookworm readers! Are you reading anything exciting? Would you like to be a guest reviewer this week? Please leave us information in the comments section so that your fellow bookworms can explore what is on your bookshelf.

Stay tuned this week for a mix of adult and children's titles, and please feel free to give us feedback on any review in the comments section.

I also didn't have a fancy picture like the rest of my team (wink) so I just picked one as my roundup logo. The trees were rustling, the wind was blowing, the crickets were singing and the sky was doing marvelous things. Rather screams that it may be a good picture for nature reads to me.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Book Review: Living Like Ed

I read "Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life" by Ed Begley, Jr. After reading about it from a fellow bookworm (sorry, I don’t remember who you were). Full disclosure: Before reading the book I had no idea who Ed was. I rarely watch TV and we don’t have cable, so I’ve never seen his show. Therefore, there’s no celebrity worship going on here to help me love this book.

Divided into six parts (home, transportation, recycling, energy, garden & kitchen, and clothing & personal care products), "Living Like Ed" is a manual for making environmentally positive changes in how we live. It reads like an annotated "to-do" list. The ideas in it are great. He covers everything, and his wife adds interesting sidebar comments that give a different perspective. There are handy checklists in the back of the book to help you keep track of changes you have made and the results of those changes. It’s all good stuff.

Reading the book, though, I was disappointed that I didn’t end up with any information that was personally useful to me. We’re already doing most of the easy stuff. We’ve already done some of the big stuff, too, such as living in a well-insulated house and buying some energy-saving appliances. Others of Ed’s ideas were too expensive (solar panels), not practical at this stage of our lives (with an untrained preschooler, I'm not doing all the wash in cold water!) or not applicable to our situation (we can’t ditch the gas-powered lawn mower – we don’t have one because we don’t have a lawn!).
There’s another category of changes which we haven’t made because we don’t want to (use a rain-barrel to collect water), but most of these ideas I already knew about. One thing stuck, though. I think if I spent enough time listening to Ed, he’d convince me our next vehicle should be an electric car! He makes a good case for using natural personal care products, too.

Ed makes a big deal about how his changes can save money, but again I was disappointed. The relevant ideas that we are not currently implementing may save a great deal of money, but the payback time is significant, too. Also, I was baffled to see that with everything he is doing to be energy efficient at his own home, we use less electricity than he does, and we’re all electric as opposed to using some natural gas like he does. Maybe the most energy efficient thing a person can do is to move to a part of the country where there is no need for air conditioning.

It’s a little hard for me to rate this book. I thought Ed’s ideas were great, but I got bored reading because there was so little new (to me) material. If someone were just beginning to make eco-changes, the book would be very educational. I’ll give it 3.5 out of 5 stars, for light green to medium green readers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Book Review: Mountains Beyond Mountains

Our guest reviewer today comes from the midwestern United States. Joyce works on staff in the music ministry at her church in Savoy, Illinois. She read "Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World" on my recommendation, and I read it on kale for sale’s! With Haiti so much in the news recently, I thought it was a really appropriate book to review. Joyce reports that the president of the University of Illinois recently gave a copy of this book to every incoming freshman. Here's what Joyce thought of it.

While I was on vacation, I read "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder. This is a very thought provoking piece of non-fiction about a physician and anthropologist, Paul Farmer who is one of the founding members of Partners In Health, an organization which directs attention, money, and service toward the very poorest people on earth.

Farmer says there are two kinds of poverty: relative poverty, which we see primarily in the developed countries such as our own; and abject poverty, which is found in underdeveloped countries. The former is exemplified by those who are certainly restricted from higher education, full-service medical care, excellent nutrition, and comfortable housing by inadequate income and education. However, there is still a safety net in the form of food stamps, subsidized housing, universal primary education, and emergency medical treatment. When we think of the kind of poverty that was revealed by Hurricane Katrina, it was this kind of relative poverty. Certainly these people live in very trying circumstances, and feel marginalized in our affluent culture.

The latter, who are the focus of Farmer and his organization, have no safely net. They lack shoes, potable water, access to even basic education and medical care, their housing is totally inadequate (i.e., dirt floors, leaking roofs, no insect screens, no furniture, etc.), they are landless and often disenfranchised by completely dysfunctional governmental and cultural systems. For Farmer, the people of Haiti best exemplify this kind of poverty, and that country has been his primary focus.

Farmer had a very non-traditional upbringing, and, as an adult, practices Christianity in a non-traditional, though Biblically driven way. Many Christians would struggle with his salty language and some other eccentricities of his life-style. However, it would be hard to argue against the fact that he is one of the few who is absolutely focused on living out the teachings of Matthew 25- "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."- meaning that he focuses on serving those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, or in prison. He has used his education and the connections formed by his time at Duke and Harvard to bring attention and help to these afflicted people.

While others in Partners In Health chose to work with the big picture by bringing their needs to the attention of the World Health Organization or the Gates Foundation, Farmer has always been known for his personal attention to the individuals he treats. He argues that healing someone, then sending them back to the very conditions that caused their illness in the first place (malnutrition, impure drinking water, constant exposure to malarial mosquitoes, etc.) is a fool's errand. He takes a holistic approach to medical intervention. While he has long been one of the top experts on TB, he has also taken his methodology into the AIDS epidemic, including the explosion of cases of both diseases in the prison system of the former Soviet countries. He sees prisoners as humans in need of healing, no matter how monstrous their crimes, and is unique in his ability to rally a staid international medical establishment to tackle issues that most would not care to think about.

I found this book, and Farmer himself, inspiring. He will challenge you on every level to think about your prejudices, phobias, and political philosophies. You will, perhaps for the first time, realize what one individual can do to make a difference of global significance. You will wonder what you could be doing yourself. Your eyes will be opened, your comfort afflicted by what you read. I recommend it to everyone. 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday Roundup

Here it is Monday already. How does that happen?!! And we're half way through September, too! I’ve just begun reading "Living Like Ed," which I picked up from the library after reading a review from a fellow bookworm. So far it’s a nice read. I’ve not learned much that is new to me, though maybe that’s because my science teacher dad taught me all about insulation R values way back when I was in high school! Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good book. I’m hoping to finish it and post a review by the end of the week.

What about you? What are you reading? Any new bookworms out there? Any new reviews? Drop me a comment and I’ll add you in!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Heirloom Tomato, From Garden To Table

I haven't read The Heirloom Tomato, nor do I have a copy to refer to but I did get to see the author Amy Goldman speak yesterday. She's a storyteller.

I nearly didn't go. The event was at lunch time, across Market Street, my shoes were uncomfortable. How interesting could tomatoes be? Ha! Amy Goldman is not a little gardener with a couple of pretty tomatoes. She's Chair of the Board of Seeds Savers, she trialed 1,000 varieties of tomatoes for her book in which she features her favorite 200. And if I understood her correctly she grew all 200 varieties in her garden. She's a heavyweight in the tomato world.

And a heavyweight in the seed world. She calls hybrids and GMO's, "tools of industry," and our ability to save seeds necessary for food security.

Amy Goldman described the taste of tomatoes like someone who knows their wine. She used words I've not associated with tomatoes. I want what she's having, I thought. And she's having some good looking tomatoes with snappy names: Bonny's Best, Reisetomate. Aunt Gerties was one of her favorites. There was White Beauty, Cassady's Folly. Radiator Charlies had a funny story. There were Roman Candles and German Pinks. Not any of which are likely to be found in a grocery store. These are not tools of industry. These are tomatoes to bring from the garden to the table as the title suggests.

The book is a display piece, glossy photos, recipes (that sound good), growing information. It was all I could do to leave without buying a copy. I still want it and I'm not a cookbook or coffee table kind of a girl. But I do like a good tomato and this book has a couple hundred to choose from.

"Keep them alive," she said. "Save the seeds." Check out the book and you'll likely be inspired too. I was.

As anyone else seen this book or heard of Amy Goldman? Are you growing tomatoes with names of old relatives or faraway places?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Book Review: Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds

I got excited last month when I read a one liner that Audrey at Eat Local Northwest had read Uncertain Peril. I waited for her to post a review of the book. And I waited. And waited. Until I couldn't wait anymore and simply asked her if she would. Well, she had written a review for her community garden newsletter but hadn't posted the review on her blog. I'm so glad I asked her about it. Here's her review and it's beautiful and smart. Thank you, Audrey.

Seeds have fallen into the wrong hands, writes Claire Cummings in Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds.

What’s that again? You don’t think of seeds as something that would interest greedy multinational corporations, their armies of lawyers, and the U.S. government? Think twice. Seeds have always had a hand in destiny, since their genes direct how tall a plant grows, what kind of fruit it bears, and when it dies. A century ago humans began manipulating these genes to obtain better and hardier crops like hybrid corn.

Lately though genetic manipulation has taken a dark turn. Seed companies are deploying genetic modification to design novel plants to foster dependence on their products. Such altered seeds are known, of course, as GMOs. There’s Monsanto's Roundup Ready corn, a plant that isn’t affected by spraying with Roundup, Monsanto's best selling weed killer. And there are seeds with so-called terminator genes, whose plants grow sterile seeds, thus forcing farmers to purchase new seed every year.

Cummings reports on just how the US government has nurtured GMOs, issuing patents for individual genes and enabling multinationals to sue farmers wherever the modified genes appear in native crop populations – which can happen anytime wind carries pollen. Cummings tells how American food aid to impoverished countries not infrequently includes GMO wheat and corn seed rejected by North American growers. How the first provisional governor in Iraq, Paul Bremer, paved way for the entry of GMO seeds not long after Iraq’s seed bank was destroyed by American bombers.

This book is a wonky polemic, and Cummings takes the unrelenting position that GMOs are destroying civilization as we know it. Is she fair and balanced? I’m not convinced, in spite of Cummings’ credentials as a former USDA lawyer. Clearly there are downsides to GMOs and much that we just don’t know, both good reasons for caution. But consider a story like local do-gooder Bill Gates’ recent $17 million donation towards GMO sorghum for Africa, a food that was specifically engineered to be richer in vitamins A & E, amino acids, iron, and zinc. Is this just another boondoggle for agribusiness? Possibly, but since no one’s yet solved the most serious food problems of our time, I’m interested in hearing alternate perspectives on GMOs and those simply can’t be found in this book.

On a personal note, I picked up Uncertain Peril not long after a friend gave me a dozen Romano bean seeds, which she’d received from a dying eighty-nine year old neighbor who grew them all his life. He in turn had gotten them from his childhood pals, Italian immigrants whose families had grown the beans organically for hundreds of years.

So I read Cummings’ book while sprouting my friend’s Romanos and I got inspired, even if her punchline is sort of predictable – that organic growing can redeem us. I’ll be saving Romano seed this fall and want to try exchanging mine with others who save, if I can get viable stock. Because the alternative is a multinational corporation telling me what to eat. No thanks.

4 of 5 stars

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Monday Roundup

I'm still reading the same book I was reading the last time I did a Monday Roundup, An Unreasonable Woman, by Diane Wilson. A couple more commutes and I'll be done.

But I have picked up a couple new books.

The first is The Unsettling of America, Culture & Agriculture, by Wendell Berry. I've always been curious about Mr. Berry's writing but didn't know where to start until I heard this book recommended several times.

The second book my guy found at a garage sale we happened upon this morning. The book, Coming Home to Eat, The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, by Gary Paul Nabhan, only cost a dollar! I love it without even turning a page.

Are there any other new books out there? Any new reviews? Any book news on your night stand, blog? Any book news on your mind? Let me know for links on the sidebar and let us all know for green information and inspiration.

In any event, be well and happy reading.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Big Green Purse - Take Two

I'll admit it. The first time I heard of Diane MacEachern and The Big Green Purse, I assumed it was another one of those "buy your way out of climate change" greenwashing books. I doubted that I would ever read that book. My list was simply too full with "serious green reads."

Boy, was I wrong. I finally picked up The Big Green Purse last month after reading positive reviews on it from Beth at Fake Plastic Fish and Joce, a guest reviewer here at The Blogging Bookworm. Neither Beth or Joce were the type to buy into the "green consumption" thing so I figured I *might* have been a bit hasty in my assumptions. And was I ever!

The Big Green Purse is one of the most comprehensive, best organized guides I've ever come across - and I've come across quite a few - on personal environmentalism. Ms. MacEachern clearly and carefully sets forth how we can reduce consumption, make our voices heard, and wield real power with those purchases that we choose to make. She covers everything from beauty products to lawn care to food and advocates borrowing, renting, buying used, cutting back, or making do instead of simply buying new. In each section, she debunks myths, explains relative impacts, and gives a variety of tips from light to dark green.

I will admit that, after a year and a half of taking every green step I could think of, I didn't learn a whole lot from this book (though I did pick up a couple tidbits). What I wouldn't have given to have read this book a year ago! I would have saved endless hours of research and head-scratching by simply following, one by one, the steps Ms. MacEachern so thoughtfully lays out.

I give it 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to those interested in embarking on a greener life as well as for those further down the path looking for a few more ideas or a better understanding of the changes they can make. Even for those who are "deep green", I'd say pick up the book and leaf through it. I guarantee you'll walk away learning something worthwhile.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Book Review: See You in a Hundred Years

Waiting at the veternarian for my sick cat, children at summer camp, I had nothing to do but stare at the fish in the aquarium or read the book I had stuffed into my bag. I chose the latter. See You in a Hundred Years: Four Seasons in Forgotten America by Logan Ward documents the author's year-long experiment of living as a family might in 1900.

Ward, his wife and toddler son left Manhattan for the farmlands of Virginia. Ironically, they relocated a stone's throw from Joel Salatain of The Omnivore's Dilemma fame. The family grew all their own food, pumped their own water, lived without electricity and so on for an entire year. What they learned during that year jives with the results of No Impact Man's and the PBS Reality Show Frontier House's experiments. We don't need as much as we think. The television, the telephone, many of those things are simply distraction. What we need, instead, are connections with others and a community that matters.

Donna called this book an almost mindless read and, I won't argue with her. Still, I enjoyed it for what it was - a light and easy book about living a simpler life.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Recommended: Any green reader looking for a quick, easy green read

Monday, September 1, 2008

Monday Roundup

It's the first week of September. The first week of fall, in my mind, even though that season doesn't officially start until we're nearly done with the month. But the kids are back in school. The nights creep in a bit quicker. And I'm busy reading.

Right now, I'm finishing Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. If ever there was a book that was non-fiction, a page turner AND an inspiration to change the world, this one is it. It is not especially green but it is especially motivating. When you journey with this man through the lonely wilds of Pakistan and see "what one person can do", you'll never again ask yourself if you, as individual, can make any meaningful changes in this world. Also, stay tuned this week for my reviews of The Big Green Purse by Diane MacEachern and See You in a Hundred Years by Logan Ward.

Enough about me! What about you? What are you reading? What are you reviewing?