Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food

I'm going to take us on a spin with a great food book for a kid, and one that reinforces many of the things that we are aiming for with a focus on fresh food. You just can't beat The Berentain Bears and Too Much Junk Food by Stan and Jan Berenstain to reinforce the message of fresh simple food. If you've been busy reading books like In Defense of Food, help bring a little awareness to the little Greenies with the help of Mama and Papa Bear.

Mama started to notice a problem in her house and with her little cubs. They were depending on things like Yum Yums and Sugar Balls for snacks and food. The whole "food product" as opposed to "food" issue that we parents are working on! One day she looked over and noticed that they weren't as active and adding inches to their bodies. Just like any good Mama Bear, she decided to renovate her family lifestyle.

I have to giggle at Papa Bear giving support to Mama only to balk at the rules being applied to him! What! No Sweetsie-Cola!! He decides to support the family efforts when he leans over only to rip the back of his pants.

The family goes on a collective fresh food diet with water, food from their garden, carrot sticks, nuts and raisins for snacks. Mama takes the children all to the doctor so that they can learn more about nutrition and everybody gets their Bear butt into gear and begins to exercise. They even ran a family day marathon style race together, and though tempted to treat themselves they celebrate with more good food.

O.k., so it sounds way to idealistic. But it really isn't. The Berenstains manage to do it in a very approachable fashion that gets the message across to kids. The illustrations are charming, and each family in America will see a smooch of themselves in the story. This was published back in 1985, and 23 years later we are finally getting on the bandwagon for discussing all the issues about food, health, diet and exercise with kids that they were already writing about "back" then.

My kids followed up on their story by wanting more books at our Library on junk food and the inside workings of the human body. Fun! It introduced the topic of the skeleton, nerves, digestion and the brain. We've read it so many times and it reinforces what this Mama Bear says about junkety-junk food.

Be prepared to (gulp) answer a few uncomfortable questions about your own lifestyle after this book. Lio actually pinched a little bit of the Mama scooch to ask why I had fat there like Papa Bear. (You will see this in the story). I replied that this is why we are eating so many veggies in our family and why Mama has to go to the gym to lose a little weight and feel good. You know, why Mama has to go and why you need to play lots outside! Blush.

You will have to answer a few questions to your kids about food choices if you do focus on the book and talk about it. But hey, isn't that what we all really want? Your local Library should have a copy handy, or just ask them to find it for you.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Book Review: End of Food

Ruchi a.k.a. Arduous was our very first guest poster. Since she spoke up on Rubbish here, she's gone back to school, to learn about policy, meet folks from all over the planet, and hopefully solve the world's problems. Today, she is weighing in on The End of Food. Thank you, Ruchi.

About a month ago, I spent some time in the villages of India. with my uncle who works for an NGO there. I had been to these villages on two occasions prior: one for a relatively long stay about 13 years ago, and one relatively short stay five years back.

The changes since my first stay 13 years ago were tremendous. The watershed development my uncle and his NGO have done has had a dramatic effect on the landscape. But one of the things I noticed particularly was that the crops had changed. Previously, the main cash crops had been sorghum and maize. Now I noticed that the sorghum had mostly been replaced by wheat.

I mentioned as much to my friend and tour guide, a member of the NGO for years, who had volunteered to show me around the villages. He laughed, deeply appreciating that I had noticed the change. "Ah, you see, when water comes, wheat replaces sorghum!"

I wondered why the sorghum was replacing the wheat, so I asked one of the local people if the villagers preferred wheat, through my friend who acted as a translator.

Strangely, the villager responded that they preferred sorghum! Confused, I figured something must have gotten lost in the translation. Why would the villagers switch to wheat if they preferred the taste of sorghum?

Later that night, my uncle answered my question. Very simply, wheat commands a higher price on the market than sorghum. Thus when the villagers have enough water to grow wheat, they grow wheat, even if their own taste preference would be to sorghum.

An obvious answer, and yet one that completely evaded me. But perhaps, had I already read The End of Food by then, I would have figured it out immediately.

The End of Food by Paul Roberts is an excellent book, providing a clear picture into the global food market. Similar to writers like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, Roberts carefully deconstructs the modern food industry, giving us a glimpse at the major players, and exposing the hidden problems with the way the industry is set up.

But Roberts also goes further than that. Instead of talking simply about modern times, Roberts also provides us with a detailed understanding of food production history, that further demonstrates just how unusual the increases in agricultural efficiency of the 20th century are. And importantly, Roberts does not merely focus on the first world food economy, but delves deeply into the food economies of under-developed nations.

Carefully, Roberts builds his argument to demonstrate effectively why the emerging food crisis developed, who is going to suffer the most, and what the dangers are if we don't succeed in reforming our food system.

As for who is going to suffer the most, it is unfortunately the people least responsible for causing the crises developing. Roberts writes:

Projections by Robert Mendelsohn of Yale University, an expert on climate and agriculture, and his colleagues suggest that eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa- Zambia, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Togo, Botswana, Guinea-Bissau, and Gambia- could lose nearly three-quarters of their agricultural output, while the African continent as a whole could see its total food output fall by as much as $194 billion. Overall food security will also suffer: one report predicts that by 2080, climactic shifts will have increased the population of malnourished people by fifty-five million, nearly all of them in Africa. (226)
Clearly, we need to reform our system, but how? Roberts struggles a little to answer the question, and although that's frustrating, it's also understandable. Like Pollan, Roberts is somewhat critical of organic agriculture. Unlike Pollan, Roberts doesn't see the local food movement as the answer. Roberts argues:

The more fundamental problem with the food-mile concept is the same one that plagues organic: it's a simplistic solution to an extraordinarily complex problem. In the same way a pesticide-free head of lettuce may still not be environmentally friendly, distance isn't always the most important determinant in a particular food product's sustainability. Organic food produced in Chile and flown to the United States may represent massive food miles, but it also represents a shift in farming practices in Chile- fewer pesticides and synthetic fertilizers- which might be beneficial to the Chilean environment and people (285-6)
I can't really fault Roberts for not having a clear solution to the food crisis, because … well, it's a complicated problem. And ultimately, there are no easy answers, but there are some changes that we know can be made and should be made. Obviously, the American farm bill needs to be reformed. Clearly, it's important to educate the public at large. And as any nutritionist would remind us, we all need to eat healthier. And maybe, if we start to fix some of the things we know how to fix, we'll start to figure out solutions to the bigger problems.

Star rating: four out of five stars, and recommended for moderately dark green to dark green readers or for people who have already read The Omnivore's Dilemma and want a more global perspective.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

From The Bottom Up

If you are looking for inspiration, look no further than From the Bottom Up: One Man’s Crusade to Clean America’s Rivers. The book grabbed me from the beginning with the introduction and brief synopsis, but even moreso when Chad shared his parent’s simple philosophy that was taught to him. That “you can improve the world by persistent endeavor.”

The translation of ideals into action is a theme that follows the book throughout the pages. His one simple mission, to clean up the shores of his beloved Mississippi River and recycle the trash began with just his two hands and grew into a full fledged non-profit. His organization, Living Lands and Waters is still going strong with other environmental projects under its wing such as the Million Tree Project, environmental workshops, and cleanup events.

Chad grew up on the Mississippi, just a mere 67 feet from it in East Moline, Illinois. His back yard and playground became part of his spirit and soul, a connection that later brought about a deep desire to heal the shoreline. He was always a bit of a doer, given the charge to clean up shoreline seaweed at just age 10. This motivation later translated into action followed by awards, even one such as the Jefferson Award for public service shared by the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates.

The story is very readable, and flows well through the entirety. It is full of humor, stories, and many a fact and figure. I enjoyed the additional pictures that provided a depth to the events. Most importantly, I found it inspiring because I see myself and each of us in the pages of this book. One of my favorite Gandhi quotes, “You must be the change that you want to see in the world,” was on my mind at many points of this book. We can all be part of the changes that we need on every level be them big or small.

No, his path was not always easy. In the beginning he was one person grunting and struggling to remove pieces and parts of our debris out of waters that he considers home. His sponsorship began with one small corporation willing to give, and grew bit by bit. His story grew as more people heard and relayed the message. He has removed refrigerators, bowling balls and even a horse head from the shores to leave a cleaner and safer place for humans and wildlife.

His looks and charm have been compared to movie star status, but his path lends itself to a modern day folk hero for the rest of us. I think it is a story worth reading, and a mission worth being inspired about.

Rated 5 out of 5 for all readers.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday Roundup

It is a week of celebrations in many respects. This month I've celebrated Diwali with colleagues for the first time, and I'm learning about rich traditions and India's cultural diversity. We also have festivals of Harvest, Halloween, Columbus Day and even United Nations Day. As I've learned about another culture this month, I've also learned more from my colleagues on environmentalism in India as well as a global outlook on the use of resources.

For our Monday Roundup, what is on your shelf? Do you have a review or recommendation you would like to share? We welcome your input, and look forward to a guest review this week. Please share your thoughts in our comments. Happy October!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Book Review: Depletion and Abundance

One of the blogs I first stumbled upon when "going green" was Sharon Astyk's Casaubon's Book. I read her writings religiously for months . . . until I became a bit too paranoid about a the dismal future and a tad depressed. Besides, if you've follow Sharon's blog, you know how prolific she is! I just couldn't keep up. So I stopped.

Until her beautiful first book came out - Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front. I just couldn't resist. It's like I know someone who's become famous. Someone who's made it. And then there is the whole matter of the soft spot in my heart from my first blog love.

So I bought it. Yup. That's right. Even though Sharon and the Riot for Austerity crew allocate only $1000 for consumer goods, I shelled out some cold hard cash for Depletion and Abundance. And proceeded to read it. You might want to too.

Depletion and Abundance is a quick, readable book, peppered with, yes, gloom and doom over the state of the planet (pretty much all true). The book is also chalk full of useful information about how to live a lower energy, more enjoyable life. Sharon shares stories that will inspire you and argues, thoughtfully, for a life in which we treasure simplicity and meaning. If you've followed Sharon's blog, you'll recognize some of the writing which originally appeared as posts in Casaubon's Book. There is a fair amount of new material as well and it is all cleanly synthesized. I felt a bit of the old panic when I started the book, but, once I accepted it, I think Sharon makes some valuable points and can help us alter our paradigm, shift our values and embrace a lighter lifestyle.

I'm glad I read the book but, as the true test of a great book, I'm not actually going to keep it. I'll circulate it amongst my green book club and, if it makes it back to me, I'll do a giveaway here. It's worth a read but not worth the precious space on my bookshelf.

Recommended: for medium to dark green readers, or newly green readers who really want to get motivated.
Rating: three out of five stars.

Look for a guest review of Depletion and Abundance coming soon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Book Review: Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

Have any other bloggers had this experience? You have an idea for a post all worked out in your head, and you check your blog for a couple days wondering when it is going to show up before you realize, "Oh. This is my post. It won't show up until I write it!" When this book review still hadn't appeared on the Bookworm by this morning, it finally dawned on me that this was my week, my review, and I hadn't posted it, yet! Anyway, this is a reprint of a book review I did on my own blog a while back, but I wanted to share it here.

I found this beautiful coffee table book fascinating, and not just in the way the authors intended. In brief, Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio, who wrote "Hungry Planet: What the World Eats," traveled around the world visiting families in 24 countries and recording what the families ate for a week. At the end of the week, they took the families shopping to buy "a week’s worth of food" (paid for by the authors) and photographed each family with their groceries. They wrote a few pages about each family and included statistics about the country. The families were not chosen to be representative of the whole country, and sometimes the authors used multiple families from the same country to show differences in, for example, the diet of rural versus urban residents.

The pictures in the book, and it is as much a photography book as it is anything else, were outstanding. The lists of groceries (written in microscopic print!) were fascinating. But what I enjoyed the most was that the text and photo pages of each family gave a snapshot of ordinary life in that country. There was no attempt to be consistent and some families got pages and pages while others got very little. I noticed that whenever there was a particularly cute young child in the family, the family seemed to get more press time! I enjoyed the book so much that instead of devouring it in one sitting, as is my usual manner, I rationed myself to four families per night so I could string it out as long as possible.

I found it both encouraging that there is so much local food culture left in the world, and depressing that our processed food culture has spread so far. The one thing I wish the authors had done differently is I wish they had converted the local prices not only into US dollars, but also into what the food would have cost if purchased in the US. That would have been a really difficult task, though, so I can understand why they didn’t do it. Recommended for all readers, 4.5 stars out of 5.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday Roundup

Friday night I looked through my bookshelves for a quick, light book to read and I came across "On the Way Home" by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Fans of the Little House books may not know that the story goes on after "The First Four Years." When Laura and Almanzo couldn’t make it in South Dakota, they traveled by covered wagon to Missouri where they were finally successful. "On the Way Home" is a combination of Laura’s diary of the trip to Missouri and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane’s remembrances.

It was a hard time. Some were emigrants from the Dakotas to Missouri while others emigrated from Missouri to the Dakotas. They traveled back and forth hoping to find a place where the economy was better and the crops weren't failing. There were seven years of drought. I found Rose’s comments fascinating in light of the events of this past week. She writes as an adult, but her memories are from when she was seven. Maybe someone who knows the history better than I can comment. Rose writes:

In the seventh year a mysterious catastrophe was worldwide. All banks failed. From coast to coast the factories shut down and business ceased. This was a Panic.

It was not a depression. The year was 1893 when no one had heard of depressions. Everyone knew about Panics; there had been Panics in 1797, 1820, 1835, 1857, 1873. A Panic was nothing new to Grandpa (Pa Ingalls), he had seen them before; this one was no worse than usual, he said, and nothing like as bad as the wartime. ("On the Way Home" pp.1-2)

I know nothing about economics, but it made me wonder... here in the Pacific Northwest we’ve learned some things about fire management. Low level fires are actually supposed to burn every so often to clear the forest. If we suppress them, fuel piles up and sets the stage for a monster fire to devour the forest. Could it be that we’ve been suppressing a natural cycle of "Panics," setting the stage for a monster? Or am I out to lunch here?

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been reading. Is anyone else reading something you find fascinating? Enlightening? Useful? Just plain awful? Please leave a comment and share!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

And The Winners For The Green Collar Economy Are ......

Donna at Chocolate Crayons (we didn't even put your name in twice) and Liz at LizKnits. Congratulations.

Email me from the sidebar here with your mailing address and I'll get books out to you right away.

I wish I could send a book to everyone because it was very fun getting your comments and the enthusiasm for Van Jones and a green collar economy are inspiring.

Van Jones is speaking at a number of events and bookstores across the country in the next couple of months. Check it out. You may be surprised that he's in a city near you.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Book Review: Small is Possible: Life In A Local Economy

Melinda at 1 Green Generation gardens, cooks, documents, challenges and generally makes things happen. Lucky for us she reads too and said yes to writing a guest review, which gives me the opportunity to put in a plug for her Buy Sustainably Challenge. The challenge has caused more than one pause in my buying habits. Good ones I might add. Check it out.

For now though here's her review. Enjoy.

Small is Possible: Life in a Local Economy, by Lyle Estill.

I have been making personal lifestyle changes for years now. I've replaced toxic home products with non-toxic products, and now I'm replacing those products with handmade cleaning and beauty mixtures I make from simple ingredients. I've reduced my family's CO2 output down to just 10% of what the average American household emits. I live in a small apartment that has a relatively small land and utility impact. Most of my furniture and at least half of my clothing are used. I eat just about as locally as I can. I don't live perfectly sustainably, but I'm doing a pretty good job.

And there came a point a few months ago, where I realized that all of those personal changes were great, but not enough. I needed to do more. Because as I make these changes, I am confronted daily by hundreds of people around me who are not making those changes. And as I make these changes, our community, our city, our state, our country and the world as a whole still has a lot of work to do.

So I came to read Deep Economy, by Bill McKibben. And I loved it. It was a book that exposed some of the real risks of climate change and resource depletion. And then -gasp- it began to delve into possible solutions. It hinted at an idea I'd been thinking about: that sustainable living is not just about eating locally, it's about living locally.

Once I finished with Deep Economy, I was hungry for more specifics. It took me a while to find another book to read. I picked up Simple Prosperity, but the book is dense, and I wasn't ready for such density. I was ready for a quick, easy, and informative read.

And so I happened upon Small Is Possible: Life in a Local Economy by Lyle Estill. It's full of inspiring tidbits about one community's attempts at creating a local economy, and it's fun to read.

Small is Possible reads as if it were fiction, telling the stories, trials, and tribulations of the individuals within the town of Pittsboro, North Carolina. And along the way, you begin to feel you know the characters, and you take a part of them with you into your own community. While certainly Pittsboro and its people are not perfection, they are real, and their successes are inspiring.

I will note that when I first began reading this book, I was turned off because the stories take place in a small town, while I now live in a large urban area with very different needs. But as I continued reading, I found that many of Estill's words apply to any community.

Open Source

One of my favorite ideas in the book is the idea of open source. Once you let go of this idea that everything must be copyrighted, everything must be owned and protected in order to make money, you become free. As you make new information available to others, they use it, improve upon it, and somehow down the line opportunities arise for you. Either you are hired as a consultant, or you have an idea that has been improved upon for free, or in some other way you are rewarded. And when you are working toward an model of sustainability, the planet is rewarded as well.

I have taken this idea to the blog world, where I no longer get angry when someone posts a blog entry of mine without asking. Because it's going out into the world, someone else is reading it, and when I let this go, usually I am somehow rewarded down the line.

I have taken this idea into the consulting world, into business relationships, and into life as a whole. It is an amazing thing. Like magic, or some would call it karma: as you give, somehow it comes back to you in a positive way.

Open source ideas quickly foster a more open community, a more open and honest society. A group of people or organizations all start working toward a common goal rather than all working against one another.

Beautiful, isn't it?

Finding Your Niche

Another beautiful idea is that a community needs a variety of people and businesses to thrive. And that as you begin living locally - and begin working toward a healthy community - people and businesses find their niches. And when you find your niche within the local economy, your own happiness rises. Your sense of well-being increases as you realize your positive and necessary contribution to society.

As we go further into debt and economic security throughout the world, nurturing our small, local, sustainable businesses and infrastructure will become increasingly important. It is our local economy that insulates us, it is our local infrastructure that protects us, it is our local community that sustains us.

I recommend this book. 4/5 stars. (Note: since it reads so quickly, I recommend checking it out at the library rather than purchasing it!)

** From here I plan to move on to more reading about local economies, so if anyone has any recommendations please let me know!! **

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Green Collar Economy - Book Giveaway

I have been so moved by hearing Van Jones speak that I'm posting about his new book, The Green Collar Economy, How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, before I've read it. The book came out today. I don't even have a copy.

But I've seen Mr. Jones speak to an audience of 2,000 with no one left sitting for the ovation. I've seen him share the stage with a California Senator, with people from the food industry and regardless of the company he finds common ground, a meeting place which invites everyone to work toward a united common good. I'm confidant his book is a continuation of those conversations.

The Green Collar Economy finds itself in good company too. The forward is by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. The front cover has a blurb by Al Gore (the tiny print at the top). I first read the book was coming out this week at Fake Plastic Fish, who heard about it from Have Fun and Do Good and then I got mail today from Green For All letting me know again. I'm hopeful we'll be hearing about the good work Van Jones encourages from many other places as well.

To further the buzz if you would like to read The Green Collar Economy leave a comment and I'll do a drawing for two people on Saturday and purchase books online (from an independent seller) to be sent to you. Let's spread the word!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Monday Roundup

There are books all over my house I want to read but in the last month I've yet to make it through a single one.

I read the first four Wendell Berry essays in The Unsettling of America, Culture & Agriculture. Every third page is folded over with a phrase or idea I want to go back to. I'd read paragraphs two, three, four times, and understand something new each time and then I put the book down. The man is brilliant but reading the essays one after the other was like eating successive meals of nothing but meat. I got too full but I'll go back to it.

I read the introduction to Coming Home to Eat by Gary Nabhan but returned the book to the read later stack until I have time to devour it all at once.

The Tassajara Bread Book by Ed Brown is over due from the library and I've yet to even crack it. I made no knead bread instead.

And Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson is traveling back and forth on the bus with me. I like what I've read but naps and articles keep interfering with any meaningful progress in it.

How about you? Are you finding time to read now that school has started, now that garden harvests are winding down or is it just the opposite; school makes life more hectic and you're racing to put up the last of the summer seasonal food for the cold months?

Let me know if you have a new book not yet on the sidebar or a review you've recently posted and I'll add that to the sidebar too.

In any event, I hope you are well and enjoying the first days of fall.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Book Review: Holy Cows and Hog Heaven

Remember that chick, Burbanmom? The funny one with the blog, Going Green, about small environmental changes us average Americans can make? The one who hung up her keyboard last week? She's been nice enough to stick a toe out of retirement to write a review for The Blogging Bookworm on a recent Joel Salatin book. Thank you, Burbs!

I recently joined the Richmond buying club for Polyface farms and was surprised to see that, along with fresh, grass-fed beef and pigerator pork, I was able to purchase Joel’s books as well. I’ve been wanting to read his work, but alas, my local library doesn’t stock Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal or Pastured Poultry Profits. So I was beyond tickled when I picked up my order and saw that they had comped me the book, Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer's Guide to Farm Friendly Food, as a “New Customer Welcome Gift”. Truly nice folks, these Salatins!

Holy Cows and Hog Heaven gives you a peak into the workings of a local farm – very similar to The Omnivore’s Dilemma. However, one big plus to this book is that, in addition to detailing the difficulties faced by both consumers and America’s small farmers, it gives you – the consumer – definitive actions you can take to help ensure a sustainable food supply.

The book is a pretty quick read – I gobbled it down before I had even thawed out my first steak. It is broken down into bite-sized chapters that can easily be read while hiding in the bathroom – a big plus for a mom who likes to multitask while hiding from her kids. The writing is simple and colloquial, and Joel injects quite a bit of humor into the book. I felt as though I was sitting at the farmhouse kitchen table with him, enjoying a cup of coffee and discussing the ins and outs of his farm practices vs. the industrial food chain. In fact, many of the conversations felt eerily similar to ones I’ve had with my Dad – about how life was for him growing up and about how the government and big business has dramatically altered our relationship with food.

Some of the topics covered in the book include: What a farm friendly producer is - and how to tell if you’re buying from one; Why you should seek out farm friendly foods and, alternatively, why you should avoid the industrial food supply chain whenever possible; How to be a good farm-friendly patron; and How the industrial food manufacturers have created such a heavily regulated system that it is difficult, if not damn near impossible, for local farmers to sell their products directly to the consumers who want them.

Joel introduces a number of great ideas regarding policy shifts that he feels should be made to ensure a safer food system for America, and I agree with most of them. Decentralization of our food supply, transparency of our food chain, elimination of routine hormone injections and antibiotic in feed, returning our cows and pigs to their natural diet and so on. I was nodding my head in agreement through most of the book. There is, however, one point of contention I have with his ideals. Joel believes that the entire food industry is too laden with regulations to allow the small farmer to make a living selling his products directly to the consumer and so he calls for the removal of the current food safety regulations. His argument is that the good, clean farmers will do well because they will earn the trust of the consumers. As he puts it “I realize that many of you liberals who never saw a regulation you didn’t like may be suffering a stroke right now…”. Which, of course, made me laugh my ass off because I’m a huge bleeding-heart who does, in fact, love a good regulation as much as the next democrat. And I do disagree with his solution. I think MORE regulation is needed. Let me explain:

I shudder to think how many people will fall ill after buying from a “dirty” farmer before they decide he is not trustworthy. People should not have to play Russian roulette with their food and the government does need to bear some responsibility for checking food safety before the consumer pays the price. However, if the barriers to market entry are so great that a small family farm cannot operate, then I agree - something is wrong with the system. But we cannot remove the existing regulations that provide a minimal safeguard against the unhealthy practices of the industrial food industry. We’ve just recently witnessed what deregulation can do to a profit-driven Wall Street firm and I really wouldn’t want to see how that same greed and lack of regulation would wreak havoc with our food supply. Instead, what I feel we need to do is legislate a different set of regulations for the small, family-owned farm. One that takes into account the economies of small-scale farms and one that is based, as Joel suggests, on objective safety data, not regulations concocted in the sanitary confines of the House of Representatives. Similar to the differences between small businesses and corporations, we need to reduce the bureaucracy for family farmers, while still providing consumers with legislative rules for the large corporations who would have us dining on shit and hormones the rest of our lives, if it turned a profit.

Bottom line - I like this book a lot. He doesn’t talk down to me, doesn’t bullshit me, just tells me how a sustainable farmer sees things. He provides excellent resources for those looking to source out local foods and, again, I LOVE that he ends each chapter with specific actions YOU, as a consumer, can take.

Like me, Joel believes in the power each of us has, as individuals, to change the current system by simply opting out of the factory-farm food chain. He also is human enough to admit that “I enjoy a Snickers bar every now and then. And M&Ms won’t be hiding from me at a Christmas shindig. And I’ve even been known to eat a fast food meal – not at McDonald’s – once in a blue moon… But each of us, in some way, can affect the ultimate triumph of one of these two food systems.”

“My goal for each of us would be that we would at least think, at least break stride, before patronizing the industrial fare… we think about the environment, the plights of plants and animals, the nutrition of our families, we have a responsibility to act in accordance with some moral and ethical discernment. None of us will ever be 100 percent consistent. But we can aspire to be 50 percent. Or 60 percent.”

Sounds like a great goal to me. As I’ve said a million times – life is not an All or Nothing proposition. You do what you can to make a difference in this world – but you don’t make yourself crazy aiming for perfection.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking to opt out (or wonders why we should) of the American industrial food economy and needs a little direction. It also a great reminder to those of us who’ve already opted out that it’s important to shop LOCAL and not just organic.

Joel’s books can be purchased at or through Powell's Books. I think I’ll be donating mine to the County Library so others can enjoy it.

Rating: If I consider “To Kill A Mockingbird” a “5” and Danielle Steele novels to be “1”s, I guess I’d give it a 4. Entertaining and fun, but you probably wouldn’t get Gregory Peck to play the lead.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Book Review: Crimes Against Nature

With politics dominating the headlines everywhere, why not also The Blogging Bookworm? Our guest green pundit, Bobbi from To Live Local recently polished off Robert Kennedy, Jr.'s book about the Bush Presidency and its impact on the environment. Thank you for sharing with us, Bobbi.

With President Bush deep into what I, as the mother of teenagers, call ‘senioritus’, you might ask why you should read Crimes Against Nature by Robert Kennedy, Jr. now, a book about what Bush and his oil buddies did. Even I asked myself that question, other than that the book was free (at the library) and small (my patience for tomes not what it once was). But it’s clear to me that I need a foundation to my growing political action. I need to understand about endangered species, the effects of strip mining in West Virginia, and the nuclear power plant meltdown just miles from my parents’ home in the West San Fernando Valley and the cancer it caused so many neighbors, including my parents and sister. How did the Republican administrations hack away at our freedoms through the rape and pillage of our resources?

Kennedy’s New York Times best seller meticulously lays down the case for how corporate cronyism got put into place so that government, ‘the problem’ to Reagan era Republicans, could be drowned in the bathtub. Read it and learn exactly how corporate types from the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries were appointed as regulators to protect their own from ‘We the People.’ Rollbacks out of view from the public, manipulating and suppressing scientific data, intimidating enforcement officials and masking it in Orwellian doublespeak – it’s all here in well written detail. Kennedy has a highly readable style and while you may not be able to retain each reference, the overall effect is compelling.

Kennedy starts with a discussion of “the ‘public trust’ or commons – those shared resources that cannot be reduced to private property, including the air, flowing water, public lands, wandering animals, fisheries, wetlands and aquifers.” Some of the first acts of tyrants are handing over the public trust assets to private hands, the privatization of the commons. Indeed, “the legendary outlaw Robin Hood became a potent symbol of defiance against King John’s efforts to reserve England’s deer and wildlife for the privileged classes. When King John attempted to sell off the country’s fisheries and to erect navigational tolls on the Thames, the public rose up and confronted him at Runnymede in 1215, forcing him to sign the Magna Carta, which includes provisions guaranteeing the rights of free access to fisheries and waters.”

Kennedy builds his case, like the environmental lawyer he is, layer upon layer. Just his patience in pursuing legal means astounds me. I’d be pulling my hair out.

Here are some more quotes:

“You show me a polluter and I’ll show you a subsidy. I’ll show you a fat cat using political clout to escape the discipline of the free market and load his production costs onto the backs of the public…free market capitalism is the best thing that could happen to our environment, our economy, our country….free markets, when allowed to function, properly value raw materials and encourage producers to eliminate waste – pollution – by reducing, reusing and recycling…Corporate capitalists don’t want free markets, they want dependable profits, and their surest route is to crush the competition by controlling the government. The domination of our government by large corporations leads to the elimination of markets and, ultimately, to the loss of democracy.”

And the final paragraphs may goad you to action as they did me.

“Generations of Americans will pay for the Republican campaign debt to the energy industry and other big polluters with global instability, depleted national coffers and increased vulnerability to oil-market price shocks. They will also pay with reduced prosperity and quality of life at home. Pollution from power plants and traffic smog will continue to skyrocket. Carbon dioxide emissions will aggravate global warming. Acid rain and mercury will continue to sterilize our lakes, poison our fish, and sicken our people. The administration’s attacks on science and the law have put something perhaps even greater at risk – our values and our democracy.

George W. Bush and his court are treating our country as a grab bag for the robber barons, doling out the commons to giant polluters. Together they are cashing in or air, water, aquifers, wildlife and public lands and divvying up the loot. They are turning our politicians into indentured servants who repay campaign contributions with taxpayer-funded subsidies and lucrative contracts and reign in law enforcement against a booming corporate crime wave.
If they knew the truth, most American would share my fury that this president is allowing his corporate cronies to steal American from our children.”

Though it may feel like today’s headlines, the copyright on this book is 2004. As we continue to twist in the wind of the ongoing and unbelievable financial debacle, I know why I needed to read “Crimes Against Nature” and why I would suggest you do too. We’re going to be living with the results of the last 30 years for a long, long time. In order to undo the mess, we’ll have to remember the revolutionary stuff we come from and become the leaders we need or find some to follow since it’s so painfully obvious that we have none.

Here’s a UC Television clip of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. talking about his book. I’d line up behind him.

Rating: 3.5 - 4 out of 5. Highly readable, not dry, with a touch of biting humor, passionate. He makes a case, theme stated at the beginning and the end, years of accumulating evidence presented in between. Be willing to take the journey with him.

Recommended: Dark green, perhaps a kelly. Definitely for the partisan. Excellent grounding for political junkies and activists. Aside from being a Kennedy, he's a well respected, major player in the movement.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

A couple weeks ago, the mainstream media blasted photos taken with a cell phone across the airwaves. They showed the casualties of war and those casualties were children.

Last Friday, I listened to the two men vying to become the forty-fourth president of the United States argued about the war in Afghanistan, our relationship with Pakistan, and whether America is safer now than before 9/11.

There could not be a book more relevant for where we stand now, for our place in history, for our ability to change its course than Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson.

Three Cups of Tea follows Mortenson from his first fuzzy footsteps as a lost mountain climber into a small rural, Pakistani village through his tireless efforts back home, in America, to raise funds for Muslim children on the other side of the world. Mortenson succeeded where no one else could. He forged relationships with Pakistani elders, acknowledged and respected their culture and religion, grew a great deal, and built a number of schools throughout a region plummeted in war, famine, drought and poverty.

Mortenson inspires and informs. He offers a window into a world we've never seen and therefore do not, as of yet, understand. He also offers a solution that involves the cliched "books not bombs". It is a solution that might actually work.

The book is a real life page turner, as interesting as it is educational. You will enjoy it as a change of pace and not even realizing that it is also changing your world view. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars - I'd give it more if that didn't bust the rating system. ;-) I recommend it for everyone.