Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft

I just finished reading Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford. A friend had lent me the book and the title alone had excited me.

The book talks about a lot of topics that we environmentally-conscious bloggers have been writing, reading and talking about these past few years. The books talks about the decline of shopclass in high schools and the move to create "knowledge workers". It discusses the distance between where something consumable originates from and where it finally winds up. It also discusses the disappearing handmade goods industry that is now slowly making a comeback, and the lack of pride in work. In other words, the topics in the book was something that would really appeal to all readers of this blog.

The book is also a narrative of the author's own life to date. The author, Matthew Crawford, obtained a PhD from the University of Chicago and then moved to Washington D.C. to head a conservative think tank where one of his duties was denying the existence of global warming (if I understood him right). Besides ethical dilemmas with his job, Crawford also missed working with his hands on motorcycles - a task that given him much satisfaction in the past.

He eventually quits his job at the think tank and moves into other cubicle jobs for very little pay. These jobs continue to bring him dissatisfaction until he decides to go back to working on motorcycles, and thus working with his hands to create a tangible result for which he can feel honest about the living he is earning for himself.

Crawford has an essay on The New Atlantis that covers the message of Shop Class as Soulcraft well.

When the ladies here at the Blogging Bookworm initially invited me to post to this blog, I was excited to post a review of Shop Class as Soulcraft. I thought I would enjoy it and that I would highly recommend it to everyone.

Unfortunately, I thought that the book was very poorly written. I enjoy books that are well written and impart information in an easy to digest manner. This book was written by a former academic containing loads of academic jargon that people hardly use outside of a university funded research paper. The entire message in the book could easily be boiled down to a single page. As such, the book was a real struggle to finish. I wouldn't recommend the book, but I do highly recommend the message. To conclude, I'll quote an excerpt that state the message well:

To live wakefully is to live in full awareness of this, our human situation. To live well is to reconcile ourselves to it, and try to realize whatever excellence we can. For this some economic conditions are more favorable than others. When the conception of work is removed from the scene of its execution, we are divided against one another, and each against himself. For thinking is inherently bound up with doing, and it is in rational activity together with others that we find our peculiar satisfaction.
Rated: 2 out of 5 (I'd give it a 4 for message, but the writing was not to my liking. If you are an academic, the writing will be more to your liking.)

: To anyone interested in reading about one person's perspective on making and fixing things with one's own hands.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Big-Box Swindle: The true cost of mega-retailers and the fight for America's independent businesses

Following on the tails of my latest read, The Way We Eat: Why our Food Choices Matter, Stacy Mitchell's Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses (2006), was not an intentional companion to Singer and Mason's book on food ethics, but certainly a fated one. Both published in 2006, where The Way We Eat was a primer on all that encompasses the ethics of eating, Big-Box Swindle tackles the hard-core realities of what chain stores do to our local communities and economies... and it isn't pretty.

Here are some highlights. Big-Box (aka chain) stores:
  • increase resource demand on local government (fire, police, utility, roads) – studies show that small, local businesses make far less demands on community infrastructure, infrastructure for which its citizens have to pay
  • decrease a sense of community - citizens of towns without big box stores are more active in their communities and local governments
  • decrease job opportunities – contrary to popular opinion, after initial jobs are gained, small businesses are forced to close their doors and in the end more jobs are lost than gained because of the efficiency of big-box stores (they can do more with less people - not to mention less skilled, lower paid people)
  • decrease the amount of revenue changing hands in a community - at least 3 times the amount of money stays in a community when you shop at a locally-owned store; more if you shop direct from a farmer or eat at a local restaurant
  • decrease product quality and push jobs overseas – the incessant demand for lower prices forces suppliers to lower their standards and move jobs overseas or else lose a significant source of income when the big-box refuses to sell from that particular supplier (keep in mind Walmart now accounts for 10% of all retail sales. That's serious power!)
  • increase urban sprawl leading to increased car use and pollution – big-box stores operate on the fringe of communities, unlike small local businesses which tend to be central to the community, located near homes and restaurants.
  • increase the tax burden on local citizens – big-box stores use their size to manipulate local governments into tax breaks which means local businesses and citizens must make up for lost revenue
  • decrease the quality of living – big-box jobs are lower in pay and benefits than jobs at local businesses
  • increase the threat to the environment – every big box stores comes with its own massive parking lot, one of the biggest sources of highly-concentrated water-way pollutants; big-boxes are famous for clear-cutting land and destroying natural habitats
  • decrease individuality by creating cookie-cutter communities
  • decreases personalized customer service – salespeople were once experts on their products and knew their customers likes and dislikes, taking the time to get to know their customers, helping best meet individual customer needs. Big-box associates are reprimanded for spending too much time with customer. Their job is to move product as quickly as possible.
Disgusted? Even knowing some of these things, I felt despondent at all the havoc these chain-stores leave in their wake, the manipulation they calculate behind doors at board meetings. And we're not just talking about Wal-Mart here (though they are the easy fall-guy), but Target, Costco, Barnes and Noble, Kroger, Bed Bath and Beyond, Home Depot, Old Navy, Best Buy, PetSmart - you get the idea - are all culprits.

Interesting to note, was that today's growing anti-chain movement is not the first. In the 20's and 30's politicians actually ran on platforms of preventing big-box expansion.
Opponents argued that chains threatened democracy by undermining local economic independence and community self-determination. As they drove out the local merchant – a “loyal and energetic type of citizen” – the chains replaced him with a manager, a “transient,” who was discouraged from independent thought and community involvement, and who served as “merely a representative of a non-resident group of stockholders who pay him according to his ability to line their pockets with silver.
Wow! Sounds familiar, doesn't it? The bottom line is we've reached that time again, where we as citizens (not consumers) need to take a stand on the future of our communities. Thankfully, the book concludes on a positive note, citing examples of successful anti-chain campaigns. There is hope. But like anything else, the first step is awareness, and that awareness is sorely lacking in the U.S. today.

Big-Box Swindle is a powerful ally in the buy-local movement and a must read for those wanting to live a life of mindful consumption. Don't set foot in another chain-store until you read this book. You (and your community) will be glad you did.
Rated: 4 out of 5 (I'd give it a 5, but it was so full of data, it was at times hard to concentrate - you have to take your time on this one)

Recommended: to anyone who wants to live a more mindful, citizen-driven (not consumer-driven) life

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Garbage Warrior

I'm going to veer off the traditional book path and review a movie that I recently ordered for my Library. I first read about the concept of Earthships from Chile's blog, Chile Chews, and do want to make sure I give credit where credit is due! As part of my initiative to bring Green books and movies into my Library I've kept an eye out for materials on the concepts and work of eco-friendly housing as it is an increasingly important topic.

Over a year later I encountered reviews of a movie describing the work of renegade eco-architect Michael Reynolds in the wonderful move Garbage Warrior. A brief trailer of the movie is featured above.

Two definitions are important for an understanding of the film's contents:

Earthship n. 1. passive solar home made of natural and recycled materials 2. thermal mass construction for temperature stabilization. 3. renewable energy & integrated water systems make the Earthship an off-grid home with little to no utility bills.

Biotecture n. 1. the profession of designing buildings and environments with consideration for their sustainability. 2. A combination of biology and architecture.

Now both of those definitions sound rather easy to understand in my opinion. We are searching to find ways to develop sustainable housing that use less energy, and perhaps may use readily available ingredients along the way. Unfortunately part of this film documents Reynolds incredible struggle to be allowed to experiment, research and develop concepts that may be crucial to architectural revolutions needed in our coming years with shrinking resources and climate destabilization.

Want to make things much more difficult? Throw in politicians and lobbyists that may have hidden agendas of which we are not aware that decidedly swing our ability to move forward in the opposite directions. Though Reynolds is obviously more the builder than spokesperson to politicians (creative thinker meets a few Type As) he perseveres and manages to make some headway through a restrictive maze of regulations.

There were a few key points that came out during the film that really made me stop and ponder how much we, as regular people, must stand up and support research revolutions. Creating homes that do not contribute to the "grid" of economy, challenging building and construction unions that want maintain the status quo (if you build homes out of recycled ingredients you may be challenging the bricklayers union) and creating a push to allow innovation is incredibly important.

Are safety and building regulations important? Absolutely yes. However part of the struggle is the film is even the right to research and develop beyond our current norms. Obviously we have to start changing how we build both for now and for our future, and without experimentation we will have no success.

Warrior documents the building crew as they take their radical ideas into areas of natural disaster to create self-sufficient housing out of ingredients that are readily available. One home built is made from recovered plastics and features an external lip that will catch and drain water into an underground storage area - also serving as a cooling mechanism for the household above.

The movie is entertaining, nicely paced and ties into our topics of sustainability. The documentary was eventually picked up and supported by the Sundance channel, and you may most likely find it in your local Library. If not, just ask!

I won't give away the ending, but I was left cheering because big change does come in the face of our everyday heros.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Way We Eat: Why our Food Choices Matter

There's just no beating around the bush with this one. The Way We Eat: Why our Food Choices Matter (2006) by Peter Singer an Jim Mason is an intensive look at the ethics of eating, something that seems almost lost in our modern Western culture, but that is gaining ground once again.

Singer and Mason explore every last nook and cranny of our food system from factory farming to the organics and local food movements, to vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, even into dumpster diving and obesity - all far deeper than even Pollan dares to tread. Because contrary to what we'd love to believe about food, it's not just about what we do to our own bodies. Our food choices affect the rest of the world around us, far beyond what we could ever imagine.

The authors have done extensive research, but the best part is that they come at each ethical question as a non-believer, asking tough questions; but more importantly, demanding that you take the information, analyze it, and decide for yourself where your ethical lines are drawn.
When we buy food we are taking part in a vast global industry. Americans spend more than a trillion dollars on food every year. That's more than double what they spend on motor vehicles, and also more than double what the government spends on defense. We are all consumers of food, and we are all affected by some degree by the pollution that the food industry produces. In addition to its impact on over six billion humans, the food industry also directly affects more than fifty billion nonhuman land animals a year. For many of them it controls almost every aspect of their lives... Through the chemicals and hormones it puts into the rivers and seas and the spread of diseases like avian influenza, agriculture indirectly affects all living creatures. All of this happens because of our choices about what we eat. We can make better choices. [emphasis mine]
Whether you're a meat eater, a devoted organic foodie, a locavore, a vegetarian/vegan, or simply a conscientious consumer, this book will challenge what you believe about food. Put plainly, this is not an easy book to read. There were times I felt sick about the treatment of animals and farm workers; there were times I felt defensive, particularly of the local food movement; and at other times, to be honest, I felt the need to reform some of my views on ethical food choices.

Again, it's not a quick and easy read, but it's a must read for anyone looking to live a more mindful life.
Rated: 5 out of 5 stars
Recommended: Do you eat? You need to read this book!

Friday, November 20, 2009

And the winner is...

I put all your names in a bucket and had my 4-year-old pick one. The winner is... Bev! Please email me at with your address and I'll put your book in the mail!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Just in time for Christmas (Update!)

Hi fellow bookworms! I'm doing my first ever book giveaway by giving away a free copy of my new book, The Purple Elephant! The book would make a great gift for the gradeschooler in your life.

To find out more, check out The Purple Elephant Blog or leave a comment below to enter. I'll announce the winner on December 1. (Update! Silly me -- I thought Dec 1 was next week! I'll hold the drawing this Friday, Nov 20. Sorry!)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating

When a friend mentioned that Mark Bittman's new book had made it to our local library stacks, I immediately added my name to the queue. Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating is an easy-to-read, well-written guide to eating for the benefit of our health AND the environment; far from mutually exclusive, he argues.

Bittman's writing style reminds me of what would happen if food advocates Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle got together to write a book. Food Matters presents eating in a way we can all understand: more plants, fewer animals, and as little highly processed food as possible, combined with advice on navigating your market in spite of confusing health claims on food packaging. Sounds easy, so what's the catch?

Absolutely nothing! Bittman explains this "diet" is meant to be long-term; one that relies on common sense, not confusing (and often conflicting) scientific studies or national food guide pyramids designed to make "Big Food" industries fat and happy. Best of all, Bittman gives you his own story, only to tell you to do what works for you. There's no one, single way about it.

The key is to exercise what he calls "Sane Eating." Eat lots of plant-based foods - LOTS. But most importantly, enjoy food! Don't eliminate anything entirely. For instance, have some cake - just limit it to rare occasions or have a much smaller piece.
This is not about deprevation or ironclad rules, but about being sensible.
In the end, not only is this better for our health, but it's better for our pocketbooks and the environment too! In other words, eat as though "food matters" - because we have an amazing amount of power as individuals over our health and even global warming. In fact, studies show our food choices make more of an impact than our driving choices.
[E]ach time you make a decision to support an alternative to the industrial meat complex, you're rejecting that type of agriculture in favor of something far better for the planet, and for you.
After explaining the whys and hows of "eating as though food matters," Bittman offers us Part II, which includes tips on saving time in the kitchen, tips on eating out, a list of items to keep stocked in your pantry, examples of dynamic meal plans, and recipes that range from simple dishes and snacks to more elaborate (though easy to fix) meals.

And to further whet your appetite, here are a couple of the recipes I'll be trying:
Nut-Wich: Lightly mash something delicious, smear it on toasted bread, then sprinkle chopped nuts on it. Some excellent combos: banana, honey, and almonds; avocado and peanuts... (page 198)

Vegetable Spread: Baba ghanoush, the classic middle-eastern eggplant dip, is the model for this dish. However, I've turned the procedure into a master recipe that applies to nearly any vegetable... (page 222)
Convinced? Check out Mark Bittman's Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating today and discover the ease of eating for two: you and Mother Earth.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Recommended: for newbies to the sustainable food realm or those wanting to be re-inspired

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife

Quite unexpectedly, I had the opportunity to enjoy Kelly Conrad Bender's Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (Texas A&M University Press, 2009). Bender, an urban wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has definitely done her homework, for what began as a series of pamphlets has become an extensive guide into transforming your property into a wildlife habitat.

Don't have 1000 or even 100 acres? It doesn't matter, a series of "wildscapes" throughout a neighborhood can still create a sanctuary for an amazing variety of plant and animal life. Similar to other contemporary authors like Heather Flores (Food Not Lawns), Bender challenges us to rethink sprawling suburbia and gives us all the tools to do it!

Of course, first thing's first - Texas actually has 10 ecological regions, each vast and varied as to rainfall, temperature, and plant/wildlife. Bender describes each one, helping you determine in which you live and what plant and animal life naturally thrives there.

Next, the sky's the limit. Bender takes you through step-by-step instructions on designing your own wildscape, from mapping your property to prepping your soil to building a backyard pond, and of course includes the most important features of your wildscape - food, water, and cover.

The book concludes it's final chapters describing the native wildlife of Texas (including birds, reptiles, mammals, amphibians, insects, and spiders), how to attract them to your wildscape, and how to keep unwanted pests out. And if you still can't get enough, attached to the inside back cover of the book is a DVD that includes more extensive brochures on Texas wildlife.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect when I first laid eyes on Texas Wildscapes. It wouldn't have been something I would have picked up on my own. But I was quickly entranced by this alternative to the standard lawn, the opportunity to lighten our ecological footprint by truly sharing our living space with the nature suburbia seems so intent on pushing out. Not to mention, I could immediately think of quite a few friends and family that would love to get their hands on a copy of this book. And hey, the holidays are coming, so check it out!

Rated: 5 out of 5 stars
Recommended: to the naturalist or environmentalist (or both) interested in rethinking lawn space
NOTE: In compliance with FTC regulation, I disclose that I received this book free of charge from the publisher as a review copy. However, this review is my own evaluation of the material, with no influence by the publisher or author.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Roundup

Hope everyone had a wonderful and safe Halloween! Life was crazy at our house as we witnessed more than 700 kids trick-or-treating as well as enjoyed the evening with good food and friends.

Despite the craziness of the season (and it's only going to get crazier, isn't it?), I have a couple great reviews for you this week, one of which I believe should be on the "must-read" list for those new to the world of sustainable food consumption.

What books have you read that you consider "must-reads" for newbies to sustainable food?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Appetite for Profit

Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines our Health and How to Fight Back by Michelle Simon is a book that explores social, economic, political and health related topics of the United States food industry. Published in 2006 it exposes many of the issues of Big Food that we've seen in the other likes of Big Pharma or Big Tobacco in that there is an element of government involvement that runs counterproductive to the health and sustainability of our planet and citizenry.

In 2006 Simon writes that the processed food industry is a $500-billion-a-year money motor that has a great deal more cogs in the wheel then we realize. Specific examples include the MyPyramid nutritional guidelines that are heavily influenced by corporations, nutritional information manipulated and distributed by the industry itself (think nutritional discussion on a cereal box) and nutriwashing processed foods so that consumers think that they may be healthy.

Of particular interest to me was the chapter on attempts to regulate junk food marketing to children. Topics such as the "nag factor" for children, the extend of commercial free speech under First Amendment law and how parents can fight the tide were points of key discussion. In 2005 specific large giant food industries formed the Alliance for American Advertising in an effort to protect their right to market specifically to children. The absolute free speech right to market to children is a topic that has many layers - do companies have the right to nutriwash, nicktritional, and use captive audiences as in children in schools? Spongebob Pop-Tart or Spiderman Macaroni anyone?

Simon's book is a bit harsh, abrasive in facts, and clear political call to action that we are responding to in ever increasing numbers in 2009. If you've been interested in topics of food in relation to our health and sustainability, Appetite is a clear and easy to approach start to learn about the topics.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday Roundup

It seems as if I need to follow suit with another "Wednesday Roundup" for comments and suggestions as another Wormer did last week. I'm a bit behind with birthdays, fall and the upcoming sugar attack Saturday known as Halloween. We are also out enjoying the last bit of warm weather where we can roam, explore, and do things like (as pictured above) lay on our backs in the grass and imagine what may be in the clouds. Is it a bird? A laughing donkey?

Do you have any good titles or reviews to suggest for this week? Any hot reads to give us guidance and nurture our own curiosity? What is in your cloud of suggestions. Leave some comment love if you have suggestions or thoughts.

Tomorrow and Friday I will be doing a little smatter of reviews for books I've been skimming to see if I can make something out of my clouds of titles swirling in my head.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday Roundup

Here in Oregon the trees are turning, the pumpkins are ripening and the mornings are getting awfully dark. It's a great time to curl up with a cup of something hot and a good book.

Sadly, I've been so busy that I haven't had time to pick up from the library any of the books I've placed on hold! They have all most certainly been returned to the shelves or passed on to the next reader in line. Life for us is going to get crazier before it gets better. We've sold our house (again) and will very soon be packing to move. We still haven't found our new place, so in between we'll probably have to live somewhere else. With our 4-year-old. Who loves to get into other people's stuff. But other than that little stress, life is good and I'm going to try a new recipe tonight with the butternut squash we got in the CSA box.

What about you? Read any good books lately? Also, if you're a new reader to this blog, please drop us a comment and we'll add you to the list on the sidebar.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Righteous Porkchop

The first time I heard anyone talk about industrial pig factories it was Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. What he described was so unfathomable I reasoned it must not be true or he was exaggerating. Or something. The speech was likely made at the same time the author of Righteous Porkchop, Nicolette Hahn Niman, worked for Kennedy at Waterkeeper Alliance as a staff attorney and head of a national campaign to combat pig factories.

Maybe I haven't been paying attention between the time of that speech half a dozen years ago and two weeks ago when I picked up Righteous Porkchop. I thought the pork industry had cleaned up its, please excuse me, cleaned up its shit for all I heard about it.

They haven't.

Righteous Pork may change that. NHN spends the first half of the book describing her work with the pig factories and the people and communities who worked alongside her. Which is why I didn't want to put the book down. It's not all pretty reading but the people and communities affected by the factories are.

In some ways the story is an unfolding drama. I found myself more than once, okay, a lot, routing for the local communities but NHN also shows the corner the factory owners have gotten themselves into and I couldn't help but route for them too; that they could find a way out. No one is having a good time.

There's a little bit of spying; quite a few bad politicians. There's a guy hired by the pork industry to tail NHN to community meetings. Eventually someone does have a good time and there's romance too.

The later part of the book visits industrial chicken and fish, factory dairies and beef. Did you know that it's a widespread practice to feed factory hens red dye to make the yolks of their eggs yellow? I had no idea. I also learned the correct terminology for the animals on a dairy. They are not all cows.

There's a lot to learn from Righteous Porkchop. It's a smart book with history.

My only criticism is Niman Ranch beef comes across too precious in Niman's telling. In one example she praises a retailer for carrying Niman beef, overlooking the foreign imports in their produce department. That would have been fine but she goes on to knock the produce department of another retailer that doesn't carry Niman beef.

And I loved this book. It's an important read revealing the truth that corporate meat producers don't want us to know. It's to their benefit to keep us ignorant. Righteous Porkchop's changes that though, one knowledgeable page at a time.

Rated: Four and a half stars.
Recommended: For everyone; vegetarian and meat eaters alike.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday Round Up

We weren't exactly lost, but we also didn't know where we were when we came across Florence Street in Sebastopol. Each yard has a sculpture made from discarded metal, the Organic Farmer being only one of many. It is seriously the happiest street I've ever been on.

None of which has a thing to do with books, or reading books, or reviewing books but diversions are sometimes good. I finished Righteous Porkchop - Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms last night. It was a good one; not for the thin skinned however. The realities of factory farming definitely got under my skin and into my dreams too. And I'd read it again in a second. I didn't want to put it down.

First I'm going to read Tracy Kidder's new book I picked up from the library, Strength In What Remains. I loved his last book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, so much I may be setting myself up for disappointment though.

What's up in the world of diversions and books at your house? Any new ones or old ones you want to share? Let us know.

And if you find yourself in Sebastopol, California, don't miss Florence Street. It's happy.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Diet for a Small Planet

I first became aware of Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé when it was referenced in Samuel Fromartz's Organic Inc.: Natural Foods and How they Grow. It turns out, Diet for a Small Planet is an almost 40 year-old look at the connection between world hunger and how we eat; and, more importantly, what we can do about it. It has also, I found out, been updated in a 20th Anniversary Edition, which is the one I picked up at our local library.

Lappé begins by walking us through her personal journey into third world countries as she sought to get to the bottom of world hunger. She finds that it is not, as many think, a shortage of food, but rather the imbalance of power between people and a wealthy few (whether government or corporation). A trend, she notes, that she sees more and more in the United States as only a few corporations monopolize the entire food system.
[W]e can see where this blind production imperative has taken us - away from values that Americans have always associated with democracy, and toward a "landed aristocracy"; away from dispersed control over land, and toward a highly concentrated pattern of control; away from a system rewarding hard work and good management, and toward one rewarding size and wealth alone. As I suggested earlier, ours is becoming the kind of farm economy that I have see at the root of so much injustice and misery in the third world."
The book can then be divided into three themes, the problems with food currently gracing our supermarket shelves, what we can do about it, and a near 150 pages of recipes to inspire change in your own diet.

Problems with our food infrastructure and diet

First thing's first. We can't change our food habits if we don't know what's wrong. Interestingly enough, much of what Lappé discusses are food infrastructure pitfalls in 1971 is still true today. First, she delves extensively into how the cheap cost of meat and processed foods mask the true cost of goods (ground water depletion, soil erosion, government subsidies, etc) and how grains are fed to animals instead of a hungry population (so that it can be sold for more money to wealthier populations). And second, that there have been dangerous changes to the US Diet that make it unhealthy for our bodies, the environment, and the world. Check this out...
  1. Protein from animals instead of plants
  2. More fat
  3. Too much sugar
  4. Too much salt
  5. Too little fiber
  6. Too much alcohol
  7. More additives, antibiotic residues, and pesticides
  8. Too many calories
Wait, just sec. Yep, originally written in 1971. Any of this sounding familiar?

What we can do about it

But as is so often the case, the question really comes down to, what can I do about it? And here's what I loved most about this book: Lappé believes in the power of the individual to change the world.
[H]ow can we take responsibility for the future unless we can make choices now that take us, personally, off the destructive path that has been set for us by our forebears.
We don't have to be anyone special, she tell us. We just need to use the talents we have to make changes in our lives and in our communities. Change is happening, she says, "we don't have to start the train moving. It is moving! Our struggle is to figure out how to board that train, bringing on board all the creative energy we can muster."

If you are reading this blog, chances are you are already on this train. The trick, though, is that to continue our journey, we must be ever vigilant, learning each and every step of the way. She reinforces this as she advocates not a vegetarian diet (which is what I would have expected), but rather one of mindful awareness.
[F]reedom is not the capacity to do whatever we please; freedom is the capacity to make intelligent choices. And that is what this book is all about - gaining the knowledge we need to make choices based upon awareness of the consequences of those choices.
May you read and be inspired.

Recommended: to those interested in world food infrastructures as well as how our diets affect our bodies and the world around us
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Organic Inc: Natural Foods and How They Grew

Having spent the summer reading books that have fueled my private meditation sessions, I decided a nice eco-read was in order for the next review. And, really, how can you go wrong with a title like Organic Inc.?

Samuel Fromartz's Organic Inc: Natural Foods and How They Grew (Harcourt Books, 2006) is a look into the history, and in fact evolution, of organics in the United States. Why? Fromartz, a dedicated Whole Foods shopper and buyer of organics was fascinated by the movement and curious as to its roots. A business writer by trade, Fromartz travelled the country meeting with industry leaders, historians, and farmers to discover the true roots of the organic movement.

What he discovered is that although organics began with growers, dedicated to the nourishment of body and Earth, the movement quickly became a big-business sensation where large companies like Archer Daniels Midland, Coco-Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft and others own the bulk of the organic market.
For the path that agrarian idealists had taken in the 1970s - to farm in concert with nature and sell organic food outside the dominant food system - became compromised by its success. Organic food had become too popular to remain in a backwoods niche, morphing into yet another food industry profit center.
The result has pitted industry vs. small farmer in the creation of government regulation. Purists want organics to be focused on fresh, whole foods, but industry needs processed food to maximize profits. The battle continues today with standards continuously under attack. Can heavily processed foods truly be called organic or does that defy the intention of the organic movement?

In the meantime, organic regulations change seemingly to whim - at times allowing any number of synthetic ingredients, wavering over the definition of "access to pasture" (for the meat and dairy industries), and are compromised when companies are repeatedly caught fraudulently packing conventional produce in organic packaging. What's a consumer to believe? How are we to make educated choices?

As for the book itself, it was an interesting read, though I almost gave up in Chapter 4, a 40 page section dedicated to Spring Mix. Maybe it was me, but I had a hard time staying focused. The faithful reader's perseverance will pay off however, as Fromartz lays out the politics of organics in the last half of the book, leaving it up to us, the reader, to decide: What should organic mean?
Recommended: to those interested in the history and politics of the organics movement
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday Roundup

Fall is in the air and I have a good book in hand. Does it really get any better than that?

As the weather continues to cool off here in Central Texas, I'm finding my favorite times of the day are sitting on the front porch with a book, waving at the neighbors as they pass. It's a slower paced life than the usual American household, but it's one I love.

Where is your favorite place to read? Any good books capturing your interest this October?

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Solution is You

Laurie David is a widely known activist promoting citizen awareness and involvement as we cope with climate destabilization prompted by global warming. For quick read on the subject readers will enjoy The Solution is You from Speaker’s Corner Books. This is a short title good for a rapid introduction to the science and activism surrounding global warming in a format that I would say most suitable for teens, older adolescents or those that just want a lickety split read.

The Solution doesn’t devour you with verbiage and facts, but gives a rapid overview of the topic as well as a slicing view of many of the well known naysayers. She cuts the right wing capitalism saviors, pseudo journalists (Jon Stossel anyone?) and even former President Bush no slack in exposing how they have portrayed, naysayed and skewed actual science in order to promote a non-environmentalist agenda. I liked that she was quite funny about it too. Riiight.

I think one of the most valuable components of the book is the recommended reading, websites, DVD selections and environmental or activist group listing. This selection led me to a rich list of further selections if I want a meatier read that might give me more facts, figures, and statistics. Her sidebars have very nice snippets of information, commentary and of course the celebrity quote or two, and jazzy chapter titles that will motivate readers such as "The Civil Rights Movement of Our Time."

All in all a quick easy read for a very light green reader. This book doesn’t really dive in deeply to explore how to make change, but does provide a catalyst nudge to get readers headed in the green direction.
Rated a 3 our of 5 for light green readers.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Roundup: Welcome Fall!

Right about now I start looking for signs of change in the winds, leaves and natural elements. Fall seems to come quickly here in the North/Midwest, and blusters in with quick winds and playful colors in the leaves. This weekend we took several nature walks to collect items for our home nature table and look for signs that change is upon us.

Right now I'm reading several titles that will help promote positive change in our lives. Stay tuned for a review or two this week as I've found books of interest as fall brings about fresh rounds of newly published books. Ah, we lovers of books like fall for the fresh releases - - and new opportunities to explore "leaves" of all types.

What are you reading this week? Anything you would care to share with other Wormers? Are the winds of change blowing through your house?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Winner of Mom's Guide to Growing Family Green

And the winner is . . .

Abbie of Farmers' Daughter. Abbie, shoot me an email at greenbeandreams(AT)gmail(DOT)com so I can get your address. Thanks everyone for entering the drawing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review & GIVEAWAY: The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family Green

Several months ago, I received an email from Terra Wellington, an author, wondering if I wanted to read and review her book, The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family Green: Saving the Earth Begins at Home.

I quickly accepted because I was low on books and this one sounded up my alley. But summer came and with it camping trips and lazy days by the community pool and a crazy harvest of tomatoes and I promptly forgot about Ms. Wellington and her book, until last night.

The Mom's Guide is about as thorough a book as I've read on how to live more lightly. Ms. Wellington covers it all and tells it like it is. When I first "went green", no one wanted to tell you that you should stop buying - except maybe Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff. Instead, it was all talk about green consuming, throwing out the old and replacing it with bamboo or organic. Well, Ms. Wellington doesn't hold back. Buy less, she advises, or buy second hand.

I really enjoyed the garden section. It not only covers greening your lawn, growing your own produce and other "green yard" standards. There's a lot of talk about getting your kids outdoors and getting their hands dirty, which warms any green mom's heart. Moreover, there's some nice tips about inviting wildlife into your yard.

Some of the sections, I felt were very "beginner green". They covered things I had done in my own home right when I first started trying to live more lightly. In addition, I've got a bone to pick with Ms. Wellington over the fact that she listed Target as one of the top four resources for reusables (e.g., reusable bags). Ikea was in the list too. Really!! Target. Certainly she could have found a more environmentally friendly company than Target. Last time I was there, the cashier looked at me as if I had four eyes when I said that I had my own bag.

All in all, though, The Mom's Guide is a useful and thorough book, highly recommended for moms looking to begin their green journey. I rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

If you are interested in winning my (signed) copy of this book, please leave your name in the comments. Winners will be announced on Saturday, September 26.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Roundup

Happy Monday, fellow bookworms! I hope everyone's life is less crazy than mine at the moment, although we did sell our house last Friday and so I can check that item off of my to-do list. I haven't had time for much reading, lately, but I did start The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It's not particularly green, at least the part I read, but it's well done. The book is a first novel for author Mary Ann Shaffer, which impresses me since my first novel has sold maybe 30 copies. :)

Anyway, The Guernsey etc. is a story entirely told through letters from one character to another. If it wasn't so well written, a reader could become hopelessly lost,. I'm keeping oodles of details straight in my brain right now and I didn't have enough space left to keep track of the characters, but that is not an indictment on the book. It actually makes a lot of sense and I'll read the rest of it some time when I'm more relaxed. Can't give it a rating since I've not finished the book, but it seems to be very good. Anyone else read it and want to comment?

Knowing I'm swamped right now, Green Bean generously offered to post a review later this week. Look for it soon and drop us a line if you've anything to share!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

No Impact Man - The Movie

It's been a long time since I've cried at a movie. But that's exactly what I did last night watching the new documentary, No Impact Man. Not crying really but weeping, appreciation and laughing tears. I fell in love with the whole family it's about; Colin, Michelle and Isabella.

While I was aware from news bites that there was a guy in NY that had given up everything (I never considered what he was gaining) I didn't read his blog or follow. Then Beth at Fake Plastic Fish had an interview post with the guy, Colin, which had me take notice. After that the Green Phone Booth posted a review of his book. I was interested.

I went to the movie with a friend who has never carried a canvas bag; not unlike Colin's wife, Michelle. While I learned new low impact tips from him I was his choir in the audience. More importantly, Michelle related to the audience that had yet to hear the siren's green call. Her distaste for worms, choice words for bike riders; her melt down at giving up caffeine. She spoke from the beauticians chair getting her hair colored and from her air conditioned office at Business Week sucking on ice. And then she cooked her first dinner. We were all changed.

On the way out of the theater my friend asked, "Do you think the growers would refill the plastic shells I buy berries in if I return them to the store?"

I tried not to cry again.

The big ahhh factor is their daughter, Isabella. She was a mimicking sprite; as happy in the dark as she was in the garden.

Admittedly I was biased toward the documentary from the beginning as Colin shopped for local food with flour sack towels and cloth produce bags. He spoke all my favorite things about sourcing food from near by. But he didn't overload our plates with food. He moved on to transportation, household cleaning products, cosmetics; the source of our power. He polished himself up for politics, volunteering, for talking to audiences. And while people were watching him, he was listening to the people doing the watching. Which is where he earned my final respect. He didn't flinch at the truth of criticism but neither did he give up in the face of it.

I'll likely read the book, but the movie was instant gratification, a night out; it was entertainment and inspiration. I give it a five out of five stars and recommend it to any audience. It's a love story, a comedy, drama and adventure. And strange enough to the way most of us live to nearly be considered sci fi.

I'd love to know how the movie impacts you if you have a chance to see it ( here's the schedule). And take a friend. They'll thank you.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday Roundup

My hairdresser said, Mercury is in retrograde. Communications may be skewed." I'm sure that explains the reason I can't make it all the way through a book lately.

I started Blue Gold, The Battle Against Corporate Theft of the World's Water. Very interesting. Depressing. I lost all hope for future civilizations. For some reason I never considered all the water we'll ever on the planet is already here. I thought God renewed it every few years. Or something. It's embarrassing. I returned the book to the library.

Next I checked out Eugenia Bone's book, Well Preserved, Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Food. Nice pictures. The recipes were mostly not food I would eat though. Fresh asparagus and squash blossoms are great; but canned? I did however make two of her recipes from the newspaper; brandied peaches (I used rum) and poached pears. Not my usual fare but they were easy to make. And good. The asparagus are probably good too. I returned the book the next day.

Two weeks later I'm 36 pages into Cheap, The High Cost of Discount Culture. So far it's about the history of retail. I'm sticking with it. I read a mean spirited review of it in an LA newspaper that stunned me. The writer justified the destruction that went along with cheap, claimed it as our American right to pay less. I lost all hope for future civilizations. Again.

My lapses in hope are short lived however. The fact that authors devote their time to study, research and lifting the veil on the myths that surround us is cause for hope. Regardless of how the planets are aligned.

Have you read anything hopeful? Helpful? Despairing? Let us know.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas

Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 2009) is more than a stunning pictorial of the vast and varied farmlands of Texas. It's an opportunity to experience farming the way nature intended. Author Pamela Walker brings readers along for the ride as she travels the great state of Texas, profiling 10 organic farms in their efforts to live and work in step with nature rather than in spite of it as has become typical of modern commercial farming.

These 10 farms, whose products range from fruits and vegetables, to shrimp and meat, and finally to dairy, are merely examples of the extensive efforts being done around the state to farm sustainably. More importantly, they are proof that not only is organic farming better for man and earth, it's also profitable.

Walker, will the help of photographer Linda Walsh, takes you inside the operations of each location where readers meet the family, discover what first attracted them to organic farming (certified or not), and experience the triumphs and challenges of growing organically in Texas.

But like reading Joel Salatin, popular sustainable farming author and owner of Polyface Farms in Virginia, these 10 entrepreneurs are far from the exceptions to the rule. They are meant to be a beacon of hope that sustainable farming is alive and well; that it is meeting the demand of a growing community of mindful consumers; and that real people like you and me are making a difference today, right now.

Whether or not you call Texas your home, Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas is a must read. Both farmer and consumer will find the future of farming within its pages. It is this future towards which each and every one of us must strive, supporting sustainable farming one forkful at a time.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches

I first heard about The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches: A Practical (and fun) Guide to enjoying Life More by Spending Less, by Jeff Yeager, when it was recommended by fellow blogger, Beany. Like Beany, I was super impressed with the fact that Yeager completed his book tour via bicycle. I mean, seriously? This was definitely a book I needed to read.

As I read through the book, I noticed the theme was wonderfully familiar: Voluntary Simplicity. That's right! Although with Yeager's sense of humor and relaxed manner, he makes being a "cheapskate" (aka living frugally) the cool thing to do - which it is, it's just hard to convince the rest of the consumers of the world. But Yeager shows us just how easy it is... kinda like riding a bicycle.

How about some excerpts?
What I Really Believe: Living on less is a good thing to do. It's the only financial advice that will work for almost everyone. It's about quality of life you cannot buy, a sense of satisfaction you cannot fake, and an appreciation for others that gives life value. It's also about helping save the planet and sharing with those in need. Living on less can be funny, but it's not a joke.

This book is about two things: getting more for less and, even more important, understanding that less is often more. It's about the fact that you probably already have everything you could ever really need or want, if only you'll slow down long enough on the Road to Riches to think about it.
Although I just loved this book (I chuckled my way through most of it), I have one caution. Yeager's books is strictly about being frugal and I believe frugal doesn't always mean it's the right thing to do. For instance, he talks about picking things up at Walmart because it's so inexpensive and warns people that farmers' markets aren't as cheap as they used to be. Even so, sometimes cheap is just cheap. Sometimes cheap detracts from our communities, closes local businesses, and can damage the environment.

So, for those of you taking your very first baby steps into a life of Voluntary Simplicity, this is definitely the book to get you started. But for those of you a little further along in your adventure, it's important to keep in mind that cheap is not always the answer.

Recommended: to anyone looking to simplify life, live more frugally, and laugh while doing it
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Monday, September 7, 2009

Monday Roundup

Summer has drawn to a close and a beautiful fall awaits. For some of us that means admiring the fall colors and for others, we're just happy to lose those 100 degree temps (or the constant threat of heat stroke). Either way, it's a new season with new fresh local foods and some exciting new reads - don't forget No Impact Man's book just came out...

I enjoyed a couple wonderful books this past month to share with you this week. But what about you? Any good books to share?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday Roundup

Happy Monday, everyone. I've spent the past couple weeks camping in Montana and then returned home to a whirl of activity while we get our house ready to sell. Whew! What a change of pace!

While at Glacier National Park, I started reading Farm City. I was really enjoying it and was going to renew it from the library when I got home, but it turns out that someone else requested it. It wasn't going to get read any time soon with major projects and contractors buzzing around like bees, so I returned it. I guess I'll have to find out what happens when she gets the rabbits when my turn comes up again.

So anyway, no review this week. I'm swamped. And I'm supposed to be on vacation! How about you? If you've read a good book or written a review, please drop in a comment!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Nation of Farmers

Before I began blogging, I lurked at other people's blogs. I roamed the green blogosphere and soaked up everything I could on Climate Change, mass extinctions, Peak Oil, and such. One of my favorite blogs to hang out was at Sharon Astyk's Casaubon's Book.

At that time, Sharon had not yet become a published author. Then, she was just a prolific blogger. Very prolific. Every other day or so, she wrote a long tome about Peak Oil, living on a farm, low energy living and all other kinds of topics that made me think but even more made my stomach hurt. And, while I thought Sharon was probably right when she intimated that "this is the end of the world as we know it", I got tired of walking around with a burgeoning ulcer and a overheated heartbeat.

I quit reading Casaubon's Book (though I do take a peek from time to time). She's still writing those wonderfully long and thoughtful posts that will make you lose sleep . . . or plant a vegetable garden that can adapt to climate change or can something or learn a new skill like knitting or sewing. Any way, I moved on to other bloggers and began writing my own blog. I planted a Victory Garden in my front yard. I flexed my cooking muscles. I started knitting again. I trimmed my waste line. And I didn't question where some motivation might have come from.

Sharon has published two books since I abandoned Casaubon's Book. I reviewed the first, Depletion and Abundance, here earlier this year. It was vintage Sharon. Easy to read. Prolific. A little "end of the world" for me. Felt like a compilation of her blog posts rather than new material.

I hesitated to pick up her second book, A Nation of Farmers, from the library last month. I sort of figured that I could just stop into Casaubon's Book for my Sharon fix.

I'm glad I ignored my first instinct.

A Nation of Farmers is far from the heavy rhetoric and instructional root cellaring of Sharon of old. Instead of focusing on how to grow food on several acres in upstate New York, this book brings food growing - and even more importantly food cooking - to all of us. Even me on my oh so tiny lot in the urban Bay Area. Sharon and her co-author, Aaron Newton detail why it is so important for this country, this planet, to have a million new farmers and two million new cooks. Where we, as a nation, went wrong and how far off we really are. How we can grow and cook our own in urban, suburban and country settings. How we start over.

The book even comes complete with fantastic, frugal, low energy and high nutrition recipes from various bloggers including our very own Chile!

The book was realistic, easy to read and, considering the subject matter, relatively optimistic. Moreover, it was inspiring. I'm not sure anyone could finish this book and not go outside an plant a garden or into the kitchen and cook a meal from scratch. It instills meaning and pride in much of what we already do and motivation to do more. Note: I am no longer a Victory Gardener. I'm a full fledged farmer . . . and quite possibly a chef.

I recommend A Nation of Farmers to all shades of green. It's not too heavy for those of us on the lighter side but still plenty informative for those forest green types. I rate it 4 out of 5. Read it and then go grow something.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Novella Carpenter/Farm City Audio Interview

I've always wanted to do this. To post an audio link of an author of a book I love. The link isn't a review, which is what we mainly do here, but there are so many ways in addition to a review to enter a book, a story or to gain new information. And I loved this book so I'm going to do it. Here's the link.

Last Friday Novella Carpenter, the author of Farm City, The Education of an Urban Farmer, was interviewed on KQED, The Forum. Listening to her was as fun as reading the book. I laughed, I learned, I clapped for her while sitting alone in my office.

I hope you do to.

If you've heard a good author interview lately let me know and I'll put a live link to it at the bottom of this post.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday Roundup

It's been awhile since I've looked at the Bookworm list of reviews. There's a million of them. Really. Check it out.

The next review will be the one millionth one. Is it you?

It won't be me. I've only five page into Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop The Corporate Theft of the Worlds' Water, which Theresa at Pondering the Myriad Things reviewed here last year. Already I consider water wildly more precious than before.

The sailor at my house is reading A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World - cod, which means I'm getting a daily outline of it. And happily so. Did you know that the guy who first marketed frozen food was named Birdseye? And back in the day it wasn't unusual to hook a cod the size of a man. The ocean was a different place than today. I may read cod for myself when he's done.

What are you reading at your house? Anything good? Bad? Anything new?

Whatever you're reading I hope you're enjoying the time spent doing so.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Zen Heart: Living with Mindfulness and Compassion

I had originally planned on reviewing Zen Heart: Living with Mindfulness and Compassion (Ezra Bayda) for July, but from the moment I started reading, I realized I'd be spending quite a bit of time nestled between the covers of this insightful read.

After completing the book once, I took my time the second time through allowing myself to meditate on each chapter. Bayda engages and challenges us to look deep within and find our practice not only in formal meditation, but in each and every moment of each and every day. Most notable, for me anyway, was the continual insistence that we must also reform our way of thinking about life events we would normally label "bad" - Asking ourselves, "Can I welcome this as my path?" to heated disagreements, health problems, failure, etc; turning them into instruments of learning and personal growth.
So this first question, "Can I welcome this as my path?" reminds us that our difficulties are not an obstacle on the path, but the path itself.
and later in the book:
Usually, when these difficulties arise and we get upset, we automatically believe that something is wrong. Then we jump to the belief "I have to fix this." But in doing so, we're missing a crucial point, which is seeing that these obstacles, these difficulties, can themselves be a step on the path of awakening. They are not in our way so much as they are our way.
Look, we all know the disappointment in misleading headlines (like the recent study on organic vs. conventional produce); and we all know the hard work (and sometimes failure) involved in changing local and national policy. But rather than become angry and frustrated at the slow (or stagnant) progress of the green movement in the US, can we instead accept these things as part of our path; as part of the journey; as opportunites that make us more educated, stronger, and dedicated?

I have no doubt, that to read this book a third time, it would move me in a different way, new passages catching my eye and challenging my heart. Zen Heart: Living with Mindfulness and Compassion is not a book to be quickly read, it's a book you digest slowly and mindfully; allowing time to absorb it's beautiful message.
Recommended: To anyone ready to explore an open and loving heart
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 3, 2009

Monday Roundup

Even in the summer heat, there's always a few good (and often air conditioned) places to curl up with a good book - lounging at the beach, relaxing in the cafe, or stealing a few moments before bedtime. Of course, I can find an excuse to read during any time of year...

Lately, I've been drawn to books on the mindfulness of my simple-green-frugal journey and I have another great one for you later this week. But what about you bookworms? What's in your book bag?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Roundup

Welcome Monday! Just thought I would see if there were any new books "rolling around" inside of you that you might like to share. Anybody want to "recycle" a suggestion, so we can "reuse" your knowledge? You can "reduce" our efforts at looking for books if you share ideas!

Just call us the great composter of books.........creating new soil for the Green scene. Share your book goodness!

Friday, July 24, 2009

My Light by Molly Bang

So what provides the energy for your lights? Do you find yourself struggling to explain what electricity is, how we get it and why do we need to save it?

Molly Bang has provided a must read picture book for children that explains the energy of solar, wind, fossil fuels, water power and more in a style that will help grown-ups explain what energy is and how we acquire it. She explores a few of the pros and cons of different types of energy and their impact on our world.

She received mixed reviews as her explanatory task was enormous, but I think that if you just change the lens on the target age range the book is much more successful. I'd gear it for preschool through second for a successful delivery. Parents that are using the book (as opposed to just the reviewers) are giving it top marks as they are also able to paraphrase.

I'm rating it as a top pick as an important introductory tool to the environmental dialogue. I'm finding that kids get the reduce part more when they understand what the heck we're talking about in the first place. Turn off the lights carries more impact when kids are starting to "get it" vs. blind habit.
I've reprinted this from a prior review on my my own little light is weary this week. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Monday Roundup

The pic is from an interesting wall hanging made from sticks, twigs, rope and leaves. Just a beautiful piece of art from nature's scraps! Taken at Brookfield Zoo.

It's that time again! Time for Monday postings about what we are working on, or what we would like to read. Please drop a line in the comment section if you would like to tell us about a title - and hint - we *heart* guest reviews! Let me know if you've recently reviewed a title and would like to share on the Worm.

Round it up for Roundup Monday!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bothered By My Green Conscience

Not too long ago, another blogger suggested I read a book called Bothered by My Green Conscience by author and artist, Franke James. She even hooked me up with Ms. James who sent me a copy of her book for free. (Details on how to get my copy at the end of this review).

One sunny afternoon, I plodded down to the post office to see if my copy had arrived. Inside the post office box was a tiny little package, tightly wrapped and addressed to yours truly. When I opened it, I was surprised to find a small, brightly colored paperback filled with more doodles than words.

What I hadn't grasped, when I agreed to "read" the book, was that Ms. James is as much an artist as she is an author. Her "book" (or illustrated essay) documents her journey from caring less about the earth to fighting city government to go greener. Artwork illustrates her thoughts and steps as she moved toward a lighter and lighter footstep.

The book isn't ground breaking. There isn't much here that is new, that hasn't been experienced by most of us on our road to green (though her idea of replacing her driveway with plants was fairly revolutionary).

Still, I enjoyed Bothered By My Green Conscience and I enjoyed it immensely. Ms. James doesn't offer a new vision so much as a vision through different glasses. For the more visual learners amongst us, this book is a must. Her drawings are intriguing, unique, thoughtful and thought provoking. The book is small and a quick read. It offers just a little jolt of green-ness to get us over the next hump in our own personal journeys. I recommend it for the light and medium greens, especially those who think in pictures, and rate it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

And, now that I've absorbed my copy, it's time to share its wonderful uniqueness with you. To be entered to win my copy, pop over to The Green Phone Booth and leave your name in the comments. The winner will be announced next Friday, July 24.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Farm City: The Education Of An Urban Farmer

(First posted on 6/25/09 at kaleforsale)

I finished the perfect summer read, Farm City, by Novella Carpenter. The trouble is I finished it on the first day of summer. Now what do I do? I don't think anything is going to beat this book.

Farm City is a memoir but it's also bits and parts of how to, or how not to make a garden in the ghetto; on squatted land with an eventual farm yard of animals. The story reads like a novel. The characters are naturally characters; I fell in love with everyone. Except the prostitute looking butcher - there has to be someone not to like.

Novella is quirky, smart, driven and she has a seriously good heart. She made me laugh a lot and look at my own neighborhood with new eyes. There's a deserted house nearby with a sunny front yard that would be a perfect urban garden. The idea had never crossed my mind before. That's what this book does. Novella finds possibility and assistance in places generally looked away from. All is not pretty on the urban farm. Even when I was laughing.

To start with she's farming in Oakland, not Mayberry. A homeless man watches over the garden and offers constant advice. She hauls in free horse manure, forages from local dumpsters to feed the animals. She meets the neighborhood in the garden, invited and not. Even with the weeds and fish heads, I have to admit though, it sounded like fun.

The cute guy is nearly done with Farm City. He laughs out loud too. Stays up too late reading. "Where are you now?" I hungrily ask him. He tells me and we talk about it. It's almost like getting to read the book again.

Which is what I'm going to do - read the book again. That is unless I find an empty lot I can garden.

Rating: Definitely five stars
Recommended for: Gardeners, Gleaners, Memoir Readers, Social Activists and People-that-like-to-laugh

Monday, July 13, 2009

Monday Roundup

Ahem. Seems I'm lollygagging on the job. I've only now realized it's my turn to post the Monday call for new books, old books, reviews. I seriously looked at the blog and thought, someone must be on vacation and forgot to post.

But it's still barely Monday and I've got a couple of books around the house I pick up periodically. The first is Coop: A Year of Poultry, Parenting and something else I can't quite remember. It may be a great book but I'm not that into it. If I pick it up fine, but if not that's okay too.

The other book is's Wanderlust. I bought it at the library for $2. Reading the introduction by Pico Iyer on travel was worth many times more than what I paid. Then I found a contribution to it by Taras Grescoe, the author of Bottomfeeder. What a great find! The travel stories are exactly the length of my attention span this time of year too - short.

What kind of summer vacation reading are you doing? Any new green stories or books we haven't about out there? Any opinions on the books we have heard about?

Whatever your reading status I hope you're finding plenty of time for summer lollygagging. It's way fun.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Voluntary Simplicity

Personally, I had chosen a life of voluntary simplicity years before I knew there was a name for such a lifestyle or that authors like Duane Elgin were leading the way, helping others discover a balanced, mindful, deliberate way of life. And although Elgin is surely one of the most recognized names in modern Voluntary Simplicity, it was only last month that I sat down to enjoy his almost 30 year old work, Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich.

Voluntary Simplicity (the book), I felt, could be divided into two parts:
  1. The personal transformation in living a life of voluntary simplicity
  2. The broader, environmental and economical impacts of our world should we choose or not choose simplicity
The first two-thirds of the book (what I call Part 1) begins by explaining what voluntary simplicity is and is not. It's not about living in abject poverty, but about living lightly, reducing our ecological impact on the earth, and sharing the world's resources with the whole world (not just the industrialized portions of it). It's not about denying ourselves the things we treasure most, but about de-cluttering our minds and lives so that we can concentrate on what's most important to us. It's not about withdrawing from life, but being empowered to transform the world around us by becoming intimately involved.

Particularly moving are the testimonials presented that illustrate a life of voluntary simplicity to be a slow, but amazing evolution wherein decisions of an individual, when made with mindfulness, have power to change the world:
The character of a whole society is the cumulative result of the countless small actions, day in and day out, of millions of persons. Small changes that may seem unimportant in isolation are of transformative significance when adopted by an entire society.
...our individual well-being is inseparable from the well-being of other members of the human family... [it] is the example of each person's life, much more than his or her words, that speaks with power. Even the smallest action done with a loving appreciation of life can touch other human beings in profound ways.
Unfortunately (for me, anyway), the book progressed into the final third (my "Part 2") which felt more like reading an economic text on what happens to the world if we do or do not choose voluntary simplicity. Personally, I preferred the discussion on how lives are transformed when we begin making deliberate and mindful choices, and how to go about making those choices.

Well, we can't win them all. I was glad to have finally sat down to read this book and it reinforced a lot of what I think about a life of voluntary simplicity. I'm looking forward to checking out some other books that might go further into how we, as individuals, can make informed, mindful, deliberate choices giving each and every one of us the power to change the world.
Recommended: To those interested in exploring the idea of voluntary simplicity
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Monday, July 6, 2009

Monday Roundup

Welcome July! While we're broiling here in the Texas heat, I'm "escaping" through my old photo albums (that's a photo from my house-sitting adventure in southern France) and a few new books.

What do you do to escape the summer heat? Any good books keeping you company?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Ten Trusts

Acclaimed author, primatologist, ethologist, and anthropologist Jane Goodall presents us with a book rich in guidance for conservation and environmental efforts in The Ten Trusts: What We Must Do to Care for the Animals We Love. I found it extremely interesting that not only are the Ten Trusts geared to help only animals, they recognize and appreciate our role in the humanity of our world and the care we must give our environment.

The Ten Trusts are:

Rejoice That We Are Part of the Animal Kingdom
Respect All Life
Open Our Minds, In Humility, to Animals and Learn from Them
Teach our Children to Respect and Love Nature
Be Wise Stewards of Life on Earth
Value and Help Preserve the Sounds of Nature
Refrain from Harming Life in Order to Learn About It
Have the Courage of Our Convictions
Praise and Help Those Who Work for Animals and the Natural World
Act Knowing We Are Not Alone and Live with Hope

Coda: After all is said and done, silence is betrayal.

In each chapter there is information as well as moving stories that seek to personalize animals – without turning them into creatures that must mimic or entertain us in order to garner our protection. Stories of animals on land and sea, in flight and in our hearts will move you to consider the deeper meaning of our role in each trust.

What one must consider for each of these trusts is that we are also part of the environment, and each trust spoke to me in a way of how we should treat other humans as well as our natural world.

The Sixth Trust, Value and Help Preserve the Sounds of Nature “concerns the immense damage we have already inflicted on the complex web of life on Earth.” Goodall explores the poisons we have deposited on Earth including oil, chemicals, water pollution and more. Her brief comments on captive breeding programs resonated with me – as a former volunteer of the Carnivore Preservation Trust (feeding crew – whoo hoo!) I’ve looked into the eyes of some of the last of these beautiful creatures and seen how important breeding programs can be to restore even the possibility of some of our endangered species. Nowadays I have only to walk around a subdivision to realize the dim call of natural wildlife as even general wildlife habitat diminishes.

I found the Ten Trust to be a simple and inspiring read, one that prompted introspection of many pressing issues that affect not only animals, our ourselves the animal and the environment that we life in. Rated 4 out of 5 stars for Green Readers.