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.