October 7, 2007

Sew Green Reads

A September dessert with farmers market blackberries.

A while back, I mentioned wanting to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Steven Hopp and Camille Kingsolver. A bunch of you left praise for the book in your comments (thank you!), and I read the book shortly thereafter. I wanted to finally post a book report ;-) and mention another book, about which I’m hoping you’ll leave some comments as well.

Reading books (or blogs) about environmentalism or green-related topics often overwhelms me. I usually end up feeling helpless and scared and angry. Although, I’ll admit, I did feel like this occasionally reading Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, I also laughed, salivated a lot and felt empowered and joyous at many points. The book is an excellent balance of seriously intense/f-ed up information about food production and the pesticide industry in the U.S., and uplifting, funny, honest stories and solutions about all sorts of things food- and life-related. I think this is what makes Barbara “dangerous” to some people. She is influencing people with this book—people are making changes as a result of the book, as your comments on my last post about this book prove.

My favorite parts of the book were those describing Barbara’s youngest daughter’s egg business (what a badass and fun girl!), and those describing Barbara and her husband’s trip to Italy. What most surprised me about the book, was how much it is about American farming, from many different angles. Of course, it was idiotic of me not to realize a book about eating locally-grown food for a year would be largely about farming; My not realizing this, just proves how removed I am from thoughts about/knowledge of farming.

Some changes I have been making as a result of the book:
I’ve been buying my produce at the farmers market. And now, I’m going to go in with my housemate on a plan she’s been on for a few years. She gets her locally-grown, organic food from a relatively nearby farm. It’s delivered weekly to SF residents. Now I will learn what foods are actually grown in the area throughout the year, I’ll be eating super tasty healthy food, I'll be supporting local organic farmers, I'll be saving money and I will not be contributing to the massive amount of oil being used to ship produce all over the world.

Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles…If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. (Hopp)

I am also considering giving up vegetarianism! I’ve been a vegetarian for 25 years, since I was 9 years old! This is big for me. I don’t actually agree with all of Barbara’s arguments on the pro-meat-eating, but I’m definitely considering it. The main argument I see for eating meat, is that if a bunch of people start eating locally-raised, grass-fed, free-range, organic meat, that would impact our meat industry far more than not eating meat at all does. Because even if the number of vegetarians/vegans increases, there will still be people buying the meat industry’s (poisoned in many ways) meat. I think the trick is to, ahem, beef up the purchasing of the locally-raised, grass-fed, free-range, organic meat—take customers away from the industry. Even though I say this, I still haven’t been able to make the switch. {Sidenote: There's a new meat-related magazine, meatpaper. Check it out.}

It's just amazing to me how so many of us can be so unaware about such a basic part of life/survival—food. And what a huge positive impact—on health (of animals and people), farming, pesticide-use (eliminating it), land use (sustaining soil), oil dependency (decreasing it), the environment and the flavor of food—we can make, if we are more thoughtful about food. I could go on and on about this book because it covers so many different topics of importance. But I know I’m preaching to the choir here. (Or, if not, read the book!)

The next greenish book on my list is Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, an architect/designer and a scientist. As I understand it, the book is about designing “everything from carpeting to corporate campuses” in such a way that there is no waste. It’s not necessarily making things recyclable (as recycling can sometimes be toxic and energy-consuming), but also making things reusable or degradable. Have any of you read it? Thoughts?


Laurie said...

"a bunch of people start eating locally-raised, grass-fed, free-range, organic meat, that would impact our meat industry far more than not eating meat at all does"

This was my reasoning exactly. Although I wasn't a vegetarian, I ate very little meat because I couldn't justify supporting the cruelty in the meat industry. One of the reasons I was attracted to Slow Food was because of its support for farmers who make an effort to raise animals naturally and with compassion. People are not going to stop eating meat. We can try to improve the situation, though. It was the practicality of it that made sense to me.

Now, there are so many more choices since consumers (co-producers) have begun supporting these farmers. Other farmers see it and join in. It's a movement!

I still don't eat a lot of meat, but what I prepare at home is always bought from someone I know treats their animals right or is certified "humanely raised."

Sarah said...

We found the similar arguments in Omnivore's Dilemma very compelling, have you read it? Thanks for your comments on AVM, I think I'll get that from the library next!

Where we are we cannot join a CSA, but we do have an excellent farmer's market (that is unfortunately closing in a few more weeks). The only downside -- once you are used to getting your food there, it's tough over the winter when you have to go back on grocery store produce!

I've become so convinced that decisions about food are crucial that when we looked for a place to move to, we chose a location where we can literally buy all produce, dairy, eggs and meat directly from sustainable farms. I know not everyone can do that though!!

ramona said...

what about your health and the poor animals when eating meat? i couldn't do the switch. it does not souind reasonable to me.

lisa s said...

shash - i REALLY want to read this book now... thanks for all the info.

Anonymous said...
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Katie Alender said...

I adore AVM, and it has really given me a jolt in terms of how I think about and consume food. What really impacted me were the sections about GM foods (designed to destroy themselves after one growing season!) and the idea that we will spend so much money on looking good or having the right throw pillows on our designer sofas and then scrimp on our food, which has a direct impact on our health.

In fact, it's changed how I think about a lot of consumerist issues.

I'm listening to "The Omnivore's Dilemma" audiobook right now, and it seems to have a similar message so far. (Although the narrator is a little overdramatic.)

Anyway, I love hearing about other people who felt the message of the book had an impact on them.

shash said...

Hi there,

I deleted an anonymous person's comment because it was malicious. We at Sew Green appreciate discussion and differing opinions/views. We have differing opinions even among the contributors. However, we honor our fellow bloggers and commenters by offering even passionate opinions in a respectful and thoughtful way.

Any disrespectful or malicious comments (especially anonymous ones) may be deleted.

If you want to post your name and a link to your blog we will let any comment that contributes to a respectful conversation stand— either pro or against. (We'll post this information in our sidebar soon too.)

Thanks all of you for reading.

pipst*r said...

I definitely recommend Cradle to Cradle - it made me look at all my purchasing decisions in a far more critical manner. Also, for anyone involved in design and/or business I feel that it is an essential read.

I loved The Omnivore's Dilemna for how it was written as much as its content. It looks like Animal, Mineral, Vegetable is next on the list.

f. pea said...

Thanks for this, Shash! I've been dying to read the book, and my sister has just lent me her copy. A word on the meat thing: I understand but completely disagree with her argument about vegetarianism. If meat-eaters switch to more sustainable meat, that would be good. But a vegetable-based diet is still far more sustainable than one that includes meat.

Consider the amount of water and land that go into the production of one grass-fed steer for slaughter - far more people can be fed with far less waste on vegetable- and grain-based foods.

I don't have a problem with eating animals (animals do it all the time), and I applaud the efforts to raise them more sustainably, but the environmental impact is still drastically more than even conventionally-raised veggies. That's just the eco-analysis, and that's why I'm (mostly) a vegetarian.

frog-o-phobic said...

Another voice here who LOVED Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I think Barbara Kingsolver's a genius. It inspired me to go (more) local, especially for things like meat, and to eat more seasonally. She takes such a fun, wondrous approach to growing and eating food that it makes all those things like kale, which I never would have picked up before, sound appetizing. I'm also thinking of joining a CSA!

My boyfriend recently read Cradle to Cradle and raved about it - he has become noticeably more conscious of all kinds of consumer decisions.

shash said...

thanks pipstr. glad to hear it.

f.pea, what you bring up is the part of her argument i didn't buy. she had some rationale about how in certain places in the world the topsoil doesn't allow for plant-based agriculture. my thought when reading this is, of course then yes, in those places raising animals to eat may be best. but in much of the US, we don't have to contend with this.p

Heather said...

Cradle to Cradle is a great book - a bit wacky in places but in a good visionary kind of way. The third book I would recommend is Deep Economy by Bill McKibbon. I read these plus the Kingsolver book in a batch - all inspirational.

Katie Alender said...

In addressing the vegetarianism issue, I also really appreciated her point that non-organic vegetarianism is not completely cruelty-free to animals -- especially birds and other small animals harmed by the pesticides. I think her point of -- better to eat free-range meat that had a happy, healthy life vs. subsisting on vegetarian food that involves the death of many animals -- is a valid one. Of course the ideal vegetarian POV wouldbe organic vegetarianism.

I'm going to have to check out "Cradle to Crade".

Julie said...

I had the same experience when I finished reading AVM and Omnivore's Dilemma...after 14 years of vegetarianism, I considered for about a second becoming a meat eater. But my spiritual beliefs just won't get me there...as long as I can make sustainable vegetarian choices that's what I will choose to do.

Cradle to Cradle is a very interesting read...

emily said...

I've heard great things about C to C, but I haven't read it yet. The book itself is made with materials that echo the authors' suggestions.

I agree with f.pea on the vegetarian issue. I'm all for people eating sustainable and considerately raised animals if they want meat, but everyone would have to reduce their meat eating regardless for sustainability (and to reduce cruelty - I just can't imagine it's possible to continue to eat as much meat as we do and raise the animals humanely).

shash said...

emily: true true. i don't get why people eat so much meat. i think if people really learned more about farming and animal raising and were more thoughtful/aware about food/eating, many would no longer eat so much meat.

Kingsolver writes a lot about how this experience teaches the family about balance, expectation, longing, slowness of the process of growning food and how this all leads to intense appreciation of the process of growing food, of nature and of the food. I realize most of us don't have the means to do what she and her family did/do, but it seems like that kind of understanding about animals and food leads to moderation.

Julie said...

Since I’m fairly new to this blog, and missed earlier discussions of AVM, this might be a rehash, but there is a good interview/podcast with Kingsolver on PRI’s Speaking of Faith with Christa Tippet. Kingsolver and her husband are also touring so you might catch them at a local university. I saw them read and speak two weeks ago at an event hosted by our state organic organization among other sponsors. AVM has been on my list to read for several months, but I’m waiting for paperback, or friends who have the hardcover to loan it to me.

One of the things that struck me at the talk was something I had thought about several times when grocery shopping. I live on the East Coast. Is it better to buy organic produce from California, or buy something more local (if not really local, at least no more than one state away) that doesn’t have an organic label? Although not always the case, buying more local, even if it isn’t organic, can be the better choice.

So I am off to figure out what CSA to finely join (after years of thinking about it, and worrying about what to do with the mounds of collards and turnip greens we’d get.) Also to gather my plans for the raised garden beds I have wanted to put in for years.

The other books mentioned sound very interesting and I will have to look into them.

Geek+Nerd said...

Hi there! I just finished reading AVM and it has deeply influenced the way that I plan to use my purchasing power in the future. I think that you hit the nail on the head when you said that Kingsolver (and family) provided a great balance of seriousness/fun throughout the book.

As far as Cradle to Cradle is concerned, I haven't read it, but my husband is reading it right now. He might be selective about what he's telling me about it, but it sounds like it might be a bit of a downer after AVM. I guess I'll have to read it for myself and find out!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to chime in on the vegetarian issue also. I think you should be very proud that you've been a vegetarian so long and should consider again why you began eating that way for renewed inspiration. As other readers mentioned, the environmental impact of raising an animal, even "humanely," is huge. Also, it's so much healthier for you to exclude meat and animal products! plus, unless you're living on a farm, there's still a lot of impact from buying meat from a local farm. I haven't read the book or anything, but i have noticed people i would expect talking about the local thing and i think at least that part's pretty great!