3.29.2010

ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE: A YEAR OF FOOD LIFE - Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the amazingly talented author Barbara Kingsolver takes on a new realm: the economy of food life. The idea for the book was born in her family’s move from the arid climate of Arizona to the temperate climate of southern Appalachia. Part of the motivation for this move was a desire to live in a way that was at once more sustainable and healthier, both for her family and her world.

Sustainable food culture is not a new topic for books or in the public sphere. It has been tackled by many authors in recent years and has increasingly been part of political and social discourse. Kingsolver, however, takes the issue out of the realms of academia and politics to plant it firmly in the context of her own family, lifestyle and garden. What is usually painted as a grim doomsday situation is brought into a positive light by Kingsolver and her family, who manage to find creative ways to live within their community and in harmony with the seasons of their own part of the world.

Framed within this context, much of what she discusses seems like good common sense. But unfortunately, in today’s single-minded, profit-driven food economy, much of this good common sense has been replaced by short cuts that prove to be near sighted and counter-productive. Take, for example, the practice of using pesticides and insecticides that eradicate birds like swallows. How does this make sense when swallows are insecticides since insects are their main diet? And what about the practice of shipping vegetables halfway across the world when we could just as easily grow them in our own back yards? Kingsolver brings contradictions to the fore, pointing out that these practices not only damage the environment and ecosystems we inhabit, but also harm our local economies by putting our hard-earned food dollars into the far away bank accounts of a few large corporations.

Though it seems if not impossible, incredibly daunting to purchase only food we can trace back to its source, Kingsolver gently walks the reader through some simple ways of doing so. She then goes on to describe processes (like making cheese) that most of us wouldn’t even have any idea we could do in our own kitchens, let alone in half an hour, and describes them in such simple terms that by the end of the section the reader is left wondering why they’ve never tried them before. The book is also peppered with factual passages on a variety of topics related to worldwide food production by Kingsolver’s husband, Steven L. Hopp, along with essays, recipes and menu suggestions in keeping with the seasonal ingredient list by her elder daughter, Camille.

Even if you’re not about to give up tomatoes in January, this book will provide you with such a range of information and ideas that you can’t help but become more aware of the food that ends up on your table. Whether you decide to visit a local farmer’s market, grow some of your own vegetables in your backyard or a community garden, choose to buy foods marked “local” whenever you see them, or simply have an increased awareness of the true cost of your food, this book will certainly change your relationship to your meals and provide you with options should you choose to pursue them.

3.10.2010

STUPID AND CONTAGIOUS - Caprice Crane

This book surprised me. I picked it up at my favourite local used book store one afternoon, and thought it would be one of those chicklit books I guiltily read and then dispose of in the hopes that I'll never have to admit to having read them, nevermind having bought them. Instead it turned out to be more like a Nick Hornby novel.

It is a story of two people whose lives are in a shambles. They somehow end up living next door to one another. At first they have an incredible distaste for one another. But over time, they come to be friends and even embark on a trip together to market a scheme for cinnamon flavoured milk to the founder of Starbucks.

The surprising element, and that which most strongly brings Nick Hornby to mind, is the undercurrent of musical knowledge that accompanies the plot. It turns out that the title is actually a reference to a Nirvana song! This is one book not to judge by its cover. Though it isn't a great literary work and isn't even on my top ten, I did pass a couple of sunny afternoons on my balcony with it while still on large quantities of pain killers post-surgery. It was the perfect book for the situation and I did enjoy it. It is easy to read, the story progresses at a good speed and the characters are entertaining enough to keep you reading to the end. So, if you're looking for a light read and enjoyed Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, this might appeal to you.

3.01.2010

ALL FAMILIES ARE PSYCHOTIC - Douglas Coupland

I have often wondered what would happen if you took every sort of mishap and cliche you could dream up, created a cast of characters and threw the mishaps at them like rotten tomatoes at a stage show. This book is the answer to that query. It features a thalidomide baby, AIDS, a kidnapping, divorce, an astronaut, a trophy wife, intra-familial extramarital affairs, a suicidal brother, a girl with no vowels, a night in jail, drugs, born-again Christians, black market trade and a shooting - along with some other stuff I can't tell you about because I don't want to wreck the story. It's like a sign for a three-headed gila monster at the side of the road - you just have to stop and check it out.

This book isn't generally a favourite amongst Coupland fans, but I harbour fond feelings towards it. Perhaps this is due partially to the fact that it was the first of his books that I read and it was like entering a new literary world (as the discovery of any new favourite author inevitably is), but whatever the reason, it has a firm place on my top books list. Also, the title is one of the most important revelations you will ever have in your lifetime. They are. Every single one.

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