The tagline to this book is “A skeptic’s quest to discover if the Natural approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing and the Environment really keeps us Healthier and Happier”. I was intrigued and wondered where he would wind up.
In the introduction, these lines spoke to me: “…In this age of global warming, killer germs, and obesity, it’s easy to feel as if we’ve somehow slipped out of synch with the global ecosystem. But it’s just as easy to dismiss that feeling by pointing out all the good that our industry has brought. We’ve got more stuff. We live longer. Everything gets better and easier. I suspect most of us are actually stuck somewhere in the middle: We recognize the good that technology has conferred, but also have a gnawing sense that something is missing or awry. This sense is persistent, but frustratingly vague. Call it “ecological anxiety”.
This is a terrific book. Barbara Kingsolver, her husband Steven, and daughters Camille and Lily embark in a year spent eating, as much as possible, locally grown food. Their reasons, and all the associated implications, are woven through a highly entertaining as well as deeply informative narrative. Many of the issues are addressed in other books and articles — industrial food production, organic versus conventional agriculture, the state of America’s family farms and America’s ever-increasing waistlines, etc. But the book is far more than a restatement of these themes. One of the key subjects is America’s food culture, or lack thereof. Kingsolver contrasts our can-get-any-food-from-anywhere-at-any- time-even-if-it’s-tasteless culture, to food traditions in other parts of the world that rely on local and regional foods that are in season, specific to the area and surpassingly flavorful and healthy. She reminds us of skills our forbears had about food preservation and land stewardship.
I love this book! Sara Stein shares how she transitioned from traditional “ornamental gardener” to ecological gardener upon realizing that, once her landscaping was finished, all the butterflies, birds, toads, etc. were gone. She began recalling the animals, plants, wildflowers, insects (butterflies, lightening bugs, dragonflies) that surrounded her in her youth, and how, little by little, they had disappeared. She goes further back to historical documents that described an astonishingly rich and abundant landscape, now a shadow of its former self. So she embarks on a rebuilding project, turning her garden in Westchester County, NY, into an ecological attraction complete with a “pocket woodland”, hedgerows with berries for birds and insects to eat, a meadow, a small island and pond and more.
This book is enlightening and upsetting. It makes the case that our current system of food production, reliant as it is on gigantic “industrial” farms emphasizing monoculture and the heavy use of pesticides, is horrendously damaging to the foods we eat, the land it’s grown on, the farming community and local economies. But it also offers alternatives (which keeps you from simply slitting your wrists on the spot) that enrich the land, sustain communities, protect food diversity and purity. The book includes essays by Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Vandana Shiva, Michael Ableman, Jim Hightower, and Alice Waters as well as spectacular and informative photos.
I discovered this book, and the concept of permaculture, several years ago. I am really happy to see that a second-edition was published in 2009, which includes updates and an additional chapter about Urban Permaculture.
From the Barnes & Noble Review: “Many people mistakenly think that ecological gardening–which involves growing a wide range of edible and other useful plants–can take place only on a large, multiacre scale. As Hemenway demonstrates, it’s fun and easy to create a ‘backyard ecosystem’ by assembling communities of plants that can work cooperatively and perform a variety of functions, including:
I can’t remember now whether Wendell Berry lead me to Fatal Harvest, or the reverse, but I discovered them at roughly the same time. Wendell Berry is a writer and farmer from Kentucky who writes beautiful, thoughtful and sometimes haunting essays that weave together farming, living, community, respect for land and the importance of meaningful work for quality of life, among other things.
He is a champion of the family farm, small business, local economies vs. global and quality of life NOW, not in some mythical future for which we must be willing to sacrifice our land, air, water, time and self-respect.
Wendell Berry sees the production of food as an almost sacred activity – worthy of the highest respect. He also believes the producer must, in turn, offer the highest respect to nature and the land.