Monday, April 1, 2013

a month of food and gardening reads...

Food and gardening theme month flew by just as quickly as the previous ones. As predicted I only managed to read five theme books (the last of which I actually finished up here on this first morning of April), and while I would have loved to read many more, I'm for the most part pleased with my selections. It did make me more anxious than ever to get the garden going, but the snow flying outside my window attests to the fact that those days are still a ways off. Anyway, here's a short look at what I read this month (with each mini review written when I finished the book):

*Food: The New Gold by Kathlyn Gay.

When I was at the library last time, I decided to see what I might be able to find in the way of food ethics books for Gray. After all, it would be nice to have another buddy join me for food and gardening month. And Gray is very interested in the topic. He loves movies like Food, Inc. and King Corn, and one of his favorite books is Chew On This, which he's now read three or four times. I managed to find this book that looked as if it fit my "basic yet broad" criteria.

Having just read it, I must admit I'm disappointed. NOT because it's a bad book. It definitely isn't. But because it fit my criteria too well. :P It covered a wide variety of issues under the whole food ethics umbrella. Not everything, but then how could any book (especially one of this short length) cover everything--poverty, class inequality, corporate greed, bad government policies, the myriad of environmental issues, etc. etc. etc. My disappointment stems from the fact that it was too basic. So yeah, *my* bad. Not the book's fault.

So while this book may not have been the book for Gray, who already has his feet wet, I do think it would make a great introduction for kids who are totally new to the subject. It talked about food insecurity and factory farming and agribusiness and monoculture and the effects of global warming on food production and GMOs and politics and many other just didn't go into much depth on anything.

Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity by Lester R. Brown.

For the second time this year, I've come across an "Everyone NEEDS to Read This Book" book. I don't often feel that way, really...I realize that people tastes differ and whatnot. But this book is not a matter of taste, it's a matter of importance. It's not a book that is going to make anyone smile, but its a book that ought to make everyone think.

This paragraph from the last chapter in the book, gives one a good overview of the book itself:

Scientists and many other concerned individuals have long sensed that the world economy had moved onto an environmentally unsustainable path. This has been evident to anyone who tracks trends such as deforestation, soil erosion, aquifer depletion, collapsing fisheries, and the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. What was not so clear was exactly where this unsustainable path would lead. It now seems that the most imminent effect will be tightening supplies of food. Food is the weak link in our modern civilization--just as it was for the Sumerians, Mayans, and many other civilizations that have come and gone. They could not separate their fate from that of their food supply. Nor can we.

The issues in this book were not, for the most part, new to me, yet I was still somewhat staggered reading these up-to-date findings. Scary stuff. Made scarier still by the recent political maneuverings and land grabs being made around the world.

Full Planet, Empty Plates is a very quick read...both because it's only 120 odd pages long and because it's so compelling you won't want to put it down.

*Homegrown Honey Bees: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Beekeeping Your First Year, from Hiving to Honey Harvest by Alethea Morrison.

Rich and I would really like to enter the world of beekeeping. Not this summer, probably not even next summer, as there are just so. many. things. that still need done around this place. And we know that beekeeping will take time and dedication. But even though this endeavor is a few years in the future, I wanted to start doing some research and learning now. And Homegrown Honey Bees was a perfect place to start. The "An Absolute Beginner's Guide" part of the title was dead-on accurate. There was a lot of information on bees themselves that I already knew, but I can't hold that against the author...because I was completely ignorant when it came to most of the things she covered. The author carefully walked through all the facets of beekeeping in your first year. Though I'm sure we'll be doing a lot more reading as well, I can see this book becoming a go-to source when we finally decide the time is right.

In addition to all the information contained in this book (from the various ways to purchase bees to the necessary equipment to inspecting your hive to harvesting honey and so so so so so much more), the book was loaded with wonderful photography by the author's husband, Mars Vilaubi. In addition to oodles of photographs to help illustrate the process of various beekeeping practices, there are truly stunning macro photographs of bees themselves.

Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart.

Wicked Plants was a fascinating and utterly fun read. In the introduction, Steward writes:

I confess that I am enchanted by the plant kingdom's criminal element. I love a good good villian... There is something beguiling about sharing their dark little secrets. And these secrets don't just lurk in a remote jungle. They're in our own backyards.

And I must confess that I was equally enchanted by reading these dark little secrets she shared.

If I have one regret about my experience with this book, it would be that I read it too quickly. There is so much information in this book and I devoured it too quickly to let much of it truly soak in and take up residence in my memory. I see a reread in my future, a much slower, more leisurely read, probably with lots of note-taking.

Stewart orders the entries alphabetically and each plant receives a label at the top: deadly, illegal, intoxicating, dangerous, painful, destructive, or offensive. Contained in each entry are bits of scientific, historical, social, and cultural information. Oh yeah, and lots of references to literature. I smiled on the very first page of the introduction when she spoke of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter," a short story I adore.

Adding to the pure delight of this book are the beautiful etchings of Briony Morrow-Cribbs. I'm seriously tempted to buy another copy of this book to cut out and frame some of its stunning art.

I will definitely be reading more of Stewart's books (including The Drunken Botanist, which I gave Rich for his Easter present), but I guess they will have to wait as food and gardening theme month has come to an end.

I also read Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon and talked about it here.


Susan said...

I so want a copy of Wicked Plants, Debi! Love your review, and this is going right onto my list.

The honey bee book looks interesting. I might get it just to have for info....I live in the city, not about to keep bees, but it's nice to have in case it's ever needed. I'm interested that you and Rich want to keep bees one day. They are so important to the world. I have a bee and butterfly flower garden to feed them :-)

Full Planet, Empty Plates looks interesting too. So, that's three books added to my get list! Love that you reviewed what you read too, in your themed months, Debi. I'm enjoying seeing what you read and if you are enjoying it.

Ali said...

I have two friends who keep bees in the city and they both *love* it. I hope you and Rich will be able to work up to doing it!

Great summary of the books that you read, Debi. Definitely a couple on my "should read" list and a couple on my "fun-to-read" list. (Do I thank you for this? I'm not sure!)

Heather said...

Ugh! I feel terrible! I didn't get one book read! I started a few, but nothing really caught me. I did start Wicked Plants, and was loving it. Clearly I need to get back to that. And I'm feeling due a reread of Animal Vegetable Miracle. It always gets my green thumb excited.

Does it help that I was already out, IN my garden???? :D