February 6, 2008

So much to read so little time...

A friend of mine recently sent me this list of books in an email. I wasn't sure what to do with the list, so I have posted it here for now. I look forward to slowly making my way through it, but in the meantime I will leave it here for others to scour as well.

The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter
By Peter Singer and Jim Mason
Review written by Mary Finelli

The Way We Eat, a new book by ethicist Peter Singer and attorney Jim
Mason, follows the food choices of three American families:
meat-and-potatoes Wal-Mart shoppers, "conscientious omnivores," and
stringent vegans. Animal well-being; production standards; fair trade;
environmental impacts, including of local production; and genetically
modified foods are among the considerations of the applied ethical

Readers are warned that we cannot know exactly how far the concepts of
"free range" or "humanely slaughtered" might be stretched, and that
even humanely raised animals take up space that might be better used
to grow crops or provide habitat for wild species.

In a Slate interview, Singer suggests that to improve the conditions
under which animals are raised, either consumers must be ethically
motivated to pay more for their food or else unfair competition must
be eliminated with regulations. In a Mother Jones interview, he
comments that the market is probably the best tool for producing
change in the U.S. whereas the political system may be a more
effective tool in Europe. Mason and Singer recommend that consumers
ideally follow a vegan diet and buy organic and fair trade items. If,
however, one merely avoids products produced by intensive animal
agriculture, Singer says you will have already achieved 80% of what
the book suggests we should strive to accomplish. The immorality of
obesity is also discussed.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

By Michael Pollan
Review by Mary Finelli

Michael Pollan's new book, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History
of Four Meals, explores the origins of a meal from a fast food
restaurant, a meal he hunts and grows himself, a meal with ingredients
from small "family farms," and a meal with ingredients from large
organic corporations.

Pollan visits a "free range" organic chicken farm where 20,000 birds
are raised in a single building with little opportunity to go
outdoors. He reminds readers that cheap food is not really cheap,
because costs to human health, the environment, the farming community
and taxpayers are not reflected. Perhaps paying more for our food
would make us "more mindful eaters," he says, considering we in the
U.S. spend the smallest percentage (9%) of our income on food of any
population in history.

One Fish, Two Fish, Crawfish, Bluefish
by Carole Baldwin and Julie Mounts
(Reviewed by Kristin Reed)

One Fish, Two Fish, Crawfish, Bluefish: The Smithsonian Sustainable
Seafood Cookbook by Carole Baldwin and Julie Mounts provides recipes
for sustainable cuisine. This insightful and beautifully-illustrated
book contains over 150 recipes from some of the most creative and
famous chefs in the U.S. Co-author and marine biologist Carol Baldwin
of the Smithsonian Institute knows the challenges facing global oceans
and has chosen a wide range of sustainably-caught or farmed seafood
for this book, providing seafood-lovers with options that embrace the
health of our oceans. For more information, please visit

Stuff: The Secret Life of Everyday Things

by John Ryan and Alan Durning
(Reviewed by Carol Holst and Gordon LaBedz)

This seminal book traces and thoroughly substantiates the origins,
detailed production/distribution cycles, and total environmental
consequences of many consumer items that most Americans take for
granted. In its brilliance, it renders the reader alternately shocked,
hysterical, inspired and furious, including the approximately 1,150
words which analyze the impact of producing each copy of "Stuff"

On page three of this book, the authors write "consuming too much
STUFF can be bad for you. Reviewers of early drafts reported feeling
overwhelmed or depressed after learning the true stories of how things
are made." They went on to say that the book is better read a little
at a time. I heeded their warning. I was glad I did.

Stuff is a small book about a subject that most of us never think
about. Where does our every day stuff come from? How is it made? How
did it get to my store? I started reading the book with a cup of fair
trade, shade grown organic coffee. Sure enough, the first subject was
how a cup of coffee goes from farm to your home! After they described
the production of coffee, they went to the morning newspaper (which I
had just read). I put the book down. I am a newspaper junkie. I
decided then and there to unsubscribe and read it on line.

Of perhaps greatest relevance to the Sustainable Consumption
Committee's True Costs of Food Campaign is the chapter on what it
takes to make a single hamburger, leading to the conclusion that we
must eat less meat. It's often quoted that producing a quarter-pound
hamburger requires more than 600 gallons of water and causes the loss
of five times its weight in topsoil, but who knew that the greenhouse
gases emitted from steer's flatulence and manure are equivalent to a
six-mile commute by car for every patty? And that doesn't begin to
cover the well-articulated consequences of producing the bun, ketchup
and packaging.

This is an important book that every environmentalist needs to take to
heart. Human over population and over consumption are problems that we
can no longer ignore. Six and a half billion humans adopting the
American way of life means that we will need the resources of many
more planets than we currently have. Researchers at the University of
British Columbia estimated that North Americans use 12 acres of forest
and farmland per year. If all the world's people did this, we would
need three extra planets. Environmentalists need to learn and teach
others the true costs of their personal consumption habits. Read
Stuff. You will be upset, but you will be glad that you did.

Bill McKibben says of this book, "Great Stuff!"

The Food Revolution
by John Robbins
(Reviewed by Gordon LaBedz)

If you read John Robbins' Diet for a New America, you might think that
you don't need to read his latest Book The Food Revolution. You all
ready understand the horrors of industrial animal "factories," the
health risks of the meat centered diet and the environmental
devastation caused by grazing and feedlot fed animals. However,
Robbins' new book is full of the latest information on our evolving
Western Diet. Mad Cow Disease, genetically modified foods, the "new"
high protein diets and other fad diets are just a few of the important
dietary issues that face modern Americans and their eating choices.

For Sierra Club members, the book speaks loudly to the preservation of
our wild lands. Half the land in the continental United States is
devoted to feeding cows. Sierra Club founder, John Muir called cows
"the locusts of the land" because of the way they ate all vegetation.
However, it is not just grazing that destroys our land and waterways.
Grain production is the primary problem that cows bring to our wild
lands. Eighty to ninety per cent of the grain grown in the U.S. is fed
to cows. In fact, it takes sixteen pounds of grain (a healthy food) to
produce one pound of artery clogging beef! Even fish that is "strip
mined" from the ocean, is fed to cows!

The latest scandal of "infectious Alzheimer's Disease" or Mad Cow
Disease is outlined in detail. Feeding animals to herbivores makes no
more sense than humans eating animal food three times a day every day.

The Food Revolution is a perfect starting point for activists
interested in the Sierra Club's new True Costs of Food Campaign. Club
activists will come to a community near you. Our goal will be for
every Sierra Club member to put aside Tuesday (Sustainable Tuesday) to
live as sustainably as possible. Robbins can teach us how to eat a
sustainable meal three times a day.

Recipes from America's Small Farms
by Joanne Lamb Hayes, Lori Stein and Maura Webber
(Reviewed by Bonnie Lane Webber)

This book gathers recipes, tips, and stories from farmers, chefs, and
members of Community Supported Agriculture. The book celebrates the
small farm movement and the food it produces and encourages everyone
to enjoy fresh local food.

In addition to hundreds of delicious recipes, the book provides lots
of information on how to create your own unique dishes by letting the
season's bounty inspire you, anecdotes from the farmers about how and
why they farm, and a resource guide to issues and ways to find fresh,
responsibly raised food in your own community.

Just Eating? Practicing Our Faith at the Table
by Jennifer Halteman Schrock

This seven-session curriculum for faith-based congregational
discussion groups explores the links between the way we eat and the
way we live. Skillfully weaving scripture, prayer, and stories from
our local and global community, the curriculum explores four key
aspects of our relationship with food:

the health of our bodies
the challenge of hunger
the health of the earth that provides our food
the ways we use food to extend hospitality and enrich relationships

The resource takes participants on a journey from the table of the
Lord to the table of the world that will challenge, encourage, and
enrich all who participate. Just Eating? is a collaboration between
Advocate Health Care, Church World Service, and the Presbyterian
Hunger Program. Ordering information at Presbyterian Hunger Program's
Food and Faith website. You can also download the resource at: www.pcusa.org/hunger/features/justeating.htm

The High Price of Materialism
by Tim Kasser
(Reviewed by Carol Holst)

Anyone interested in sustainable consumption can take heart from the
groundbreaking science in this book on the underlying "big picture" in
our materialistic culture. Author Tim Kasser is a psychologist at Knox
College who has extensively researched the relationship between
consumerism and happiness. Surprise! He empirically demonstrates that
materialistic values undermine our well-being and increase the risk of
unhappiness in life.

Dr. Kasser has also co-authored a fascinating study with Kirk Warren
Brown, psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University, entitled "Are
Psychological and Ecological Well-being Compatible?" published in
Social Indicators Research (2005) 74:349-368. Their research showed,
among other findings, that voluntary simplicity related to higher
'ecologically responsible behavior,' which was compatible with higher
'subjective well-being.'

Legacy: A Story of Hope for a Time of Environmental Crisis
By Joanne Poyourow

Legacy offers a vision of society's journey from our current
environmental predicament toward a sustainable future. The book
combines accurate science with an inspiring story of grass roots

Legacy highlights the positive environmental accomplishments which are
unfolding around us, showcasing the work of James Gustave Speth, David
Holmgren, John Jeavons, Paul Hawken, John Todd, and many others. Using
the city of Los Angeles as an example, the novel imagines the
transformation over the next 40 years, as these green technologies
evolve from niche examples into mainstream reality. Legacy illustrates
positive change in every realm of society - transportation, housing,
food and agriculture, politics, economics, health and spirit - the
ultimate goal of which is sustainability.

Many books document our environmental problems and warn us that
society must change in order to mitigate horrors and curtail disaster.
Legacy intentionally encourages, enrolls the reader, and showcases
real situations where people are getting it right. A compilation of
positive technologies and a roadmap for action, Legacy invites readers
to envision a world of possibilities and to become part of the


  1. someone has food on the brain- for a very good reason. water and food shortages may be a part of our future- and at the very least we now have to be concerned with genetically altered and cloned foods without labels. good list. :)

  2. I agree; that is a very good list. i haven't read michael pollan but heard a lecture of his on the radio a few months ago. planning on catching him next week here in seattle too.