To change economic norms and ethical perceptions in tandem is even more formidable than the technological battle to adapt to the heavy weather coming down the tubes. Yet “This Changes Everything” is, improbably, Klein’s most optimistic book. She braids together the science, psychology, geopolitics, economics, ethics and activism that shape the climate question. The result is the most momentous and contentious environmental book since “Silent Spring.”
Check out the full review here. And pick up your copy today for the Nov. 17 discussion.]]>
We look forward to discussing this book with you on May 19th at Horizon Books on Front St. in TC.
We encourage you to read as much of this book as you are able and please come even if you have not read the book!
Reading and discussing this book is an opportunity to step back from our own strongly held perspectives and ideas to consider “why it is so hard for us to talk reasonably and openly to people who disagree with us”, particularly over what is to be done about our socio-environmental problems. (Gottlieb, 2011) Whether the problem involves climate change, water pollution, species loss or proposed developments like new bypass highways and housing projects or educational requirements for environmental literacy, there are opposing views, conflicts and opportunities to learn from and influence each other.
How can people and organizations with very different perspectives and positions talk respectfully with each other and, in the process, learn as well as build rapport? More specifically, what experiences have each of us had trying to do this? What have we learned? What can we do individually and collectively to communicate more effectively, learn from each other, and better appreciate each other while we seek to collaborate?
To examine these questions Gottlieb has written fictional accounts of 7 (Chapters 1-7) describing interactions among diverse people with conflicting values, ideas and priorities. Each of these conversations is about a different topic related to the environment and in each, the people involved vary from strangers to co-workers to family members. In some of these accounts, the participants are activists trying to work together, while in others they are trying to share their views in an informal social setting and in still others, the participants are trying to persuade each other that their own views and priorities are the ones that should be adopted by the group or individually by members of the group.
Reading and reflecting on Gottlieb’s different stories can enable you to experience and reflect on how you react to the involved characters and their views and .the interactions that that are taking place among them. Based on your reading we suggest you consider answering the following questions:
If you have very limited time to read we suggest that you begin by reading one of the following chapters:
Chapter 5, “Whose Woods are These?” (pp. 111-136): This story is about a group of strangers who meet each other on a hike and get into a discussion about each other’s views about the relationship between the environment , science and ultimate values including religions.
Chapter 3, “What Is to Be Done?” (pp. 63-90): This story is about an activist group and its members who have been seeking to protect a wetlands. They are in an escalating conflict with other contending groups and this along with personal concerns are influencing individuals’ commitments and ideas about what to do next.
Chapter 4, “Pass the Turkey,” (pp.91-110): This is a story about a family home for a holiday meal whose members get into a discussion about socio-environmental change and what is necessary to bring this about. Each person has established different roles and perspectives that they hold deeply as individuals and differing feelings about what this means for their family.
Please join us on Tuesday, May 19th at Horizon Bookstore at 7:00 PM! Sally Van Vleck and I are hoping that the conversation will be relevant and useful as we addess issues in our own communities, families and workplaces.
When: Tuesday, May 19, at 7 p.m.
Where: Horizon Books (Horizon Shine Cafe) at 243 East Front Street, Traverse City
What: Our ecological dilemmas provoke powerful emotions and deeply contested views. How should we think about them? And how can we live together, or even talk together, when we cannot listen to people who think differently?
In a lively and at times very funny book, Roger S. Gottlieb (A Greener Faith, This Sacred Earth, A Spirituality of Resistance) explores these questions in a collection of distinct but related philosophical short stories. Fictional characters with personalities, individual histories, and strong opinions wrestle with the meaning of life, the value of nature, animal rights, the roles of science and religion in environmentalism, and political choices facing environmental activists—as well as their own anger, fear, despair, and close-mindedness.
The May 19 discussion will be led by Sally Van Vleck and Jim Crowfoot.]]>
In my previous life as a reporter for the Record-Eagle from 1986 to 1998, I remember reporting on two words that were new to me at the time.
The first was “watershed”—how our streams, bays and lakes are connected, and require a bigger-picture look at water quality in our region. Then came “viewshed,” as land preservationists described what was being lost during an era of rapid and sprawling growth.
Now comes “foodshed,” which again defines something of value and something that, by its very nature, is local.
“Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems,” by farmer and university professor Philip Ackerman-Leist, is the third book in the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project, which draws upon a list of books the local activist felt people should read and discuss together. Ackerman-Leist starts with a history of how we came to the largely industrial food system that we have today, where it’s often easier for a school in our region to purchase lettuce from California, for example, rather than from farmers right down the road. Technology like refrigeration and railroads played a role in making this happen, as did the entrepreneurial acts of men like the Gold Rush-era Armour brothers.
Ackerman-Leist’s book is laced with humor, research, maps—even references to literature—and he cautions against polarization and preaching for “local-only.” He notes that a diversity of options provides resilience in the face of local disasters like drought, hurricanes, and industrial accidents.
Nonetheless, he says, modernization did not require the wholesale destruction of our ability to buy from local farmers, or farmers’ ability to sell nearby. He calls on us to be food “citizens” rather than just consumers, and to identify opportunities to “re-localize” our food system for things of value to our communities that we lost by allowing only national and international food systems to dominate.
Ackerman-Leist also makes the case for communities to invest in rich soils for growing food and in recycling waste into energy, with local job opportunities in both. He advocates for valuing everyone from low-income families to farmers, farm workers, and local processors, distributors and buyers. He provides models of edible landscape initiatives; local food-oriented employee wellness benefits; food hubs; and apprenticeships and community capital for young farmers.
A foodshed—like a watershed and a viewshed—is local. And local, Ackerman-Leist says, is “within the sphere of our influence and care. “
“Rebuilding the Foodshed,” available at local bookstores, will be discussed at Meadowlark Farm near Lake Leelanau starting with a potluck at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 20. More information is available at www.resilience-reads.org.
Diane Conners is a senior policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute. She is a board member of the Grand Traverse Foodshed Alliance.]]>
Watch now: http://www.upnorthmedia.org/watchupnorthtv.asp?sdbfid=6593#vid]]>
“An area slogan, “one book, one community,” could change to “two books, several communities” with the addition of a new regional reading project.
“The Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project kicks off this winter with the first of several books recommended by the late local activist and environmentalist.
“Russell died in August from cancer, but not before approaching the Michigan Land Use Institute about promoting books he considered key in helping people understand what they can do to make their communities as economically, environmentally and socially healthy and resilient as possible.”
Click here for the whole article.]]>
My first Michael Pollan book, “The Botany of Desire,” was one I instantly fell for. That book casually tossed upon my table the relationship humans have with plants, and reciprocally the relationship they seem to have developed with us. It sounded vaguely alien-esque, so I went off into the void of two of my favorite reading genres: food and sci-fi. It was followed by a succession of other Pollan books through the years, each with the promise of keeping my foodie mind burbling with anticipation.
If you’ve read Pollan’s other books, “Cooked” one arrives a bit off-camber. It’s not the same rip-out-the-heart, traditional food system skewering we’re used to. “Cooked” starts with a frank admission from Pollan: “Cooking has always been a part of my life, but more like the furniture than an object of scrutiny, much less a passion.” What he’s saying is that he’s made a career out of talking about food without ever understanding its true relationship personally.
“Cooked” is a nationwide gustatory road-trip mapped out to right that wrong. While it lacks the ferocity of an Anthony Bourdain treatise, it has a similar effect in that it asks us to question the obvious while leaving us hungering for the forbidden fruit of our guilty pleasures.
The book is organized around the four classical elements, fire, water, air, and earth. In its simplest form, “Cooked” uses each element as a classroom opportunity for Pollan to learn one classic—otherwise mundane—recipe at a time. To examine fire, he seeks out a southern barbecue master. Diving into water, he teams up with a former Chez Panisse chef. For air, he ventures into the ancient art of bread baking. And finally for earth, he seizes upon that mysterious organic process we call fermentation. These all reinforce the subtitle of the book, “A Natural History of Transformation.”“Cooked” seems more the work of a cultural anthropologist than that of the food systems activist we’ve known.
Greeks and Egyptians, Persians, and even medieval alchemists all had some interpretation of the four elements. Michael Pollan leads with fire and approaches it quite literally. We go with him as he gets in his car and drives to a little town in North Carolina known for its barbecue cookery. This unproven Yankee dons his neophyte hat and wades into a backwoods barbecue pit overseen by a 30-something man with barbecue in his blood named Samuel Jones.
The section shows in detail the lessons Pollan will need to learn to understand this succulent American right of passage known as barbecue. It starts with a treatise on how our very species invented fire, and then cooking with it as a way to do nothing less than preserve and advance our DNA. Before the section ends, we find some iconic Pollan, regaling us with Freudian references: “Cooking with fire remains very much a competitive male preserve, and those of us who do it should probably count ourselves lucky Freud isn’t around to offer his analysis of exactly what it is we’re up to.”
Pollan doesn’t leave classical Greek interpretations of fire alone either. He devotes pages to tales of Zeus and Prometheus and plots of revenge and retribution for betrayals of gods and mortals. “The Prometheus story becomes a myth of the origin of cooking, an account of how animal sacrifice evolved into a form of feasting, thanks to Prometheus’ daring reapportionment of the sacrificial animal to favor man.”
The emphatic call to arms of fire is that it was born to cook meat.
This second section starts with a chef’s most basic of tasks, chopping “veg” for a mirepoix. Pollan’s stop at this juncture is illustrative of the book’s mission. He realizes he’s been part of the problem, which thus far he’s been unwilling to admit in his other books. Recognizing that playing an active role in the preparation and “transformation” of food is the mea culpa that drives the narrative.
“Today the typical American spends a mere twenty-seven minutes a day on food preparation, and another four minutes cleaning up. That’s less than half the time spent cooking and cleaning up in 1965, when I was a boy. Somewhat more than half of the evening meals an American eats today are still “cooked at home,” according to the market researchers.”
Still, he’s far from taking it all on the chin himself:
“The very same activity that many people regard as a form of drudgery has somehow been elevated to a popular spectator sport. When you consider that twenty-seven minutes is less time than it takes to watch a single episode of Top Chef or The New Food Network Star, you realize that there are now millions of people who spend more time watching food being cooked on television than they spend actually cooking it themselves.”
Pollan’s work on water examines its important role in the transformation process. Extracting flavors and separating, then reconstituting, chemical compounds in food is critical to our expectations of taste. For this lesson he employs an upwardly reaching chef, Samin Nosrat, formerly of Chez Panisse fame. Pollan spent Sundays with Samin to learn the intricacies of the pot. The subtle combinations of flavors—this vegetable with that—or the order in which we add them to a soup or a braise provide telltale signals to our brain about a food’s cultural origins.
The power of the chop (we’re talking veggies here) combines with water (or oil or other liquids) to create a myriad of flavors, all of which require tending. Pollan refers to this “drudgery” as the“antithesis” of what fire requires. “Indeed,” he continues, “The only time the grill man or pit master deploys a knife is at the very end of his show.”
Water it seems was designed for the pot, and in the pot we find veg.
This chapter focuses on part of a cooking tradition that is akin to religion. In fact some of the greatest books on bread-baking are still published by Jesuit brothers and priests. Pollan joins the ranks of millions of us in search of salvation from that perfect loaf because, he intimates, we’re either meant to be bakers, or we’re not.
“I had baked one or two loaves years before with only middling results, and had concluded baking was probably not for me.” This conclusion is one I’ve heard espoused by many of my own friends. Even my wife, an otherwise accomplished cook, claims she’s had far too many catastrophes to make any further attempts at baking. So here’s something of his work that certainly speaks to all of us. One way to think about bread, he suggests, “is simply this: as an ingenious technology for improving the flavor, digestibility, and nutritional value of grass.”
Pollan peeks behind the curtain of naturally fermented breads, too. He talks about the mysteries and vagaries of rising dough, of the care and feeding of a sourdough starter, and the downright bizarre rituals discussed by authors and bloggers about how wild yeasts and strains of bacteria find their way into mason jars hidden in the dark recesses of San Francisco apartments. Then Pollan incriminates himself as just another foodie-mortal powerless to the seductions of bread with this mouth-watering description of the finished product.
“The best bread I ever tasted was a big country loaf shot through with holes the size of marbles and golf balls—easily more air than bread. It had a tough hide of a crust very nearly burned, but held inside a crumb so tender, moist, and glossy it made you think of custard. There was something sensual about the strong contrast between these two realms—outside and inside, hard and soft. The bread was so powerfully aromatic that, had I been alone, I would have been tempted to push my face into it.”
Air explains to us the importance of the places in between, and the role we have as humans to manipulate that space to our own ends.
Michael Pollan doesn’t let this sensual loaf seduce him to distraction. He also looks towards other aspects of fermentation in the food system, reminding us that before refrigeration, canning, and chemicals, fermentation was the primary form of preserving food over long periods of time. He talks of Korean kimchi buried in the backyard, Russian kefir, yogurt, and of breadfruit aging in Fiji pits to eventual odiferous perfection as something resembling the scent of road kill after a week in the sun.
Finally he covers something dear to many of my friends: the role of fermentation in making alcohol, and specifically beer. This, as it turns out, is another specialty of the religious. If you’ve ever had Belgian ale, you can thank a monk.
Speaking of fermenting cultures he says, “It not only seems alive, it is alive. And most of this living takes place at a scale inaccessible to us without a microscope.”
Earth is really about stuff that lives and breathes and changes food from one form into another. As humans we are sometimes the instigators, but mainly bystanders in a process that closely mimics the very way life is thought to have emerged from that primordial ooze.
“Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” is an eye-opening read, but it pries your lids up in a very different way than his previous books. Gone are the diatribes and stabs at American corporate agriculture that many of us grew to appreciate from him. That edge is replaced with a new foundation of self-discovery, one akin to the sense of wonder served up by children. It begs you to turn the page, grab some ingredients, and push upon the edges of your own food comfort zone.
Michael Pollan is the author of seven books including: The Botany of Desire, In Defense of Food, An Omnivore’s Dilemma, A Place of My Own, Second Nature, Food Rules, and Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. All these books are available at our local books stores throughout northwest Lower Michigan.]]>
It’s in that spirit of knowledge and learning that the Michigan Land Use Institute, along with several other regional groups and businesses, are launching the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project.
Before Bob’s passing, he shared with his friends and colleagues a carefully curated list of books he felt can help us understand what we can do to make sure our community is economically, environmentally, and socially as healthy and resilient as possible.
The idea behind the new reading project is a simple one: In each season of the year, a broad community will come together to read one of the books recommended by Bob, discuss its themes and lessons, celebrate the region’s strengths, and acknowledge the work that remains.
The project kicks off this winter with “Cooked,” by Michael Pollan, who argues that our own health and the health of our food system depend on one rule: Cook your own food. The book taps into northern Michigan’s incredible agricultural heritage, our love of great dishes, and our booming local food economy.
You can pick up a copy of “Cooked”—and all the other books on Bob’s list—at Horizon Books and local libraries. Then follow along with fellow readers at www.resilience-reads.org, and join us in February for the inaugural book club meeting at Horizon.]]>