Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Farewell My Subaru by Doug Fine

I stumbled upon this book in one of Brattleboro's FIVE bookstores.  It was on sale so I picked it up, thinking it looked like fun.  Turns out you can judge a book by its cover, because fun it is.  Doug Fine is a humorous writer and a great story teller.  At 200 pages it's a quick and enjoyable read but still full of insight.

Fine moves to the New Mexican desert with the goal of kicking his fossil fuel habit and getting off the grid.  He has no experience whatsoever with ranching, farming, or any of the things people need to be self-sufficient.  To top it off, he's a Wal-Mart addict.  But, he kicks his addiction early in the book and makes no secret of the fact that he asks for help whenever he can.  He also buys two goats to help him get his other habit off-grid: ice cream.

A few solar panels, and one veggie oil run monster truck later and Fine is well on his way to reaching his goals.  He plants a garden (several times, due to many crop-decimating hail storms), installs a solar hot water heater and gets himself some chickens.  He almost makes the task seem simple (given the right friends and enough money, of course).  He certainly makes it seem fun, especially with all of the humorous and well-placed recipes (rattlesnake stew when he discovers a rattlesnake near his home, although in this case the rattlesnake escapes unharmed).

The part that I found most interesting was his veggie oil car.  I had all but forgotten about these little miracles with my secret (ok, not so secret) obsession with buying an electric car and powering it with solar panels.  Of course a much cheaper option is to get an old diesel car and convert it to veggie oil.  It's a great deal all around because normally restaurants have to pay someone to pick up their used oil and normally drivers have to pay higher and higher prices for their gas.  The image of a massive fuel-guzzling truck roaring around town spurting out chinese food-scented emissions is almost too good to pas up!

My only criticism of this book is the lack of sources.  Throughout the story Fine drops a few facts and figures having to do with energy and resource consumption, typical statistics to find in a book on environmentalism, but he sites no sources.  Where did this information come from?  There is no bibliography, no where to go for further reading.  If he picked these facts up from the internet, what are the websites?  Who did the studies?  Who collected this data?  I've never come across a book with facts that lacked sources and I found the whole thing confusing.

All in all, it was a great book and although it's not in my section at the bookstore now, it will soon.

Buy it Indie!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved by Sandor Ellix Katz

I loved this book so much that the whole time I was reading it, I just wanted to find Mr. Katz and shake his hand.  And then invite him over for dinner.

The bookstore had this book sitting on the shelf for about a year and no one had purchased it.  Our book buyer wanted me to pull this lovely treasure from the shelf and return it to the publishers to make room for books that might sell better.  I couldn't do it.  Even though I had not yet read the book, I knew that with a title like this one, it had to be good.  So I promised to read the book, write a review and attempt to hand-sell the crap out of it.  And although my hand-selling skills are limited, I will certainly talk to anyone willing to listen about the reasons this book deserves a spot on the shelves.

This book mixes the some of the good bits of Pollan, Kingsolver, Bittman, even a bit of McKibben.  The point is, you can pick up this book anywhere along your journey to food knowledge and activism.  It can be a beginning, or it can be the next book in a long series of food system information.  Katz touches on environmentalism, heath, the overcomplicated food system, and even throws in some recipes.

What's even better is that Katz doesn't stop short after bringing up all of the problems, he gives examples of what others are doing to solve these problems.  He cites specific organizations and people who fight the system and how they are doing it.  Each chapter has several pages of resources for more information on the problems and solutions. The bibliography alone is enough reason to buy this book.  Getting through it will probably keep me occupied for years.

Buy it indie!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

No Impact Man by Colin Beaven

I knew the moment I saw this book that I would love it.  And I do.  Beavan spends a lot of energy judging people and governments for the state of the environment, but does little to examine his own life, or even make the simplest changes.  After watching Anne Leonard's video, The Story of Stuff, he realizes it's time to make a change.  He devises a one year project called No Impact Man that will rid himself and his family of all possible environmental impact.

I'm a strong believer in doing all of it, or none of it, which made me really appreciate Beavan's amazing commitment.  I found a lot to be inspire by in this book, even though I consider my own footprint to be fairly light.  His complete refusal to create any waste really made me think about how much I waste, that I really don't need to.

The best thing about this book was that Beavan creates a more fulfilling life for himself and his family by simplifying.  Instead of rushing around, they make more time for each other.  Instead of take-out, they cook their own food and sit down with each other.  Instead of taking a cab, they enjoy the city by waling or biking.  Instead of watching TV, they play games.  On top of the improvement in their health and quality of life, they saved a ton of money by not shopping, using no electricity, cutting out disposable products, making their own cleaners, and not paying train and cab fairs. Not to mention what they will probably save long-term for medical bills by taking better care of themselves.

Beavan doesn't just write about what he did, he writes about why he did it.  He writes about what he got out of it.  His reflections about our way of life are so simple and logical, yet we hardly ever stop and really think about the fact that we can change if we want to.  He discovers that there is no reason for him to rush around when all he really wants to do is spend time with his family.  There is no reason to order take out when he can make the time to cook.  There is no reason to wrap his baby girl in toxic plastic diapers if they can take a few extra minutes to wash some fabric ones, which she prefers by the way.

The motivation behind every choice he makes is backed by statistics and very clear research.  The facts he uses throughout the book really drive his point home.  The need to get involved becomes emotional.  It's not some far-off problem we'll deal with when it happens, it's something we have to address now.  The fact that stuck with me most, which I have pondered every day since reading it, is this: 80% of everything manufactured on this planet today is created to be used only once.  We live on a planet of finite resources.  People all over the world die for oil, entire ecosystems are ruined for it, and we are throwing away 80% of everything we make with it after the first use?  Why?!?!

It's no wonder his book inspired me to change my own habits.  I'm not sure how anyone could read it and not be driven to change, even just a little.