Archive for the ‘books’ Category

green books campaign review

November 10, 2010

This review is part of the Green Books campaign.Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on “green” books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

For the campaign, I chose Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills by Thomas J. Elpel (Hops Press). This book is printed with 100% soy-based inks on 100% recycled paper, bleached without chlorine.

I have a confession. This book was actually my second choice to review for the Green Books Campaign. But when it arrived and I began to peruse its pages, I’m glad that my first choice (Less Is More, which is being reviewed by everydaytrash) was already taken.

I was pleasantly surprised by the personal approach to the writing of Participating in Nature. The writer takes us on a day’s journey, both literally and metaphorically. We start out at sunrise, awakening our senses to the world around us, all through the writer’s observations. He guides us through his experiences and demonstrates shelter building, fire starting, water collecting, edible plant IDing skills and more. The journey naturally ends with sunset.

Being a city girl with dreams of the wilderness, this book was just the thing to entertain my fantasies of roughing it out in “nature.” The funny thing about that is, as the author points out, nature is all around us, even in urban settings. In fact, it’s a big misconception that we are ever separate from nature. It is easy to forget that we and everything in our lives is of the earth when the material items we’re exposed to daily include technological luxuries like computers, televisions, and refrigerators. Their components are so highly processed that the natural sources from which they’re derived are unrecognizable.

“Our modern lives have become so removed from hand-to-mouth survival that we delude ourselves into thinking resources come from the store rather than from nature. We think of ourselves as separate from nature. We think we can draw lines on a map and separate “wilderness” from “non-wilderness,” but there is only one wilderness, one ecosystem, and we are part of it. Like the deer eating grass, or the robin bringing materials back to build a nest, we all must use the resources of the earth for survival. This is true whether we live in an apartment building in the city, or in a wickiup in the woods.”

He goes on to drive home the paradox of our being a part of nature while simultaneously being seen as its destroyer.

“We are similarly admonished for consuming resources at home. We learn that we negatively impact the world from the moment we get up in the morning until the time we go to bed at night. We cause harm every time we drive, or go to work, or entertain ourselves. We learn that we are destroying the planet, and we are told to “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” to slow down the pace of destruction. It may be true that we are destroying the planet, and certainly there is nothing wrong with reducing, reusing, and recycling, but there is something wrong with an ideology that tells us on the one hand that we are part of nature – and on the other hand that we are the bad part! The best we can ever achieve is to be less bad.”

This is where I smiled to myself and was reminded of my permaculture studies. The author touches on several concepts which I learned from permaculture, especially the notion that “attitude matters.” This is further brought to light in the second chapter titled, “Mind.”

“Reality is ordered by our perception of it.”

There is a humility in the tone of the writing in what is essentially a primitive living skills guidebook. Although it is clear the author knows his stuff, there is no air of superiority in this knowledge. He makes it clear that he is continually learning and is sure to let the reader know of certain shortcomings of the guide. Specifically, he attempts to make the guide applicable to most regions of the United States, but only to a point. His most direct experiences are in Montana and he reminds us this when necessary. And although this is the case, I think people in all regions can benefit from this introduction to primitive living skills. The instructions are fairly clear, though of course not as clear as learning from a video or in person. In between the demonstrations, the chapters are peppered with narrative and first-person accounts of interactions with plants, animals, and the elements of nature.

Aside from the entertainment value of the insightful stories the author tells, Participating in Nature serves as a great introduction to survival and primitive living skills. There may be other guides out there that are more definitive (though I haven’t met them yet). But the book satisfied the initial curiosity I had for certain skills like building primitive shelters with on site materials, making cordage from natural fibers, and butchering a roadkill deer. I would love someday to be able to attend a wilderness school to learn firsthand some of the other skills covered in this book such as making a bowdrill and starting a fire with it, creating shelter with a hot coal bed, and fishing by hand. Perhaps I’ll even get a chance to attend the author’s school, Green University. I’m going to try felting wool on my own, based on the instructions in the book.

And speaking of wool… Since the first time I went wilderness camping in high school, I was taught that cotton is the “death cloth” (in camping circumstances that is). So I was surprised to read that the author wears cotton sweatpants and sweatshirts while out in the wild. He does wear layers and insulates the sweatpants with found natural materials like grasses, but what happens when the cotton gets wet? Cotton does not wick away water like wool does, so it stays wet and cold, contributing to hypothermia in some cases. Perhaps the insulating grass provides this wicking barrier. Or maybe the cotton phenomenon is exclusive to the Northeast where we have consistent precipitation throughout the year (unlike Montana). This was one of my only gripes or “huh?” moments while reading the book. The other pertains to the images in the book which were sometimes hard to decipher. They are in black and white and in many cases there is little contrast, making it hard to see what is being demonstrated. Color photos would vastly improve this guide.

These small criticisms aside, I truly enjoyed Participating in Nature. What I respect most about this guide is that it’s based on the direct experiences of the author. It is not a distillation of other guide books, it is not all theory or hearsay. Thomas J. Elpel lived these tales, and continues to teach us the skills he accrues as he learns them. This is evidenced by the number of editions he has put out – this is the sixth edition of the book since 1992. The author has the freedom to revise his books this frequently because he also runs the press that prints it. Learn more about the author, his school, and printing press at his website.

Do you have the urge to learn more about the world around you? Do you want to learn how to survive in the wilderness?

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more great gifts

December 3, 2009

While I’m at it, I may as well tell you about some of the other gifts I appreciated getting for my birthday that I think would make great presents for your nearest and dearest this holiday season.

Treehouses of the World

by Pete Nelson, photos by Radek Kurzaj

bktreehs_1

The day before the package came from my mom, I was looking for some fun treehouse images to include on this here website. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box to discover this beauty. Over 35 treehouses from around the world are featured inside, plus instructions on how to create your very own getaway in the trees from reclaimed materials. (If only it were printed sustainably, and not in China. Oh well, guess you can’t have everything.)

Leavings: Poems

by Wendell Berry

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My friend Anne sent me this one, another pleasant surprise. Prolific writer, farmer, nature lover – just a few words to describe the man who wrote this, his latest collection of poems. (Again, wish this one was printed in a more ecological manner.)

The Rose of Jericho

Anastatica hierochuntica

I opened the gift box to reveal what at first looked like a dirty Weetabix. Nope, that’s a plant. And it’s not dead. Apparently this little creature is hard to kill. Hence it’s nickname “The Resurrection Plant.” Put it in water, et voila!, it comes to life. Pretty wicked.

rose-of-jericho

rose-of-jericho5

green books campaign: the raw milk revolution

November 10, 2009

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights
by David E. Gumpert
(with foreword by Joel Salatin)
Chelsea Green Publishing
Printed on recycled paper

What do government regulators have against raw milk?

The Raw Milk Revolution is an exploration of this and other relevant questions in a time when the entire industrialized food system is coming into question.

Based on his blog, The Complete Patient, David Gumpert provides a reasonable, balanced, and straightforward account of the pros and cons of raw milk consumption and the legal constraints placed on its production.

The book provides historic context of the dairy industry, from about the time of the Industrial Revolution to more recent regulatory history regarding food safety. It balances past events with the current trend toward consuming raw dairy, explaining both the purported risks and benefits of the product that comes unadulterated from the cow (or goat or sheep).

A taste of the past
Pasteurization was a response to the increasingly deplorable conditions and industrialization of dairy farming. As dairy operations crowded into cities and were coupled with distilleries for “efficient” use of grain (as cow feed, something cows do not naturally eat), cows became sicker, farms became a breeding ground for pathogens.

An emotionally charged debate
But is the method of pasteurization – slow on the uptake at the turn of the century, yet widely used today – still valid? Is it making us safer? The answer is somewhat unclear. The rates of raw-milk–related illness are debatable, depending on who you ask. According to some groups, like [grass-fed] raw-milk advocates the Weston A. Price Foundation, the rates are inflated, while state and federal agencies argue that raw milk carries an inherent risk to health. As do parents of children who may have become seriously ill from it.

Raw milk is outlawed in 28 out of 50 states. But the incidence of other food-borne illnesses is just as high, if not higher, than that of raw milk. Even pasteurized milk carries some risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the highest rates of listeria illness are due to deli meat. If deli meat is 10 times more likely to expose you to listeria illness than raw milk, why isn’t it restricted or outlawed?

Another question I kept asking is: Why can’t we just put a label on raw milk and let consumers decide whether they want to take the supposed risk? Or more to the point, why don’t consumers have the right to choose their foods, raw or treated?

A question of rights
Joel Salatin, now famous farmer of Polyface Farms in Virginia, posits in the foreword,

The only reason the right to food choice was not guaranteed in the Bill of Rights is because the Founders of America could not have envisioned a day when selling a glass of raw milk or homemade pickles to a neighbor would be outlawed. At the time, such a thought was as strange as levitation.

Indeed, what good is the freedom to own guns, worship, or assemble if we don’t have the freedom to eat the proper fuel to energize us to shoot, pray, and preach? Is not freedom to choose our food at least as fundamental a right as the freedom to worship?

Due to the current laws regarding the sale of raw milk, people who choose to produce it are putting themselves at risk of government crackdown in order to fulfill a growing demand. Something is compelling consumers to, in many cases, cross state lines to obtain raw milk. Often, these consumers are pregnant women and mothers. Why are people putting themselves and their families at risk of breaking the law in order to potentially put themselves at risk of illness?

Having tasted raw milk and, unknowingly, carrying it over state lines illegally, The Raw Milk Revolution left me wanting to take the risk again, maybe in order to prove that the benefits are worth the risks.

I think I now have more questions than answers regarding the raw milk debate, but perhaps this is the point – to keep the questions coming with regard to food and our right to choose what we consider healthful to eat.

For more on the raw milk debate, visit The Complete Patient.

Founded in 2007, Eco-Libris is a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. To achieve this goal Eco-Libris is working with book readers, publishers, authors, bookstores and others in the book industry worldwide. Until now Eco-Libris balanced out over 110,000 books, which results in more than 120,000 new trees planted with its planting partners in developing countries.

now read this! a web roundup

August 28, 2009

Here’s a collection of some of the information that’s been shaping my world lately. It runs the gamut, so be prepared (and some of the titles have changed to suit my mood – so there!)

1.
“Old” SIGG reusable water bottles contain BPA [AlterNet]
Time to trade in for a Klean Kanteen! Even though SIGG has a trade-in program where you can return your old BPA-containing bottle for a new, improved BPA-free bottle, I’d rather support a company that was “klean” from the beginning (and didn’t cover up the truth).

What’s so bad about BPA (bisphenol A)?
= YES!

= NO!*

*Unless it was made after 2008. Check the article for a visual reference.

2.
Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food [Time]
If you haven’t had a chance to read Omnivore’s Dilemma or see Food, Inc., here’s a relatively brief, yet in-depth look at the problems plaguing our industrialized food system.

3.
“Organic”: Is It Healthier? [by Susun Weed]
Oh man, this article – part of my permaculture reading this week – made me laugh out loud. Susun has a great way of explaining the finer mechanisms of the world around us. She can make anything hysterical or completely logical just by the way she describes them. Here’s a taste:

I live on an old quarry. When I went to the extension and said, “I’m looking to buy this piece of property,” they pulled out the soil maps and they said, “Ah, there’s no soil on your property, did you realize that?” I said, “Yeah, it’s an old quarry.” They said, “This place is useless. The only thing that you could possibly do there is raise goats or grow weeds. So I went to the people selling it, and I said, “It’s a worthless piece of property, it will only grow weeds.” I got it for a very good price.

She goes on to tell us that, yes, she grows a lot of weeds. Weeds that feed her rabbits and goats. Those rabbits and goats feed her. There are some other, more ‘adult’ things that made me laugh in this article, too. But I’ll let you read those yourself!

4.
Why are we still using atrazine when 7 European countries have banned it?
[Daily Kos]
The health and healthy presence of frogs are a good indicator of the health of an ecosystem, and therefore, the health of us. Well, hate to break it to y’all, but we’re up sh*t’s creek without a paddle, ’cause frogs are mutating and disappearing at alarming rates. Their permeable skin leaves them vulnerable to chemical contaminants like pesticides and herbicides – chemicals used in agriculture and on lawns like atrazine, methyl bromide, and chloropicrin (a nerve gas!) which end up in our drinking water, and in our bodies.

And just in case that wasn’t enough to cheer you up, here’s a related article [NY Times] about the legal allowable limits of atrazine in drinking water, and the detrimental effects of atrazine on women and children.

5.
Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil [by Daniel Hillel]
Soil is the skin of the earth. Yet we literally treat it like dirt. Some say it’s our nation’s biggest export (meaning it erodes away at a disturbingly steady rate). I’ve been really hot for this topic lately, and there’s a chapter out of this book that made me melt. An excerpt:

Soil and water have a physical affinity. Dry soil is “thirsty,” sucking up water the way an old-fashioned blotter sucked up ink. When the soil surface is wetted by rain, the suction force of the deeper soil layers, augmented by the force of gravity, draws the water downward. The soil drinks the rain in a process called “infiltration.” The maximum rate at which the soil is able to absorb water applied to its surface is called the soil’s infiltrability. It is greatest when the soil is dry, and diminishes gradually as the soil is wetted to progressively greater depth. Since the water permeating and seeping in the soil must make its way through the intricate labyrinthine passages between the irregularly shaped and oriented soil grains, it is obvious that a soil’s infiltrability depends on the widths and tortuosities of these interstices, called pores…

Wow!

See also: i enjoyed a dirty movie today (my post about the film “Dirt”)

simplify, simplify

July 23, 2009

My mantra for the year. I’ve been decluttering, refocusing, letting go of bad habits and saying hello to new (good) ones. Part of living in a sustainable way is making sure the ol’ noggin’ can sustain all that’s thrown at it as well.

And who do I have to thank? Well, yours truly, of course. But I couldn’t have done it without my loved ones, and a few dear strangers that I know mostly through books and blogs. Here’s a list of those who get me through the day in one piece:

Thich Nhat Hanh

It doesn’t matter which book you start with, all of this Vietnamese Buddhist monk’s writings are simply stated and sure to calm the mind and spirit. Not one iota of religious dogma. I’m psyched to be hearing him speak at the Beacon Theatre this October.

Patanjali & Sri Swami Satchidananda

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – this is what yoga is all about. I read a sutra or two before I go to sleep at night.

Gail Blanke

I was skeptical of this one, especially since the title is telling me to ‘throw out’ things. I don’t take kindly to that sort of message. But inside this little gem are some practical (and somewhat ecological) tips on letting go of the stuff that clutters your physical and mental space. Right on, Gail.

Elephant Journal

I can’t quite remember how I stumbled upon the elephant, but I’m ever-so-glad I did. I caught them just as they were shutting down print ops to launch their all-online version. I knew as soon as I opened the first page and saw what kind of ads they were running (yoga, healthy food, eco stuff) it was my kind of magazine. Here’s a little story: I was in a cafe in Sydney, Australia last year, reading one of the ol’ paper & ink issues of the mag and a young lady (another American) sitting at the table next to me asked where I got it. I told her I subscribed. She told me she contributed, and was just so surprised to see someone in Oz reading the humble magazine from Boulder, Colorado. Small world.

Bikram

I’m not really talking about the man, here, more about the method. Not sure how I feel about all of his principles (the proprietary ones), but this 90-minute, hot & sweaty, 26-posture “open-eyed moving meditation” has sure gotten me through some tough days. I’d say it’s at least 95% mental, and it ain’t so bad for the bod, either.

Think Simple Now

Through a sparse and thoughtfully written blog, Tina Su, et al, help others do just as the title suggests: Think Simple – Now. I used to be skeptical of self-help stuff like this, but some little voice started telling me that it can actually help to be open-minded and take a serving of helpful advice once in awhile. It’s good to listen to those little voices sometimes.

Zen Habits

Nope, this isn’t a blog about monk’s robes. It’s another well-thought-out and simply stated blog that reminds me to keep it simple, and do it with a smile.

Lots of Tweeters
Twitter can be a distraction, but it’s also been an amazing resource for connecting with some new friends and like-minded individuals. Here are a few (off the top of my head) who remind me to simplify:
@HappyLotus
@unitedyogis
@thedeeperwell

And here are a couple of tools that don’t hurt:

My zafu & zabuton (meditation cushions)

Made in Vermont by Samadhi Cushions

Meditation candles

100% Beeswax & essential oils by Big Dipper Wax Works

Who keeps you sane?

this saturday, the great american book drive!

May 15, 2009


This Saturday, May 16 from 10am to 3pm at the Brooklyn Public Library, it’s the Great American Book Drive. Bring your old, your tired, your weary books to the steps of the grand ol’ library in Grand Army Plaza and give them a new home. Full details from BPL below:


As many of you know, this Saturday, May 16, is our second Great American Book Drive, held in conjunction with Better World Books (BWB). Better World Books, is an environmentally-friendly and socially-responsible company that collects and sells books to fund literacy initiatives worldwide. This event at Central Library offers you a chance to clean out your bookshelves and donate unwanted materials to a good cause — your library!

But before you pack up that shopping back full of old textbooks and Windows ’98 user manuals, we wanted to clarify our policy regarding donations:

1) Our first step when we receive a donation is to check the ISBNs of the books we receive with BWB’s database to see if they’re “sellable”
2) We send “sellable” ones to BWB, which they sell and give proceeds back to us
3) We recycle those books BWB cannot sell
4) We also weed our collections so that we recycle worn-out books, or those that do not circulate to make way for more popular materials

So before you come, please review our donation policy as it would be a shame for you to herniate a disc carrying old items to Central that we ultimately can’t use.

leda reads from botany, ballet, and dinner from scratch

May 1, 2009

If you’re curious about eating locally and foraging for food, or maybe you just have a penchant for dance, head on over to the Community Bookstore in Park Slope this coming Tuesday (Cinco de Mayo). Leda Meredith will be reading from her book Botany, Ballet, and Dinner from Scratch.

If you don’t get a chance to catch her there, sign up for one of Leda’s foraging tours in Prospect Park. The next one is on June 20th – prime berry picking season. Get the deets at GreenEdge NYC.

Read about Leda’s adventures on her blog, Leda’s Urban Homestead

Event info
Tuesday, May 5th @ 7:00 pm
Leda Meredith reads from Botany, Ballet, and Dinner from Scratch
@ the Community Bookstore 143 Seventh Avenue Brooklyn btwn Carroll & Garfield
718.783.3075

In August 2007, Leda Meredith stopped eating bananas. And lemons, chocolate, soy sauce, and avocadoes. On the day after her 45 birthday, she started “the 250,” a year-long experiment in eating foods grown within a 250-mile radius of her Brooklyn apartment. Thus began the process of retraining herself—planning every meal ahead, scouring the city for local beans and flour, canning countless jars of tomatoes so she could eat something other than potatoes all winter. Now, over a year later, Leda has emerged unscathed—healthier, she says, and a better cook—from her experiment in eating locally. And as if canning and dehydrating food weren’t enough to keep her busy all winter, she’s also written a book. Botany, Ballet and Dinner from Scratch is the story of Leda—from wild-haired kid to world-traveling professional ballet dancer to experienced botanist and forager—and of the recipes she uses to make saving the environment a delightful culinary adventure.

read ’em and swap

March 25, 2009

We’ve all got a pile of books that we’ve either read or abandoned just collecting dust on the shelf. So why not give them a second life at the Desk Set’s Writer/Reader Mingle and Book Swap at Pacific Standard this Monday at 7pm?
(Pacific Standard: 82 4th Ave, BKLYN)


[illustration by Sara Varon]

While you’re at it, you can pick up some new wordy friends to curl up with… for free. That’s what this swapping thing is all about.

All unswapped books will go to Books Through Bars, a program that donates books to prisons.

[via Brooklyn Based]

food matters

January 5, 2009

Common wisdom is often an oxymoron. Here’s an example: “Never trust a skinny chef.” I can’t stand that saying. Why? Because it’s total BS. Wouldn’t you expect someone with a discerning palate to eat only the good stuff and not everything in sight?

I love to eat. And while I’m not a chef, I’m a decent cook and know really good food when I see it, smell it, taste it. I’m also pretty particular about what I consume. There are several reasons for this which break down into the categories of nutrition, ethical treatment of animals, and environmental impact.

So of course I’m excited about the latest book to tout responsible, wholesome, and delicious eating: Mark Bittman’s Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes. Bittman is one of my favorite foodies. He cooks simply with quality ingredients and over the past few years has really awakened to the horrendous state of this country’s food industry and what it’s doing to our bodies, planet, and pocketbooks.

Here’s a bit of a review by Slate’s Laura Miller:

For Bittman personally, the moment of truth was twofold. At 57, he’d gained 50 pounds over his college weight and had developed high cholesterol, high blood sugar (especially scary for someone with a family history of diabetes) and sleep apnea, a condition caused by his excess weight. At the same time, as a food writer he could no longer ignore his “increasing disgust with the way most meat is grown in this country.” The lives of factory-farmed livestock can only be characterized as “misery,” and the resulting meat and dairy products are full of nutritionally dubious additives like hormones and antibiotics (which in turn wind up in the water supply, further damaging everyone’s health).

With a colleague, Kerri Conan, Bittman devised a plan they called “vegan until six.” They ate almost no animal products at all until dinnertime, no simple carbohydrates and no junk food. (Simple carbs are sugars, white flours and other processed grains like white rice.) At dinner, they ate as they had before, although in time Bittman found that even his evening meals came to include more “vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains and less meat, sugar, junk food, and overrefined carbohydrates.” It was easy, and in a matter of months he’d lost 35 pounds, lowered his cholesterol and blood sugar, and had no trouble sleeping through the night. Most important, he continues to eat this way and is content to do so for the rest of his life.

Read the rest.

I’ve pretty much adopted this way of eating already without giving it a name, but the idea of “vegan until six” seems fairly simple to me. Cutting out meat or reducing your intake is an easy way to significantly improve health and at the same time reduce your carbon footprint.

According to Miller, Bittman readily acknowledges the influence of Michael Pollan and his mantra”Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” in the creation of this manifesto/eating guide/cookbook.

A culinary writer who promotes conscious eating and is helping people how to adopt the lifestyle for themselves — now, that’s a skinny chef I can trust.

The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment

October 9, 2008

Nature Conservancy Event

Books @ Butler Showcases
The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment

Wednesday, October 22, 2008
6:00 – 8:00pm
The Cosmopolitan Club, NYC

Overview:

Paul Ehrlich helped ignite the modern environmental movement with The Population Bomb in 1968. Now, four decades after he first ignited debate and action around the globe, author and scientist Paul R. Ehrlich is back with a new book, The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment.

In The Dominant Animal, Paul along with his wife, Anne H. Ehrlich, a prize-winning scientist herself, take a new look at our future on the planet as evidence mounts that the population bomb may have gone off. It is a powerful examination of how the humans today are creating the world of humans of tomorrow—and what it will take for our civilization to survive.

The lecture is free, but donations are suggested. Reservations are recommended. More details here.