Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Green Reads for Summer

May 3, 2009

My brain always associates summer with a sudden surge in trips to the local library. This is because most of my summers for the last ten years have involved not only freedom from restrictive and demanding assigned reading lists, but also many long hours spent flying over the Pacific Ocean. Summer is when my brain renews itself and prepares to devour anything and everything I can get my hands on. I’ve just recently wrapped up three books simultaneously over the last two weeks, so I thought I’d consolidate them all into a single post. There is a pretty obvious theme here, though in my defense, I was elbows-deep in Wilkie Collins and Albert Camus before I started on these.

ggg Green Greener Greenest is a neat and compact little book that caught my eye on the “New Nonfiction” shelf at the library. I found myself tucking it into my purse every day and often pulling it out as a quick reference guide everywhere from the office to happy hour at a sushi joint. Meticulously researched by Lori Bongiorno, a business journalist, this book is the ultimate starter’s guide for anyone who has ever given thought towards attempting a more eco-friendly lifestyle but has been unsure where to start with all the varied and conflicting information out there. The informational is helpfully broken down for the everyday consumer into various categories such as Food and Beverage or Personal Care Products, and tips for changing your routine are separated into “green”, “greener” or “greenest” so that you can choose your own pace and level of commitment. The best part is that instead of overwhelming and confusing readers with verbose or overly technical articles, each chapter gives the necessary facts in a way that is both interesting and easy to understand, and then offers some websites where you can start doing your own research. Amazon merchants offer used copies for less than $5 including shipping, so there’s no reason why everyone shouldn’t have a copy of their own.

prodigal summer Barbara Kingsolver isn’t one of the first names that pops into my mind when I try to make a favorite writers list, but every time I am reminded of her books, I never fail to recall just how captivating, heartbreaking and poetically composed they are. I had read and adored The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible back in high school, but hadn’t given Kingsolver much thought until I recently picked up her novel Prodigal Summer. The action of the story focuses around three main characters living in the southern Appalachians and their interactions with nature and the people around them. However, the scope of the novel extends much farther that that – it’s an ode to the cycles of life and death, the fragile dependence of everything on everything else, and the interconnectedness of all living things. I consider myself very lucky to have spent much of my childhood in beautiful green suburbs where families of ducks laid their eggs in front of our house every year and where on most morning I could enjoy the smell of fresh rain on legions of lush and fragrant pine trees. The opening chapter of this book transported me right back to those days when I could step into my backyard and really feel like I was a part of nature rather than a force acting in opposition to it. This is a book I can’t recommend enough because it appeals equally to your intellect and your empathy, and will really open your eyes and change the way you think about every single life on this planet.

confessions of an eco-sinner In his innovative and compelling book, Confessions of an Eco-Sinner, Fred Pearce investigates the sources of the products that sustain our extravagant Western lifestyles, as he says, “to find out whether I should be ashamed of my purchases and their impact on the planet, or whether I should be proud to have contributed to some local economy or given a leg up to some hard-pressed community.” This is a fascinating manifesto and a picnic of a read. Each anecdote is short but infinitely thought provoking. As you embark on the journey with Pearce from the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, where “fair trade” coffee beans are bought by Starbucks at a dollar a pound, to the factories of China where young migrant girls supply the world with everything from iPods to Nike sneakers, you eventually reach a state of understanding and heightened awareness of just how interconnected our global chain of production and consumption really is. It’s also a book that will not only impress upon you a profound appreciation for the vast diversity of lifestyles and living conditions of the people that share this planet, but also like the author, leave you “with some optimism, about humanity and the huge potential we have to run our world better.”


Film: The Future of Food

April 29, 2009

futureoffoodOver the last few years, I’ve become increasingly concerned with eating healthier and more sustainably, because in today’s world, it’s hard not to get the message that there is a lot of crap out there infiltrating our food supply and causing us to get older and sicker, faster. I recently watched a documentary called The Future of Food that’s actually available to watch online, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in ever eating again. It’s basically an exposé on the world of genetically engineered foods that have now dominated our grocery stores and dinner tables. It really raises a lot of important questions as to the negative impacts on public health, the market and the environment as consumers unknowingly shift towards a dangerous dependence on the multinational corporations that control the world’s food supply.

Originally, systemizing agriculture was supposed to improve food production and solve the problems of hunger at the end of the second World War. Over 97% of the vegetable species grown at the beginning of the 20th century are now extinct, and genetic uniformity that resulted led directly to increased vulnerability to insects and disease. This vulnerability, of course, resulted in an overdependence on pesticides that only increased as time has gone by, drastically driving up the cost of farming both economically and environmentally. Genetically modified foods were then developed to combat this cycle. In the mid 1990’s, pesticide corporations began buying up seed companies in a bid to patent as many genetically modified seeds as they could and ultimately discover (and therefore own) the seeds that will replace them all. One corporate giant in particular named Monsanto secretly tests crops on hundreds of farmers’ lands every year and successfully sues each farmer found growing even the smallest amount of GMO crops, even when it proven that the seeds were dispersed there accidently and the farmers made no profit from them. The farmer must then destroy their entire stock of seeds, thus giving companies like Monsanto free reign over agricultural diversity and allowing them to continue genetically modifying our food with viruses and bacteria and potentially creating dangerous genetic strains that could very well destroy our existing food crops.

The film also made the compelling point that by allowing corporations to patent and own plant species, we’ve opened the door to allowing them to eventually patent and own the animals and even the people who consume them. And these genetically modified seeds are in everything, from your corn flakes and potato chips to the meat of livestock fed on GMOs and even your shampoo. It was both eye-opening and shocking to learn that the vast majority our food is now monopolized by corporations whose focus remains entirely on making on a profit and are not at all concerned with the interests of health and humankind. What’s even better is that the FDA is largely run by Monsanto executives, and the future of our health is influenced entirely by politics and big business. We are now being literally poisoned by corporate greed.