GeRue's Reviews

A Country Bookstore

Food & More


These books include good information on feeding ourselves but they also include lots more useful ideas and instruction on how to live successfully the rural way. If you have a nomination, please e-mail us.



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IN DEFENSE OF FOOD: AN EATER'S MANIFESTO , by Michael Pollan

". . . no people on earth worry more about the health consequences of their food choices than we Americans do--and no people suffer from as many diet-related health problems."

What to do? Like so much today, food truth is hard to find. We can't trust government to tell us the truth because it is influenced by the industrial agriculture giants that produce most food. We certainly can't trust labels using "natural" to describe chemical agglomerations. And, frankly, we can't trust doctors because they are simply not educated about food. Nutritionists? Many are educated, but how do we learn their bias? And, can they overcome "the pitfalls of reductionism and overconfidence?"

I trust Michael Pollan. He has now written enough books regarding food that we know who and how he is. If he has a bias, it seems to be that he really gives a damn about we American consumers.

Pollan shows how, starting in 1977, government dietary decrees began to speak in terms of nutrients rather than specific foods. This was due to the pushback from the meat industry against the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. Senator George McGovern's committee had made the fatal mistake of suggesting that Americans should eat less red meat and fewer dairy products. Enter agribusiness lobbyists. And that changed the whole story of the Western Diet. "The Age of Nutritionism had arrived." No longer would certain foods be extolled; now we would be sold nutrients. No matter that these mysterious and unpronounceable ingredients might be manufactured rather than grown.

At the end of the day, and near the end of this most valuable book, is the suggestion: "Cook and, If You Can, Plant a Garden." I relate well to that. I was lucky--I grew up in a poor family that raised most of our food. The proof of the eating is that my parents long outlived their eight younger "buy it at the store" siblings; Dad died at 93 and Mother is still avidly gardening at 94.

If we can't raise food we can buy from small producers as close to us as possible--we can be locavores. The more we know about the people who produce what we put in our body the more we can trust our food-buying decisions. And when we buy food we vote our values. The shorter the distance from field to plate, the less oil is consumed. Win-win.

So buy from nearby growers. Buy from farmer's markets and CSAs. Spend more money on best-quality food and spend less money on health insurance. It's an essential choice.

I won't be a spoiler and tell you about the new and contradictory information about fats, cholesterol and heart disease. I won't bore you with the stories of how our present unhealthful dietary condition came to be and the many businesses and agencies who have created it. And I won't tell you what you should do, beyond this: read this book and act on the uncommon commonsense knowledge it gives you.

Here's Amazon's page IN DEFENSE OF FOOD: AN EATER'S MANIFEST



ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE: A YEAR OF FOOD LIFE, by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

This book is several things, a memoir, a polemic, a sermon, and a call to locavorism. On a small Virginia farm a family decides to experiment for one year eating mostly homegrown and locally-grown food. The cast is acclaimed writer Barbara Kingsolver, who gardens and writes the narrative, professor-husband Steven Hopp, who is allowed in the kitchen to bake bread and writes sidebar essays, late-teen daughter Camille, who writes observations, pertinent recipes and meal plans, and nine-year-old Lily, an earnest poultry entrepreneur.

Kingsolver is an accomplished writer of mostly novels and is an alert and delightful wordsmith. In this nonfiction work, her writing is entertaining but lacks discipline; she bounces from object to subject like a child with too many toys. A chapter titled Molly Mooching (a Molly is a morel mushroom) provides history on the farm Steven bought some years ago, delivers an apologia for tobacco farmers, offers Appalachian flora trivia, takes us on a hunt for morels, puts potatoes and other early plantings in the ground, expounds on onions, interjects an essay by Steven titled Is Bigger Really Better? and concludes with Camille who writes Getting It While You Can, a teen's perspective on her mother's food plan and a recipe for Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding. All of which is fun, disconcerting, and marginally useful.

In addition to politics and sermons, twenty chapters take us through planning, planting, preparing, eating and preserving. Titles include Springing Forward, The Birds and the Bees, Growing Trust: Mid-June, Eating Neighborly: Late June, Zucchini Larceny: July, and Life in a Red State: August, a double-entendre of tomatoes and more politics. For dessert we accompany Barbara and Steven on a two-week second honeymoon in Italy.

This book is a teaser. It titillates the reader with the benefits of home gardening but provides few gardening details; it teases with the compelling concept of locavorism but lacks inspiring success stories. Worst, it is na´ve. Experienced gardener-writers like Eliot Coleman, author of Four-Season Harvest, know and show how to keep a garden going year-round. Kingsolver apparently feels that the gardening world dies in autumn and does not reappear until asparagus pops up in spring.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is minimally useful as a reference book because, alas and inexplicably, there is no index. Thus, to remember the names of the six companies that control ninety-eight percent of the world's seeds, one must flip pages and hope for a lucky find. (It is in Chapter 3, titled Springing Forward.) You could write your own index. You could underline extensively and write key words at chapter beginnings. My messy alternative is to apply little sticky notes next to items I may wish to find again, so my copy now looks like a yellow-feathered flat bird.

Back matter includes a bibliography, a list of organizations, and sources for Steven's sidebar references. All of Camille's recipes may be found on the web site: www.AnimalVegetableMiracle.com which has lots of photos. The site is a fun visit that puts a face on the people, the plants, and the animals.

I agree strongly with the locavore movement. The present food production system is a soil damaging, oil depleting, nutrition compromising scheme designed for corporate, not human health. For more on all that I recommend Michael Pollan's books: Omnivore's Dilemma, and, In Defense of Food.

Kingsolver has many fans so I hope that this book will create many converts to locavorism. But I'm skeptical, mindful of Steinbeck's admonition that, "No one wants advice, only corroboration." There is a plethora of advice in this book. But it will provide corroboration for those who are already concerned about the sad state of our food economy wherein any digestible item is supermarket available on every day of the year at great expenditure of oil and soil, at great reduction of flavor, at great loss to local communities and your checking account.

I have three pieces of advice for the Hoppsolvers (author construction): grow much more garlic, keep it in a cool place, not behind the kitchen stove, and, stop making your bread with flour that has been oxidizing since it was ground--grind wheat and other grains just before making your bread; it will be nutritionally superior and even more delicious.

In spite of being tossed from one subject to another time and again and learning almost nothing new about home food production, I enjoyed Kingsolver's range of interests and her entertaining writing. So here's a big thank you to all my homestead list friends who recommended that I read this book. Here's Amazon's page ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE: A YEAR OF FOOD LIFE


THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COUNTRY LIVING,by Carla Emery

Carla Emery was a national treasure. This is simply the most informative book ever written on country living, the next best thing to having a live-in grandmother who knows everything there is to getting homegrown food from dreams to dinner plates plus nearly anything else you need to know. Begun as a 12-page table of contents for a recipe book in 1969, the present ninth edition has 858 pages of far more than recipes. Veggies, vines, trees, grains, poultry, goats, cows, bees, rabbits, sheep, pigs. Planning, nurturing, harvesting, preserving, preparing. Flipping pages at random finds starting transplants, breads leavened with eggs and beating, speeding up tomato sauce-making, harvesting herbs, making cider, managing an existing stand of trees, root cellar storage, soap making, brooding chicks, secrets to safe cattle handling, cultured buttermilk, cooking on a wood stove, jams and jellies, making a wool quilt. If your budget or bookshelf has room for only one book, this is the book to buy. Go to Amazon's page for THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COUNTRY LIVING


BACK TO BASICS: HOW TO LEARN AND ENJOY TRADITIONAL AMERICAN SKILLS, by Readers Digest.

A primer on self-reliance and rural skills, this is a large-format book of 456 pages lavishly illustrated with photographs and drawings, about half in full color. Here are 57 subjects, many with subsets, as in gardening, which includes information on soil, cultivation methods, making and using a greenhouse, and specific information on many veggies, herbs, fruits. Some presentations are simplistic, like telling you how to find and evaluate a farm or can produce in only four pages. Building and using a smokehouse gets one page. Using dairy products butters ten pages. Woodworking and furniture making nail down thirty pages. Build and decorate a house and the chairs, tables, beds to furnish it. Build a springhouse, a dam, a well, a water system. Grow vegetables, fruits, grains. Raise bees, fish, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, hogs, sheep, goats, cows, horses. Make cheese, maple syrup, beer, wine, bread, soap, candles, baskets. Cook with wood. Spin yarn, use natural dyes, make cloth, quilts, rugs, hammocks. Learn tanning and leather work, tinsmithing, blacksmithing, toolmaking. Celebrate harvest and holidays with traditional decorations, recipes, toys, games, dances. Learn camping, hiking, fishing, canoeing, snowshoeing, skiing. Whew! This book will keep you happily occupied for several decades. Go to Amazon's page for BACK TO BASICS




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