Thursday, April 11, 2019

What I've Been Reading: Top Six Books 2018

Last year I made an effort to post regular reviews of the books I was reading, particularly those associated with environmental issues, sustainability, and permaculture. I kept this up until March, and then fell hopelessly behind schedule. So I’ve decided to do a two-part roundup of my absolute favorite/most impactful books of 2018. After sifting through the list (45 nonfiction, not counting all the cookbooks I thumbed through), I narrowed down six books that had the greatest impact on me in 2018— shook me up, made me think, challenged my comfort zone, broadened my view, or inspired me to action. (I’ll be following up with 14 Honorable Mentions tomorrow.)

The Top Six Most Impactful Books I Read this Year*:

*Other than, y’know, THE BIBLE. Here I’m only reviewing books that are not divinely-inspired.

Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating by Norman Wirzba. In my quest to hear more voices from the Christian community about environmental issues, I was guided to Wirzba’s book, and it is amazing. Nuanced, careful, and philosophically rich, it is an in-depth theological treatise on the topic of eating. It’s categorized into broad chapters that discuss different elements— what is eating? How does eating draw us closer to God? Why is saying grace over food so important? What is the nature of the sacrifices we make when eating, and how does that relate to the Eucharist? Will there be eating in Heaven? Amid these topics, he discusses particular issues, such as worker rights, the theological significance of having a personal connection to our food, our mistaken view of gardens as a food factory rather than a partnership with creation, the ethical treatment of animals, the conversation of soil, and more. I wanted to highlight something on every single page, and will surely return to it several times in the future.

Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat. I didn’t expect a cookbook to show up on my top six books of the year, but this one is truly exceptional. It’s not just a list of recipes— it’s an in-depth analysis of the elements that make cooking good: if you learn how to properly use salt, fat, acid, and heat, Nosrat says, you can cook anything. The premise sounds more technical than it is; Nosrat is a wonderful storyteller and has a reassuring, ebullient tone that guides you through each chapter and new technique.

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook. Published in 2012, this book is a journalistic investigation of the tomato industry, especially as it exists in Florida. It all begins with companies trying to grow tomatoes in a place they were never meant to grow... and it all goes downhill from there. I’m used to reading books about environmental damage, how chemicals kill the songbirds, etc., but this was the first book I read that focused mostly on how this industry of tasteless red orbs affects the migrant workers who pick them. The consequences of this transaction are utterly horrifying, and reader discretion is advised. This book makes it clear that slavery is still alive and well in America— along with a host of other issues such as chemical run-off, poisoning of workers, and birth defects. If it sounds like a drag, it is. Honestly the only way I got through it without falling into black despair was the knowledge that conditions have drastically improved in the past seven years, mostly thanks to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Change is possible, but only if we know that there’s a problem.

Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat by Barry Estabrook. This book is slightly less depressing than Tomatoland, mostly because it lays out some clear pathways for getting out of the mess that the pig industry finds itself in. Similar to Tomatoland, it tackles a dozen different angles on all things pig: their intelligence, their place as an invasive pest in the wild, their plight in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and what humane pig farming looks like. There is no PETA-style sensationalism: Estabrook has compassion and respect for everyone he interviews, even though he doesn’t hold back from reporting the disturbing images that he encounters. He also delves into the negative impacts on the environment, the local economy, hapless (usually poor) people who are powerless to stop CAFOs from ruining their neighborhoods, and the workers who suffer injury. If you eat pig— whether pork, bacon, or ham— I beg you to read this book. Again, things can only get better if we know that they are broken to begin with!

Kiss the Ground: How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body, and Ultimately Save Our World by Josh Tickell. Although “The Third Plate” by Dan Barber was a close second, this book wins the “Top Six” place because it gave me a broader perspective on several environmental issues, including the pressing concern of desertification. (Full review here)

The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More by Ann Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb. On a completely different note, this goofy book made me smile from beginning to end. It inspired me and solidified how I feel about thrift: frugality is joyful, not depriving, if we learn how to enjoy the right things. (Full review here)

Which books made the most impact on you last year?


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