Category Archives: Book Review

Do You Microwave Your Pasta?

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No need to feel guilty, though, because even the Italians are doing it now! Yes, the land of  fresh tomatoes, cheese and olive oil is succumbing to the allure of processed food, sodas and even MacDonald’s . All this I discovered on reading this excerpt from a new book “The Lost Art of Feeding Kids: What Italy Taught Me About Why Children Need Real Food”  by Jeannie Marshall.

Apparently, only old ladies go shopping for fresh groceries, most adults do not cook  and children are drinking Coke with their pizza. All this was interesting but what I was dying to know was: why? why has the Italian lifestyle become so much like the American one? Does the book provide an answer? No clue but if you read it, please let us know!

Image Courtesy: Apolonia, Freedigitalphotos.net

“The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science” Book Review

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The use of biotechnology in agriculture is a topic you hear  a lot about these days: farmers in distant regions of the world, looking to improve their yields, receive two versions (this will save you/this will poison you); voters in conditions altogether more comfortable than those small holder farmers weighed down by debt, are driving up to vote on whether products should be labeled to let consumers know they were grown using biotechnology. All of this and more is contained in 3 letters GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms). But what exactly does this mean? To anyone advocating for food policy issues, the superficiality of information (or, in some cases, complete misinformation) which form the basis of debates on GMO are held is worrisome.  So I am happy to be the bearer of some good news: “The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science” by Fourat Janabi  is here and is going to be an excellent source of information for anyone seeking to learn more about this issue.

The book is put together with articles from a range of experts in this domain:  molecular biologists, Alan McHughen and Kevin Folta ; plant pathologist Steve Savage and plant geneticist Anastasia Bodnar, among others. The scientific viewpoint, often so frustratingly opaque to those of us who were relieved to be done with science on high school , is presented here in clear terms and the reader can come to their own conclusions.

Also interesting are the accounts of  the journey of those who started out as skeptics but after doing the research became convinced by the actual facts to support the use of biotechnology in agriculture. This is specially useful because it resonates with those of us who may still be educating ourselves but feel intimidated by all the noisemakers into taking up a hasty position. This perspective is a nuance often lost in the noisy and often vicious debates that characterize this topic. It also helps that one of these journeys is that of Mike Bendzela  who is a farmer. That farmers’ voices are not heard often enough in the food debate is something I have often blogged about. You may think you know all that is there is to about Monsanto, but after reading Brian Scotts’s views on using Monsanto’s products on his farm, you might look at the picture differently. Of particular note is the piece by Mark Lynas, the British journalist and environmentalist who recently changed his viewpoint and came out in strong support of GMOs

In his own piece, Fourat Janabi replies to the “Nature does it best” argument that the anti-GMO lobby is so fond of, pointing out that nature is full of experiments which created our diverse world; also drawing our attention to the fact that the Big Ag lobby is matched by a robust Organic lobby!). He also takes up the question of how to feed 9 billion people in a time of climate change and it is here that biotechnology is going to prove crucial. The use of biotechnology can increase yields, enable climate resilience and improve health outcomes through biofortification of crops . It is not the only or perhaps even the most important tool but it is a crucial one and throwing it away on the basis of misinformation and fear mongering would be a grave mistake.

The conclusion consists of an impressive list scientific bodies from all over the world that have found that biotechnology is no more risky than any other conventional breeding technology and is safe for human consumption; hopefully this book will convince many people of that point of view.

“The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science” has been published by Smashwords and is available, free, in a variety of formats here.

Book Review: “Gaining Ground”

 

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When I first heard of “Gaining Ground” by Forrest Pritchard, I was intrigued because Smith Meadows is in my area and I had heard good things about it. But I approached the book with some reservation, wondering what a book about  farming, of which I have a limited understanding, would be like. While I try to learn and write about how our food is being grown, everyday life on a farm is unfamiliar to me. It is, however, precisely, this kind of reader that would be fascinated by this book. Forrest Pritchard, who came to farming after graduating in English and Geography from William and Mary, takes us on an absorbing journey  as he attempts to revive the family farm.

Smith Meadows farm is located in Virginia, in an area known as the Apple Capital of the world, lush with fruits and apple blossoms. Over the course of the book, the suburbs and farmers markets come in closer and city lights are not as distant as before. This change is also reflected in the way the farm works; in the efforts Mr. Pritchard has to make to find a butcher, a trade going extinct with the spread of large scale meat processing; and sometimes in the cluelessness of some city people about the way their food comes to the table. One of the really interesting aspects of the book is the authors’ experience with farmers’ markets: why markets in some shiny new suburbs (carved out from erstwhile farmland!) saw hardly any interest while some more urban spots actively sought out the grass fed beef and free range eggs (among other products) that the author offered, and thus opened the way to making the farm viable. Partly, the answer to that question lies in the value we put on our food, the understanding that cheap food has an invisible price attached that we do not pay at the checkout but  in other ways:  inadequate nutrition, poor health and environmental outcomes, and rising medical costs.

As we read about the beginner farmer’s  learning experiences raising hens, cows, pigs, sheep and cultivating pasture in an organic and sustainable way; we come to appreciate the effort and care that goes into raising our food. There are passages here that you might want to share with your kids: the goat who wandered off, the little pigs who wake up late, stretch lazily, and then go out to the specific area they have designated as their “bathroom”, and of course, the episode involving chicken poop, lots of it!

In the noisy debate over issues in the food system, we seldom hear first hand the voice of the farmer and this book brings us that experience. The choices for a farmer and the constraints faced by family farms become clear  as does their tenacity and love for their way of life. While he may not (yet) have written the Great American Novel that he describes himself as planning, he has given us an account of his attempt to grow food in a sustainable , thoughtful way that kept me  absorbed throughout.

“Gaining Ground” from Lyons Press comes to bookstores May 21st.