Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

Monday, January 4, 2010

Not your resolution, your story.

I recently finished Donald Miller's new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and as soon as I finished the last page, I promptly turned back to the beginning and started over again. Yes, it's that good. And that transformative.

I've never been a fan of New Year's resolutions, but, here's something I can run with. It's a blog post written by Donald Miller where he explains how improving your life story might be a better idea than setting goals that have no real context. This whole idea of improving your "story" builds on what he wrote in A Million Miles. Even if you haven't read the book (yet), you should check out his post. It will give you a whole new (and healthier) perspective on resolutions.

Edited to add: Today, Miller wrote a second post with some ideas for how to create more memorable scenes in order to live a better story. I love this idea and have been trying to do it more often and have, at times, made a fool of myself. But my children will remember those scenes fondly!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Farewell, my Subaru

Scott loaned me Farewell, my Subaru a few weeks ago. A friend from work, who knew that we were into all things local, gave it to him to read. What a book. As one who was already at least somewhat concerned with environmental issues, it piqued my interest, but I really didn't expect to enjoy the book as much as I did. I should have known better.

As Scott was reading it, he kept saying things like, "You'll love this book," and, "this book is really great." For a man of few words, those two sentences say a lot. Scott, my sweet husband, is not very expressive (well, relative to me...so that might not mean much) and for him to mention a book even a few times should have clued me in. He was right. The book was fabulous. And now I'm annoyed that we have to give it back to his pal at work. It's the kind of book I want to hold on to. Funny but educational, emotional and intriguing. I liked it so much I read the last third of it during our car ride to the Sand Dunes last week. And I DON'T read in the car.

To give you fair warning, the book's author, Doug Fine, has nothing positive to say about George W. Bush. At the same time, I could find little fault with many of the negative things he said, except for when he said that Bush's purpose in starting the war in Iraq was to enrich VP Cheney. That I had to contest, but the rest of it, while harsh, was not untrue. The author's political stance was not the center of this book. Instead, it was his story about moving from Long Island to an old ranch in Southern New Mexico, raising a few baby goats (whom he puts on time outs every time they get into his roses), and getting "off the grid." He was attempting energy independence on his little ranch. He did the whole thing -- drilled a well on his property and bought a big pump and tank to hold the water (and fought rattlesnakes for the water while clad in something like two Carhartt jumpsuits, a helmet, and some kind of sword), he equipped his house with solar panels to take care of his electricity needs, built a huge toaster to heat his water to scalding hot temperatures, bought a huge Ford truck and had it converted to bio-diesel, and grew his own veggies...he did everything he could do to be self-sufficient.

Perhaps the most entertaining side of the book is when he points out the many contradictions of becoming energy independent. Like buying pvc pipes manufactured in China which require thousands of gallons of fuel to be burned as the pipes make their way here from China. Like putting the pvc pipes together with puple goo that is so toxic it requires a breathing mask during application. Like having to go to Wal-Mart because there are some things you can't get anywhere else -- especially in a small town. Like driving his huge truck on bio-diesel and constantly smelling the kung pao chicken grease burning in his gas tank...and knowing that the people driving behind him would be craving kung pao chicken from Panda Express (not the most eco-friendly way to eat).

I cannot do this book justice -- it was SO funny and so insightful and such a fast read. Even if you don't agree with the author's political stances, you've got to admire him. He committed to a project most of us would not touch, even in our imaginations. And along the way he made friends with people who were very different from him -- old school ranchers and blue collar guys. And he won their respect. That has to count for something.

Friday, October 17, 2008

My letter to Oprah

When I was sifting through my Tivo list tonight, I came across an Oprah show from this week that literally made me squeal. She finally did a show on factory farmed meat. "It's about time," I thought. Halleluyer, as Oprah would say. It was a good show -- very fair and balanced. Unfortunately, it focused so much on the quality of life of the animals, there was no time to consider the health benefits of consuming what we here at Our Little Family call "happy meat." For us, one of the most motivating factors in eating happy meat is how much better happy meat is for us than factory farmed meat. For people who don't give a crumb about the treatment of farm animals, they might still care about what they put into their bodies.

And so, at Scott's request, I wrote this letter to Oprah. Actually, I wrote a different letter to Oprah. But then to get it into the web form it had to be under 2000 characters. Including spaces. Arrgh. I'm a wordy girl. So I deleted. And counted. And deleted. And counted. And copied, pasted, and tried to submit. And got rejected. So I deleted some more, resubmitted, got rejected...you get the idea. Somewhere in the middle of that, I pasted a version here for you to read. Enjoy.

Dear Oprah,

Thank you for taking the time to get educated on the topic of farm animals. Recently, my family and I have been on a journey to eat only what we call "happy meat." We get made fun of for it, but we believe whole-heartedly in the power of the consumer in our capitalist system. Because of that, we only support farmers who are raising meat, eggs, and dairy the way we would if we could raise it ourselves!

We now have a freezer stocked with happy meat. Our half hog came from a local family who raises Berkshire pork. Not only was this a happy pig, it is a tasty pig. The flavor is unbeatable! Our quarter beef came from a small local family ranch that raises beef on grass only -- no corn or soy. The beef in our freezer, since it is grass fed, actually has more omega 3s per serving than farm raised salmon. Can you believe that? Happy beef is actually healthy, too! We also ordered a half a lamb, some chickens, turkeys, and a duck and goose from our local CSA, the same farm that delivers our weekly box of organic produce. Not only does my food taste better than what I used to get at the grocery store, I'm actually saving money! I only go to the grocery store twice a month, just to stock up on things like cheese, crackers, cereal, and other basics. We rarely eat out because our fridge and freezer are always stocked.

The best news? The food we're eating now is not only cheaper, it’s actually healthier for us. The pastured eggs we get from our CSA have far less cholesterol than conventional eggs. Our beef is low in fat and high in omega 3s. Our poultry has been eating organic greens. And wouldn't you know it, the important vitamins in those veggies get passed on to me.

Can you do a segment on the nutritional value of non-factory farmed meat? This is something Dr. Oz needs to sink his teeth into!

One resource that I am finding invaluable during this journey is Michael Pollan, author of two important books on this subject. We read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" first and then we read his most recent book, "In Defense of Food." Both books have helped us figure out how to make this unconventional diet work. Along the way, I've written about our journey on our family blog, http://dickmanfam.blogspot.com. My posts on this topic are tagged "food politics," so they’re easy to find on our blog.

Thanks for covering this topic. I look forward to hearing more about it in the future!

Sincerely,
Hillary Dickman

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Okay, I hate to sound like I belong to the church of Michael Pollan, but I just started reading his most recent food book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, and I'm having trouble thinking about anything else. There's so much in the book to digest...no pun intended, of course. I'm in the first of three sections right now, where he's covering how we as a country came to believe the myth that eating animal fats causes heart disease. "What!?" you ask? Yes, I did say myth. He's also discussing why cholesterol is seen as evil despite an utter LACK of scientific evidence that it causes health problems. In contrast, cholesterol is known to be a crucial part of our bodies. Without enough of it we would, literally, die. Our brains would cease to function and every cell in our bodies would go limp. When our cholesterol levels are "dangerously" high, it usually points to some other problem that our body is attempting to fix, and cholesterol is the best way our body can fix it. Sort of like when we have a high white blood cell count, it's because our immune system is working to fight off a bug of some sort. You wouldn't try to get rid of the extra white blood cells, right? I don't know how accurate that metaphor is, but it's the best I can come up with.

I think my favorite thing about this book so far is the way that Pollan proves, over and over again, that we think too much of ourselves. We humans (and especially Westerners) really believe that we can break down real food (the stuff that grows in the ground or the animals we eat) into all of the nutrients that, combined, form that real food...and then create something better. We really believe that spinach is equal to the sum of its parts and that if we break spinach down into its smallest parts, we can use those parts (combined with the best parts of blueberries and flax and maybe beef) to create something better. When did we become so egotistical? How did we come to believe that we are smarter than nature or that we can even totally understand nature? How can we believe that we are smarter than evolution? Smarter than God? (And, by the way, I do believe that God created evolution and uses it to improve our species and all those around us.) The hubris exhibited by the human species in regards to what and how we eat makes me sick. As Pollan mentions in the first section of the book, the fact that we do not know enough to know how to recreate or improve what is provided by nature should be clear from something as sad as the history of baby formula. How long have we been trying to create an alternative to breast milk that is as good for babies as breast milk? How many times have we failed? Maybe a better question is, have we ever NOT failed? Is it even possible to recreate breast milk or will non-nursing moms always be stuck with the next-best thing?

I realize that I'm already jaded and have a really negative view of pharmaceuticals, our government, and our food culture, so reading this book isn't doing much to make me into a happier or less critical person. It's really just confirming and expanding what I've learned in the past year, and especially the past six months, about how screwed up we are politically, medically, and nutritionally. But, I'm optimistic that as I get to the end of the book, Pollan will offer hope for us and encourage me that, even as just one individual consumer, I can make a difference in the direction that our food culture is heading. Yeah, that probably made no sense to you if you haven't read one of his books. So go. Look one up on Amazon, put it on reserve at your library, drive to Barnes and Noble. Do what you have to do.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Letter to my representatives

Because things like what I blogged about in the previous post make me SO angry, I decided it was time to contact my representatives about the current state of American agriculture. I didn't vote for any of my representatives (Doug Lamborn - R, Ken Salazar - D, and Wayne Allard - R) but hopefully whomever did vote for these yahoos made good choices. If they're good representatives, surely they'll listen to me, right? Yeah, right. When can I move to New Zealand? Maybe things like this don't happen there. (Do I sound like Alexander from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?) Okay, clearly things like this happen almost everywhere, but allow me a moment of optimism, please.

Here's what I wrote:

Dear Senator Salazar, (and Senator Allard and Representative Lamborn)

Since reading an article in December about the mistreatment of factory-farmed animals, I've been on a quest to purchase and consume only local, humanely raised meat and poultry. In addition to my quest for what I've been calling "happy food," I've also been educating myself on the state of American agriculture. As I'm sure you are aware, the state of our agriculture is hideous.

From the government-induced over-production of corn and soybeans to the disgustingly inhumane treatment of animals on factory farms, our agricultural system is in shambles and is, dare I say, shameful. It actually makes me feel ashamed to be an American when I consider what a disgrace our agricultural system is. It is our food culture, or some would say, lack thereof, that is allowing our agricultural system to continue down the current path to destruction of our land as well as our health as individuals.

Probably none of what I have said is news to you. But, if any of it sounds unfamiliar or you would like to learn more, I would urge you to read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and/or Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Both have tremendous amounts of light to shed on this situation.

I do not know what the right solution is to the problems with our country's agriculture, but I know that together we can redirect our nation from a fast-food nation to a country with respect for the land from which our food grows and the animals we raise on it.

Thank you for your attention to this heartbreaking situation. Please let me know what I can do to help.

Sincerely,
Hillary Dickman

Friday, January 18, 2008

Required Reading: The Omnivore's Dilemma

Thanks to my good friend Jen Ulbrich, I am currently reading (actually, listening to) The Omnivore's Dilemma. Wow. This book should be required reading for any Americans who eat. Oh, wait, that's all of us. Let me rephrase that: this book should be required reading for all Americans - anyone involved in federal policymaking should have to read it twice. I'm only through chapter seven, but already my eyes have been opened. I already knew a bit about the surplus of corn and soybeans in this country, but now I understand more about how that surplus started, how it affects our economy, and how it is ruining our health as a nation (think: high fructose corn syrup and cattle feedlots - two of the worst inventions ever). I'm looking forward to getting through the rest of the book.

I'm listening to the book as I repaint and redecorate our guest room. While searching for upholstery fabric for Callie's room I found the end of a bolt of exaggerated houndstooth fabric like some I'd admired in a recent issue of Cottage Living magazine. Finding the houndstooth fabric (which was incredibly inexpensive since it was the last six yards of the bolt) gave me the kick in the pants to get that room done. I started the guest room when we moved in but never really finished it. But, I'd still rather read The Omnivore's Dilemma than work on that room, so making a deal with myself that I can only listen to the book on CD while I'm working on that room is making me super-motivated to finish the room. Can't wait 'til the kids go take a nap so I can get back to work!