Archive for the ‘Interesting Books’ Category

I just finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and it was fantastic.  Pollan is an amazing writer, and as you are reading the book you can feel his passion for good food and a healthy environment.

This book was very well crafted.  He actually goes to various farms (both organic and mainstream) to see how our food is produced, and goes so far as to hunt for mushrooms and shoot a pig himself, to see the various options for food production.

I know that I am not truly expressing how wonderful this book is very well.  It has been 3 weeks since I finished reading it, and I am still stunned.  I have meant to write this post for a while, but each time I start, I am at a loss to fully explain (in 400 words or less) just how much this book has shaped how I feel about modern day food production.

The story that Pollan crafts is amazing.  He treats everyone in his book with respect; telling their story and trying to see it through their eyes, not just taking a high-and-mighty, purely intellectual approach.  To me, this book is about loving our food and the resources that go into producing it.  Man has a connection with the earth, however much we try to ignore it, and we need it to feed and nourish us.

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I’ve always wondered how people used to preserve food before modern methods were developed. Canning has only been around since the 1800s and I know that people ate preserves before then, so how did they do it?

I just finished reading the book “Keeping Food Fresh: Old World Techniques and Recipes,” and it was fantastic. I stumbled across it in the library and was amazed at the recipes in it. The more recent edition is called Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning, which perfectly describes the content. I’m not sure if the newer version is a significant update, but the first edition is a wonderful source of information, so I can only imagine that the the second edition is at least as good, if not better.

The main premise of the book is that many of our food-preservation techniques aren’t as healthy or as energy-efficient as the techniques that had been used for centuries before canning and freezing were invented. This is because while the modern ones are more scientifically exact, many of them focus on contamination eradication, which leads to killing off beneficial properties of food as well as potential contaminants. It was written in France, where many of these techniques are still used in local markets.

While I was reading, I was amazed at how little I know about food preservation, even though I have dabbled in making preserves and pickles. I’ve already picked out a couple recipes that I am looking forward to trying, including: homemade vegetable bullion; a couple recipes for preserving tomatoes and tomato sauce; and a plethora of old-fashioned preserve recipes.

Keeping food fresh

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Ever since I read The World Without Us, I have been a bit obsessed with cutting as much plastic out of my life as possible. Intellectually, I have always known how bad plastic is, but for some reason, this book really drove the message home. One thing that I have discovered, is how easy it is to replace most of your plastic leftover storage with glass jars.

The wonderful thing about the glass jars is that they’re usually free. The next time you make spaghetti, just rinse the jar out and put it into the dishwasher. It’s amazing how quickly you will build up a good-sized collection.

The only downside is spooning the food into the jar. Sometimes it can be messy, because the mouth is narrower than most plastic containers. I have two solutions for that problem. The first, and easier, is to use a spoon that is slightly smaller than the opening, that way food won’t dribble down the sides. The second, is to use a canning funnel. This is a funnel that has a wider mouth, and is used to pour homemade jams into jars. You really don’t need one to make this work, but if you found a cheap one, it might be worth it.

The upside of using glass jars is enormous. My plastic containers don’t last all that long, so over my entire life, I imagine that I would go through quite a bit of them. Each one is going to be around for tens of thousands of years, leaching nasty chemicals into our environment, and getting eaten by unsuspecting animals.

Also, little known is that these containers usually have chemicals in them that are know or suspected to cause all sorts of health problems. We didn’t evolve with the ability to handle these chemicals because we have created them only recently. Glass jars don’t have this problem. Glass is nonreactive, and won’t add any unsavory chemicals to your food. This alone I think makes it worthwhile to make the switch.

Using glass jars instead of plastic containers

Past posts on sustainability:

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I just finished reading “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman.  My aunt gave this book to me for Christmas, and I tore through it.  It was gripping in a way that no other scientifically and historically based book ever has before for me.

The basic premise is what would happen if humans were to suddenly vanish off the planet all at once.   Weisman takes us to many interesting places, from nuclear power plants to underground villages, and he writes amazingly to boot.  The book is so throughly researched that I can’t imagine how long it took him to write.  Each chapter tackles a particular issue, such as cities or energy production and then he paints an elaborate picture of the world as it was before humans, throughout history, the present day, and then what would happen if we vanished tomorrow.   And it is strange, but he writes this all without being overbearingly anti-human.

The thing that really hit me was nature’s struggle with mankind has been ongoing since the beginning of man.  I suppose that I always just assumed that our not-so-distant ancestors were much better stewards of the environment.  Evidently, we have been burning down forests and causing extinction for tens of thousand of years, it is just that we recently have developed the technology to do this on a scale that we have no idea what the consequences will be.

I think that the greatest takeaway from this book is the fact that humans are doing things that are unsustainable, many of which we as a species are only vaguely aware of.  This unawareness needs to change.  We need to take a collective look at what we are doing, and choose a different path.  We are very imaginative and creative creatures, and we need to learn how to use these skills to live in harmony with our planet.

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I have just finished reading a gripping tale. It is called “The Children’s Blizzard” by David Laskin. I had never heard of the Children’s Blizzard before, but on January 13, 1888, one of the worst blizzards hit the upper plains. Unfortunately, many circumstances worked together to make it especially deadly to children, hence the name. It struck many places as the children were at school, or walking home. It also came as a surprise, the morning started out much warmer than average, and the only warning of the impending storm was a very abrupt temperature drop of 40 degrees. This drop in temperature meant that the children were out without the proper clothing to handle the cold, although it would have been hard for them to survive even with those clothes.

This story was amazing because it went through the family histories of so many of the victims, and really explained what life was like on the plains. The author uses the blizzard to further the theme of pioneer hardship very effectively. The day-to-day trials of these people, many of them very recent immigrants, is almost unbearable even to read.

It also showed what courage individuals can have, and how amazing the human body can be. The stories of the people who survived are stunning.

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