April 21st, 2009
Somehow, I feel like starting off this post being hyper-critical of myself: I should really be blogging more. I should keep writing even though I don’t feel like it. I should do a lot of things. I know that Michael Pollan isn’t purely being self aware with The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but the introspective elements mixed in with his philosophical discussion of ‘a natural history in four meals’ definitely makes you think. The book hums along like any good documentary should — it’s rich in investigative journalism, full of interesting points of view about the current state of the food industry, and never fails to try and observe a situation from every angle possible.
Broken into three sections (although subtitled ‘four’ meals), Industrial, Pastoral and Personal, The Omnivore’s Dilemma unearths many real and even some invented debate (his whole rationale for eating meat in the third section I found a little hard to stomach) behind how food is brought to the table. The first section of the book, where Pollan discusses and takes apart the industrial food chain, straight from a fast-food meal eaten in the car to the fact that by-products of corn are in just about every processed item in a grocery store, was utterly captivating. One part Fast Food Nation, another part 100-Mile Diet (which I haven’t read all of yet), the sheer force by which farms have become industrialized combined with the unknown and ever-reaching ramifications made me hunger even more for the weather to heat up so I could get seeds in the ground for vegetables.
I also found Pastoral, where Pollan visits and works on a farm that lets animals be animals by having developed a very real, yet still domesticated (is that the right word?) ecosystem that not only feeds the people who live there, but also supplies many restaurants and customers in the area with fresh meat and vegetables, compelling. Never doubting the value of farmers, especially ones practicing organic and more ethical ways of reaping value from the land, The Omnivore’s Dilemma points out dramatic differences between industrial farms and smaller, independent outfits.
The third section, as I mentioned above, lagged for me — probably because, while notable, the idea of hunting and gathering my own food (that which I have not cultivated in my backyard), honestly has me stumped. I couldn’t imagine heading out into the woods with a rifle and shooting a wild pig. Yet, I can understand why Pollan felt it necessary, especially with the level of scholarship around which he answers the question: “What should we have for dinner?” Also, I really hate mushrooms. Perhaps this isn’t something I should hold against the book.
All in all, I spent much of Easter weekend reading this book. I had to pause for a moment because we had our Fall 2009 sales conference (for which I read two of the best fiction titles I’ve read in a long, long time: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann and The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter, #s 22 & 23; and one truly fantastic YA novel called The Amanda Project, #24) and there was much reading to be done (and shared), but managed to get right back into it once we were through last Friday. There is no way that I will ever think of corn in the same way again. There is no way I’ll think of tofu in the same way again. There is no way, in fact, that I’ll think of dinner in the same way again, if I’m being honest. And isn’t that a most powerful thing for a book to do — take a mundane and utterly human aspect of one’s life and turn it inside out.
Annnywaay. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been under the weather, mentally, physically, but I’ve managed to keep the garden going (loads of flower seedlings coming up; everything that needed to be planted before the last frost is in), and keep my head above the metaphorical water enough to still read. Writing, however, still remains a challenge.
Oh, and #25? I finished up Marjorie Harris’s delightful Ecological Gardening and learned many, many good tips. Not the least of which was a) that I shouldn’t be watering at night (oops!), b) that I should really figure out a way to compost and c) that companion planting (nasturtiums here I come!) is really my friend.
READING CHALLENGES: I’m adding The Omnivore’s Dilemma (which is actually the only book I’ve completed) to The Better You Read, The Better You Get Challenge. One down, nine to go. It’s going to be a long year of self-improvement, I think.
WHAT’S UP NEXT: I’m halfway through Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die (Buffy is playing the lead in the film adaptation; I’m excited to see what she does with it, although I’m finding it hard to imagine how they crafted dialogue out of the author’s heady narrative).
March 28th, 2009
I am about to head out into the garden to start giving our soil a lift. I’ve been reading Diana Athill’s excellent memoir, Somewhere Towards the End, all morning and wanted to share this:
Getting one’s hands into the earth, spreading roots, making a plant comfortable — it is a totally absorbing occupation, like painting or writing, so that you become what you are doing and are given a wonderful release from consciousness of self.
Considering I haven’t felt much like myself lately, maybe some time outside will give my mind a chance to make its way back. Last night, as I was lying on the couch watching television for the 100th day in a row, I decided I’ve lost my self-confidence. But I suppose that’s what trauma does, takes away the delicate balance between putting yourself out into the world and keeping yourself tied up tight, safe. My mother died in September. And it wasn’t an easy death. Like Athill says, she’s been spared the difficulty of death among her family members, quite a feat considering she’s in her 90s now. I envy her. But mainly I’m thankful for this wonderful little book she’s written that seems to be helping me today.
I’ve started a year-long countdown to what I think I might call The Year of Living Royalty. We’ll see how it goes.
August 11th, 2008
I wish I could explain my melancholy mood these days. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me, physically or mentally. If I had to wager a guess, I think it’s because I miss the week or two that we usually spend up at the cottage full stop. The racing back and forth from weekend to weekday splits you in half, and it’s not as if I don’t appreciate the gift my grandparents gave me by hanging on to the cottage after all they went through, it’s more that I feel out of myself when I don’t spend enough time there.
You can never escape your childhood, I suppose. It lingers there in the back of your mind like a smoky room where cigarettes are now banned, hollowed out and aching in ways that make you wonder. There’s also so very much going on right now: work, freelance, Classic Starts, reading challenges, writing, and it’s all got to fit into one 24-hour day. The traffic jam of the modern everyday existence.
But behold, a little bit of a miracle in the backyard — beans! Five delicious, crunchy, yummy yellow bush beans. We were out in the back where my RRHB was showing me our soon-to-be new front door (fabulous!) that he got today (to be installed tomorrow) and he said something about the beans needing stakes, that he didn’t think they were growing well enough, and then he said, “Oh look, you’ve got beans!” Indeed, we did. We each ate one out in the garden and they were delicious. I pulled three more off, came upstairs, took their portraits, washed them off, and crunched them right before dinner. They made my day. I’ve been surviving on our cucumbers for snacks and now I’m glad I can add beans to the mix. But tell me, can I eat the purple ones too?