Around this time in August, I tend to double check my reading list to see what other books or reports I should consider cramming into my end-of-summer afternoons.
Fortunately, there is never a lack of interesting and important content. Of course, the recommendations below are related to agriculture and food, and some also provide historical perspectives on food and activism.
First up on my list before the fall arrives in less than a month is the seminal work Diet for a Small Planet by author Frances Moore Lappé. Originally published in 1971 by Ballantine Books and sponsored by Friends of the Earth, this slim volume created a flurry of controversy.
It is credited with creating a revolution in thinking related to plant-based diets. The first edition was filled with vegetarian recipes and information about how to combine foods to ensure a protein-filled diet without meat. A mix of recipes and analysis, Diet for a Small Planet was equally groundbreaking because it argued that world hunger is not caused by a lack of food, but rather by ineffective food policy.
It also underscored that what we eat could be a political act. This analysis has persisted and grown in strength over the last five decades. After the publication of Diet for a Small Planet, Moore Lappé went on to co-found with Joseph Collins the Institute for Food and Development (Food First).
Diet for a Small Planet has sold more than three million copies and gone through several editions in the past five decades. A revised edition was authored by Moore Lappé on the 20th anniversary of the 1971 publication. Much of what is written in the book is still relevant, and of course it is now considered a classic alongside other works since published by the same author, for example, Food First.
Another good read, which builds on these two books, is by Anna Lappé, daughter of Frances. In 2006, Anna authored Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, which took some of the thinking in Diet for a Small Planet yet further by exploring and researching the link between food production and climate change. Close to 15 years later, that theme continues to gain momentum.
The analysis and direction in these books has spawned a publishing house and additional books with similar themes. One is called Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, and another is Hope’s Edge by the Lappé mother-daughter duo. If you dig a bit more, you will surely find plenty more to read next to these titles.
As I noted above, while I have read some of these books, it is also time that I re-read a few. In other cases, such as those below, the books are new discoveries and new to my list.
The first has me fascinated because it chronicles how one farming couple in the U.K., facing bankruptcy, returned their 3,500 acre estate to the wild. Wilding: Returning Nature to our Farm by Isabella Tree was published in September 2019. I hope to learn through reading this book how native species were returned to the farm by allowing the land to return to the wild.
I am equally curious to know how this new twist in conservation actually saved the farm or estate — if in fact it has. There are climate change activists touting “wilding” as one way to heal our over-burdened planet.
The next book, published in June 2019, is a tale out of Australia. Who’s Minding the Farm? In This Climate Emergency by Patrice Newell notes the impact of the “juggernaut of globalisation” on a family farm.
At the same time, the book includes information on how Australian farms were pioneered, how soil has been devastated in the process, and what it might take for the renewal of the soil. Those of us from Western Canada may well find that much of this tale from down under resonates with prairie settlement and family farming.
These interesting stories are on my list as they are not too academic for an end-of-summer read.
Meanwhile, there are also some interesting reports definitely worth the read ahead of the federal government’s September 23 Throne Speech. One of these is the “Alternative Federal Budget Recovery Plan.” Its section on agriculture and post-COVID-19 recovery is authored by NFU director of research and policy, Cathy Holtslander.
Another important report which provides a global look at food insecurity is the 2020 “Report on Food Crises” published by the United Nations World Food Programme. This year’s report, published in the spring, includes discussion on how COVID-19 might impact the scale of acute hunger in the world. The report is produced by the Global Network Against Food Crises, an international alliance working to address the root causes of extreme hunger. That report can be accessed here.
And last but not least on my list is Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food by Vancouverite Lenore Newman. Newman holds a Canada research chair in food security and environment at the University of the Fraser Valley. Lost Feast chronicles how humans have — by hunting foods to extinction or through changes in our eating habits — allowed plant varieties to disappear. Another engaging read in these last days of summer.
Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column “At the farm gate” discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.
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