I just put these two short reviews up on my project blog at farmtogethernow.org:
Book Review: “Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution” by Heather Rogers (Scribner – April 20, 2010)
Heather Rogers does it again. She writes the book that deals with the topic everyone concerned with ecology knows they should be talking about but doesn’t know how to talk about. Her first book, Gone Tomorrow, dealt with garbage and the uncritical ways we approach recycling and waste creation and “management.” Green Gone Wrong addresses the greening of capitalism and the implications that trying to sell and buy and trade our way through ecological crisis ignores that the logic of our economy is what got us into this mess in the first place (and it is not going to get us out).
The book is structured around case-studies of new so-called “green industries” like natural building, electric cars and organic agriculture. In each case we are presented with contradictions about labor, regulatory and environmental abuses too blatant to ignore. The pattern seems to suggest that the green-capitalist mantra that eco-friendly practices can still be competitive and successful business practices.
As Rogers concludes towards the end of the book “Meaningful transformation requires not just unconventional products, but the creation of an alternative logic, where consuming less would improve the standard of living and where success was defined quite differently.” She continues, “So we can vote with our wallets all we want, but the people with the most money – precisely those who lavishly benefit from a system built on ransacking nature – will inevitably control the most votes. Only when we rethink how and what we value – so that we no longer bas well-being and quality of life on excess production, consumption and wasting – will we truly be able to address global warming and other forms of ecological ruin.”
This book is highly recommended to anyone hoping to make money and do good in the world as well as those who think that is an impossibility.
For more information see heatherrogers.info
Book Review: Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town
by Nick Redding (Bloomsbury USA – June 9, 2009)
When I saw Methland listed as a top food book of 2010 on grist.org I was surprised and intrigued. I didn’t know squat about meth or small town life, but I knew from traveling the country to work on Farm Together Now that there was a huge difference between thriving boutique-ish small towns that could support high-end sustainably produced food and those still dominated by industrially cultivated commodities which usually supported a few fat-cat landowners and otherwise desperate and failed local economies. Methland describes the latter kind of town. With richly developed characters not often seen in non-fiction, author Nick Redding tells the story of the consolidation of the food industry through the lens of the rise of Meth use, production and circulation in Oelwein, Iowa (and other midwestern towns like it). The analysis is that Meth is a working-person’s drug made by people coerced into long hours in tractor-trailers and meat-packing plants and abandoned farm houses that all reveal once and for all that small towns are quite depressed and no longer able to be ignorantly romanticized. While the author criticizes ag-industry giants like Cargill and Monsanto, he awkwardly acknowledges towards the end of the book that his father is an Iowa farmer who worked his way up the ranks of the Monsanto agricultural biotechnology company based in St. Louis. While this personal history does nothing to discredit the research and facts in the book, it does reveal how real people with real life stories are implicated in destroying our food system. I highly recommend reading Methland for anyone who wants to try-out (or return to) rural life from the city or suburbs. It is a good reminder that whatever you think you are looking for will have to concede to a new rural reality that is hard to change and hard to ignore.