Three Mini Reviews- Fiction, Non-Fiction, Cookbook

Awww….summer. You have almost past by. I filled it with Ontario’s trees and grass and lakes. But also books. Here are a few that kept my interest:

State of Wonder- Ann Patchett

This little wonder of a book joined me on my family camping trip. It was a perfect companion. Marina Singh is forty-something medical doctor who works for a large pharmaceutical company in the research department. She is sent into the thick of the Amazon jungle to investigate the death of a coworker.

Marina wants to know more details about her coworker, Anders’ death because the situation seems suspicious. She must also glean information about a research project funded by her employer, the pharmaceutical company. The research doctor, who has been in the Amazon for decades, Dr. Swenson, refuses to give information about the progress of her work. Marina must win the trust of Dr. Swenson.

This book was full of interesting characters including Marina herself, who has a past she would rather not talk about. She is a strong characzter, and despite conflicts with Dr. Swenson, natives, her own health and nightmares, she leaves the jungle a stronger and more mature woman.

This is my first book by Patchett, and I found The State of Wonder to be an easy and riveting read. The prose and the themes were reminiscent of Barbara Kingsolver, but even more delicate, and satisfying. Patchett impressed me withcomplex themes like North America’s tendency to exploit cultures that are “less advanced.” She explores ownership and responsibility. The medical doctors appeared interested in respecting the indigenous cultures that they were studying. In the end all respect and obligations to those around Dr. Swenson are thwarted for her own glory.

Visit Sunny Chernobyl – Andrew Blackmore

How to start with this one? Hmm…

Andrew Blackmore traveled to the world’s most polluted places and wrote about them in a tourist-y fashion. He embarks on a journey to what he considers the most polluted and exploited places on the planet: Chernobyl, Fort McMurray and the Oil Sands, the refineries of Port Arthur, Pacific Garbage Patch, deforestation in the Amazon, the e-waste piles in China, and Kanpur, India.

The book accounts Blackmore’s travels with insight and depth. Each chapter is filled with history of how the most polluted spots came to be the most polluted spots. Blackmore’s views are uniquein the genre of environmental journalism.

His conclusions are not the ones I would think after witnessing these places of ugliness. While flying over Syncrude’s oil sands mine, he is wowed by it’s size and the giant interruption it is on the earth. Blackmore concludes that the oils sands are awful, but are small in the grand scheme of Canada, our planet and  human existence.

I was intrigued by Blackmore’s premise that we cannot destroy the earth completely. We are stripping it entirely of it’s goodness and leaving our garbage lying all around (or rather floating in the middle of the Pacific). But life is finding a way to continue in those places, and to even thrive. I was not entirely convinced, but I was glad for his insights just the same.

Blackmore’s writing was enjoyable and full of wry humour. It was bursting with characters. My favourite was the Russian Dennis, who worked at a cushy job in the government, but applied to work as a guide in Chernobyl because he was bored. As Blackmore says, this man thought boredom was worse then high doses of radiation.

The most impressive part of Blackmore’s book is that it gives justice to the complexities of these issues in our culture, while keeping them accessible to his reader. Showing a beauty to these places that exists despite the way we are ruining them. Really, he is showing how beautiful we are as humans, and our innovation to use the earth for ourselves.  His book also made the situations surrounding these places of pollution, more accessible to the average person. He made them real, rather then just a large existential example of our horribleness.

More with Less (a cookbook)- edited by DorisJanzen Longacres

 I am an excellent cook. I will not be sheepish about it. I can make something from nothing, and it will almost always taste good. I come from a family of women who can cook a soup like it’s nobody’s business and roast a winner winner chicken dinner with all the trimmings, and Oh My! The smell is just awesome.

I’ve been menu planning and cooking for my family for more then nine years. I thought I had it down to a very fine science. Yet, something has happened over the years, I’ve gotten muddled and mixed. I’ve been joining whatever band wagon is running around at the time (seasonal food or local food, or ethnic food, or food that looks delicious on pinterest). The cost of food has surely gone up in the past few years, but its not just inflation. I’ve been cooking recipes with less repetition and more complexity. I feel overwhelmed, and I end up with thirty condiments in my fridge that I use less then twice a month. I am bored of this whim cooking.

I decided to go back to the start. More importantly, my husband and I were looking to shave money off our grocery bill.  More with Less was my answer. It was published in the 1980s by the Mennonite Central Committee and is full of tried and true family recipes that promise more nutrition with less ingredients and costs. The motto of the book is: “on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited food resources.”

This is the food I’m the best at. Food that brings my kids downstairs saying, “mmmmm I smell soup”. More with Less is full of recipes and ideas to help our eating impact our world in a positive way. This means lots of veggies, fruits and grains, a little less dairy, and very little animal protein. I read last week on Grist that it takes 1800 gallons of water to produce 1 lb of grain-fed beef. I want to be socially conscientious about my menu planning.

In the three weeks that I’ve been flipping through More with Less, I’ve saved $30-$70 each week. This morning my husband opened the fridge to pack something for lunch he said he was so thankful for how much food we have. It’s filling, it’s tasty and each recipe is planned for a nice giant Mennonite family. We can even have a leftover night now! 

This is a beautiful thing. I love the Mennonites, and I love German cooking because it’s similar to Dutch. And there is also variety in the recipes with family friendly recipes from around the world. This book is going to save us money and I feel better eating less meat. I got this book at the library, but it is available at Ten Thousand Villages.

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