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What would it mean for you to be blameless?

Although thoughts of new Christmas cookies are still dancing in my head, I’m going to take a breather from the kitchen to share some news. As the year begins to wind to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about the path I have walked this last year, focusing especially on where I have chosen to allocate my time and where I have not. More and more, as the world in Wisconsin has grown snowy and still, I have been mentally refocusing on my creative priorities. A big part of that has been reflecting on the immense strides that two of my friends have taken this year as artists. Most recently,  Jessica Fox-Wilson done gone and published a manuscript. It’s called Blameless Mouth, and I can’t wait to read it. Her collection of poems is focused around issues I explore over and over again on this blog and off it: hunger, consumption, and satiety. I focus on these themes often—but not always—literally, but Jessica blends the literal with the metaphorical: hunger for food, for possessions, for the intangible; and she highlights what we consume in the quest to satiate that hunger.

A large part of ourselves and the environment we have built can be illuminated if we are bold enough to identify hunger in our lives, critically examine our consumption, and cultivate a sense of satiety that perhaps doesn’t depend on consumption, at least not in the sense of exhausting resources.

For quite a while now, Jessica has used her own blog to make public her journey as an artist. She invited us in as she moved from concept to concept, from one stand-alone piece to another. Over time, she has nurtured a series of poems that have grown like a tangle of flowering vines from a single common root. Last week she posed a challenge to those of us who have been watching her build her narrative one verse at a time.

Tell me, she said, what would it mean for you to be blameless?

This is a question with heft and jagged edges. It’s the kind of question that must be handled gingerly, or it cuts. Often deeply. At the same time, it is a question that yields nothing if not grasped firmly with both hands.

It’s a question I have avoided answering for the past week.

Part of me believes that to be blameless is to be inhuman. We are all of us bruised and corrupt and angry and selfish at times. We are all of us careless and hasty. All of us understand what it is to begrudge another. All of us have been supremely worthy of blame at different points in our lives. What would it mean to be blameless? I collect even the most minor missteps I have made in my life. In my memory are dozens upon dozens of monuments to my fallibility, all of them gleaming dully like trophies. I don’t visit them regularly, but they’re there. Whenever I believe myself to be at fault for yet another infraction, I find myself there, surrounded by the collected errors of a lifetime on display in my mind. I run over and over and over them. I know all their shapes and weights and textures by heart.

I cannot be blameless. Over the years, however, I have come to understand that each and every one of the times that I have found myself to blame has been essential to beauty, to growth. Understanding the consequences of haste, the opportunity that comes with weakness, the wisdom that comes from recognizing the hurt I have caused to another—these are pieces of my life worth treasuring. Not only do they have a great deal to offer, but they also have been bought at a price. This is, perhaps, what it means to be blameless. To walk through life acknowledging when I have done wrong, avoiding similar missteps as best I can, and holding the insights from these moments as precious because of the cost at which they were bought.

To be blameless is also to be fearless, particularly where our voices are concerned. Frankly, our mouths are known to get us into trouble. We hunger for food, people, things, love. Sometimes, our mouths are full of a bitter truth, an unpopular opinion, or a call to action that demands we give up our own comfortable apathy. Too often, especially as women, we are berated or berate ourselves for speaking truth openly or for hungering, for wanting more than what we are generally allowed. Being blameless means accepting hunger as a necessary part of living and fearless speech as necessary part of living well.

Ultimately, to be blameless is not to be free of blame. It is simply to forgive ourselves and to understand that so much of what is good and beautiful in us is there not in spite of our flaws, but because of them.

I love that Jessica’s first widely public manuscript is Blameless Mouth. With each poem, with each day well-lived, with each misstep, Jessica has been growing more fearless. Although she may not know it, I have been growing more fearless alongside her. Today, here she stands in a crowd of loved ones and strangers, her hands weighted with poems.

Her blameless voice is about to be heard.

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Food Miles and Efficiency: Mortal Enemies or Misunderstood Friends?

Okay, folks.  After a reprieve, it’s time to revisit Mercatus Policy Primer No 8:  “Yes, We have No Bananas: A Critique of the ‘Food Miles’ Perspective.”  I had promised a look at how local food movements take into account questions of efficiency, economic or otherwise.

Today, the focus is on the extent to which local food activists work with economic efficiency and plain old efficiency in general.  First, the study authors heartily support the idea that food should be produced where it is efficient to do so.  I absolutely agree.  They also argue that food should be eaten seasonally.  Authors Desrochers and Shimizu claim that “the importance of seasonality [...] is also easily forgotten by activists and consumers.”  If such is the case (and it may well be, though I’d certainly like some stats on that), it’s not a flaw in the local food movement, but rather a problem with its interpretation at the individual level.  The Eat Local Challenge website, a blog which describes itself as a group blog written by authors who are interested in the benefits of eating food grown and produced in their local foodshed, has several articles about the importance of eating seasonally.  Both Alice Waters and Michael Pollan, key figures in the local food movement, liberally pepper their interviews and writings with references to the importance of seasonal eating, as do other leaders such as Barbara Kingsolver and Gary Paul Nabhan. In short, the planning is sound, even if the execution could use some tweaking.

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Myopia in Mercatus Study: The Real Cost of Free Trade

I promised I’d hold off on a full analysis of the policy primer, “Yes, We Have No Bananas: A Critique of the ‘Food Miles’ Perspective” until I had done all the backtracking to do it up right, but it turns out that this project is big enough that it’s best handled in several installments.  Today, I’d like to welcome you to the first.  One of the major concerns of the authors of policy primer, Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu, is how local food movements might adversely impact free trade and developing nations.  To that end, it’s worth taking a look at how free trade has itself affected developing nations.

Throughout the policy primer, the authors take more than a few swipes at local food enthusiasts.  One of the most interesting for me is the authors’ claim that locavores have a “romanticized” notion of eating local–which, by the way, they characterize as “subsistence farming.”  This is a misuse of the term.   “Subsistence farming” refers to farming in which the farmers raise just enough for their families and any federal dues with little or nothing left over. If in doubt, consult the Encyclopedia Britannica or the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, for starters. In fact, you’ll find that a secondary definition describes subsistence farming as “farming or a system of farming that produces a minimum and often inadequate return to the farmer.”  Since one of the major objectives of the Eat Local movement is to encourage local farms, keep local farms in business, and provide farmers with a living wage, painting local food production as “subsistence farming” is a gross miscategorization. The locavore movement does not advocate a return to subsistence farming; rather it advocates a re-valuation of the work farmers do and the importance of a healthy food source close to where you live.

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Book Review: Food Security for the Faint of Heart by Robin Wheeler

Robin Wheeler’s new book, Food Security for the Faint of Heart: Keeping Your Larder Full in Lean Times, may be a mouthful of a title, but that’s appropriate when you consider that the author’s purpose is, in fact, to keep your mouth full when the going gets tough.

Wheeler has a background in the kinds of skills that are just plain handy, whether you’re in a crisis situation or not.  A Canadian, she teaches traditional skills (like canning and seed saving), gardening, and medicinals in British Columbia.  She also started the Sustainable Living Arts School in Roberts Creek, British Columbia, and has previously written one other book, entitled Gardening for the Faint of Heart.  Considering that, perhaps it’s not surprising that the structure of Wheeler’s book reminded me a bit of an eclectic neighbor’s garden: a patch of earth richly populated with the old stand-bys, some intriguing and unexpected nuggets here and there, and an unusual twist on some staples.   She covers a surprising amount of ground, going from how to salvage as much food as possible when the power goes out indefinitely, to how to plan and plant a garden.  She talks about water collection, cooperatives, and how to cook a surprisingly good meal out of what you can scavenge from your surroundings in a disaster.

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Review: How to Pick a Peach by Russ Parsons

On most of my flight from Arizona to Pennsylvania and back last week, I had my nose buried in Russ Parson’s book How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table.  It’s one of those books I bought and then left sitting on the shelf for months while I went around, you know, living my life.  Once I’d cracked the spine, I couldn’t help what I’d been busy doing that was so important that I’d left it untouched for so long.  This book is, in a word, wonderful.  Parsons, a food and wine columnist for the LA Times, is more than a foodie–he’s a food geek.  Not only does he clearly love food, but he knows an immense amount about it.  How to Pick a Peach is a rich source of information, a straightforward type of poetry about food, and an intriguing collection of recipes.

You can see Parsons talk about his book in the video below.

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