Books 2: Food, Biocultural conservation, Globalisation and Hope

These are short reviews a few of the books I read that came from sympathetic worldviews about the nature of direction of  globalisation and sustainability.

When reading these, please keep in mind that I have been reading in this area for at least 5 years, and have perhaps been a bit harsh on some authors that are very eloquent and presenting important perspectives that don’t get nearly enough attention. That is, to anyone who is not a sustainability professional I would probably recommend all of these books to read ; )

Frances and Anna Lappe Moore

Hope’s Edge

Frances Moor Lappe’s book ‘Diet for a Small Planet‘ is a classic, and I would suggest an essential read for anyone wondering what eating habits are likely to become the norm as we seek to minimise our carbon emissions and feed a growing global population. It is not the easiest work of reference to have handy next to your stove, but there are some good (and apparently improved in later editions) reference tables that can be photocopied for that purpose.

I don’t think this new book is as good, but still worth a read. It is a personal story of her and her daughter’s journey around the world to visit shining examples of the local, small-planet, democratic, poverty-alleviating revolutions in food. All of the examples are fantastic, and if you have not read anything on agriculture, food production and links with globalisation, ecological destruction and poverty (and the solutions), this combination of hard-facts, hopeful case studies, new paradigms and personal narrative will probably be a really easy and pleasant entry point. These movements should be replicated in every community on earth, there is no doubt in that: from prison farms for rehabilitation, to widespread tree-panting for poverty alleviation, fights for the return of un-used land to landless poor who will use it for food production and governments taking greater responsibility for ensuring citizens (esp. the poor and school-children) have access to fresh, healthy, local food.

However for me, it was a little too long, the tone too cutesy-chummy-personal (and sounding somewhat sounding like a victim / disempowered perspective), and the intellectual rigour falling short of being sufficient ‘Integral’ in attempting to articulate a new paradigm that will underpin sustainability of the food system.


250th Issue of Resurgence – ‘Indigenous Intelligence: Diverse Solutions for the 21st Century

During my time in London I had a reluctant relationship with Resurgence, with which I also automatically associate Schumacher College. I was a bit put off by its insistence on a rather ‘flatland’, soft, deep perspective. Flatland because it often rejects heirarchy. Soft because it contains poetry and art, but precious little about political or organisational action. Deep because it is spiritual, but not interested in the booming, bright, technology, web-savvy face of sustainability that things like represents. I think I have been harsh because I see it as being so close to being great, but just short of it.

But, I have warmed to it lately.

  1. it holds a unique, and very valued space of a sort of ‘wise elder’
  2. it does a fantastic job of integrating across tech-spiritual-science-literature boundaries
  3. the people who write in it are presenting a perspective on sustainability that is not as sexy as Worldchanging, not as pragmatic as Permaculture magazine, not as business-savvy as Green Futures, but may actually be the most long-term and truly sustainable of all of them.

This issue is incredibly rich. Making the links between biological and cultural diversity is something that has really just awakened in me with new depth, and the beauty of images, poetry, and quality of writing and initiatives documented in this issue are is very high. You can buy a pdf online from here. Very, very good value – there is at least as much information in here as a good book on the same topic.

Joseph E. Sitglitz

Making Globalisation Work

The scope and depth of this man’s knowledge is quite, quite remarkable.(he  has won a Nobel prize in Economics). This book combines well a global perspective on what is going wrong with more personal narratives and cases. It is also well-structured so it is still easy to go back and extract the main points. His suggestions, if implemented (and they really would be very easy to do), would quickly and dramatically shift our current system of economic and political globalisation into one that was infinitely more supportive of social and ecological sustainablity.

The tone in this book is a hair’s breadth from contemptuous at times, yet some of his statements are so dry they seem to hide the depth of  his care, anger, and hope. He spares no lashing of the US administration of the past decade or so, but again, only because he cares so much and can see the solutions are so very much within our reach. My only hesitation about recommending this book is that I think his solutions are still with one foot in the current paradigm, and I disagree with his unstated assumption about the necessity or benefits of such volumes of global trade in food, goods or otherwise. Otherwise, a perfect primer for understanding globalisation from someone who has worked inside, outside and all around the debate.

Vandana Shiva

Soil not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis

Very neat, concise summary of the case against modern fossil-fuel dependent agriculture. Vandana draws from many other sources, cites disturbing case studies, and points to a way out. If you need a quick-reference for understanding yourself, or explaining to others, what is wrong with our food systems, then this is one to go for. The editing is not great, and there are a few places where it uses exclusively Indian terminology e.g. for the number 10000.


Only Connect: Soil, Soul, Society

Best of Resurgence in the 90s

This is really filled with some absolutely marvellous, and timeless essays on sustainablity the connects soil, soul and spirit. The people writing are authentic, what they expose is shocking but true, and the solutions advocate for sometimes seem simple but very confronting if considered deeply enough. I have kept this, and will be referring to it again and again. Contributors include: Wendell Berry, Lester Brown, Fritjof Capra, Noam Chomsky, Herman Daly, Vaclav Havel, Paul Hawken, Wes Jackson, David Korten, James Lovelock, Wangari Maathai, Gita Mehta, Neil Postman, Theodore Roszak, Vandana Shiva and Sting. Very high quality stuff.

Arundahti Roy

An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire

Very good, but quickly becomes repetitive. This is a collection of her essays and speeches over a few years in the ’90s. As the same points, connections, citations are made over and over. They are incredibly important connections (e.g. poverty-globalisation-environmental destruction-imperialism etc), and a perspective that should be more widely known, but I got a bit tired of the tone. I didn’t finish it, and left it at a youth hostel  in China for someone to discover.


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