Archive for July, 2009

365 Books Worth Reading: #2 Raghavan Iyer’s “660 Curries”

Sharon July 30th, 2009

I have a peeve about non-vegetarian ethnic cookbooks published in America.  Despite the fact that almost no culture on the planet eats as much meat as Americans, the format for ethnic cookbooks rarely varies, unless they are specifically vegetarian - the main course chapters procede through a largish collection of each kind of meat recipe, finally alighting on “vegetable and legume” dishes. 

What’s wrong with this is that it gives you a deeply false perception of other people’s cuisines - Americans don’t necessarily know that the 11 recipes for beef are pretty much all the mainstream recipes for beef in the entire culture, say, because beef  isn’t eaten that often, whereas the 11 recipes for vegetables and legumes barely touch the surface of the deep variety of vegetable and legume cooking.  But because we “know” that Americans don’t eat nearly as many main course vegetable dishes, we know that we only can include one chapter on vegetables.

Which brings me to why I love Raghavan Iyer’s _660 Curries_ - yes, it has plenty of recipes for high value foods and meats, but in a book with close to a thousand actual recipes (there are breads, desserts and sauces added in), the bulk of the book is everyday food - vegetables and legumes, and a real variety, not just two ways to cook broccoli.  Don’t get me wrong - I eat meat that is raised on my own farm, and I’m happy to have good Indian recipes to use with our meats.  But what I really need are more recipes for simple foods out of my garden and pantry, and this is it.  Morel Mushrooms (the one mushroom I forage regularly) with Green Peas are spectacular; Red Amaranth and Spinach with Coconut Chile Sauce will be a regular at our house and Red Lentils with caramelized onion sauce is a new obsession. The food is good and the perspective is useful.  What’s not to love?


365 Books Worth Reading: #1 Alinsky’s _Rules for Radicals_

Sharon July 29th, 2009

I’ve got a lot of books I’d love to review at length, but somehow there’s always something more urgent to do.  So I’ve decided that I’m going to try and post regular (I doubt it will be every day…no, I’m sure it won’t be every day) short book reviews of a paragraph or so until I’ve done 365 of them.  I know it’ll probably take me a lot longer than a year, but at least it is a way to get conversations going about my favorite books without having to take a month to write about them. 

 I’m not promising that every single one will be on a relevant topic to the main themes of this blog - in fact, again, I promise they won’t be.  Everyone needs good escapist or imaginative literature sometimes, or simply to learn everything they can about something interesting, even if it has no direct application.  Besides, it is very rare that I find I read something truly great and never use it again - it always shows up somewhere in my thinking.

Ok, the honor of being the very first book worth reading goes to Saul Alinsky’s superb book _Rules for Radicals_ - I picked it up at my school library when I was 14, and it was perhaps the first most important book I’ve ever read.  I try and go back and look at it once a decade, at a minimum, and it keeps on being relevant.  Alinsky gave us a model for how to do what needs doing long ago, when he wrote,

“The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals was written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.”

What more urgently needed knowledge is there than that? 


Get Those Congresscritters!

Sharon July 29th, 2009

Thanks to Bob Waldrop for the heads up on this - he posts:

HR 2749, a so-called “food safety” act, will likely be voted on by the US House of Representatives today.

This bill will cause serious problems for local food systems.  Among other things –

+ It includes a new $500/site fee for any kind of food processing faciltity or business.
+ It gives the FDA new authority to regulate the growing, harvesting and selling of fresh produce.

Both of these provisions may be the kiss of death for local farmers and artisan processors.

Please take action now — not this afternoon, not tomorrow — to defend your right to buy, and the producers’ rights to produce, local and artisan foods.

Call your congressperson now and ask them to vote against HR 2749.  To find your congressional representative’s contact info, go to  and enter your zip code in the box in the upper left corner of the screen.

Please notify others who should be concerned about this.

Do the work.  Pass it on.  Thanks all.



Sharon July 29th, 2009

Note: Yes, another re-run.  Today’s project is to re-do the Table of Contents and Book Proposal for my next book, which is now a one-author (me) project.  So yes, re-play, but this one, I think is even more important as time passes.

Barbara Ehrenreich has a wonderful essay on the way we’re turning on ourselves in response to the financial crisis - and how we should be turning our anger outwards.  She’s right - and it isn’t just suicide.  Depression, domestic violence, child abuse - all of these are on the rise, and in large part due to the fact that people are poorer, scared and frustrated.  Ehrenreich writes of the move to respond to the financial bad news by destroying yourself that we’re aiming in the wrong direction:

“Dry your eyes, already: Death is an effective remedy for debt, along with anything else that may be bothering you too. And try to think of it too from a lofty, corner-office, perspective: If you can’t pay your debts or afford to play your role as a consumer, and if, in addition — like an ever-rising number of Americans — you’re no longer needed at the workplace, then there’s no further point to your existence. I’m not saying that the creditors, the bankers and the mortgage companies actually want you dead, but in a culture where one’s credit rating is routinely held up as a three-digit measure of personal self-worth, the correct response to insoluble debt is in fact, “Just shoot me!”

The alternative is to value yourself more than any amount of money and turn the guns, metaphorically speaking, in the other direction. It wasn’t God, or some abstract economic climate change, that caused the credit crisis. Actual humans — often masked as financial institutions — did that, (and you can find a convenient list of names in Nomi Prins’s article in the current issue of Mother Jones.) Most of them, except for a tiny few facing trials, are still high rollers, fattening themselves on the blood and tears of ordinary debtors. I know it’s so 1930s, but may I suggest a march on Wall Street?”

And may I hear an amen?  I’m with Ehrenreich here - we’ve all been taught to be ashamed of poverty, that we’re in charge of our own destiny, and thus, if we are poor, we’ve failed.  This, of course is a lie - but a terribly potent one, one with the power to hurt us very badly - as long as we let it.

It is time and past time to stop buying that lie, to get angry and turn our anger towards the places we can make a difference.  For example, right now, our future is being stolen from us as the Fed and other government agencies pour billions of dollars - billions that might have been spent on food aid, hunger relief, reinsulation of millions of homes, renewable energy applications for schools and hospitals - into Wall Street, into an economy that is collapsing anyway.  Our money, and our future is being treated as so much garbage.  And we are permitting it.

In his book _The People’s History of the Twentieth Century_, Howard Zinn speculates that in fact, the New Deal wasn’t so much a response to the desperation of the American people during the Depression, but a response to the sheer success of collective action by ordinary people.  Labor Unions and organized resistance to foreclosures and evictions became so powerful, so dangerous to institutional powers, that government response was in part motivated by the recognition that their power was *GOING TO GO AWAY PERMANENTLY* because people realized - oh wait, we don’t have to let them take our homes away, or treat us like slaves.  That is, the Depression brought great suffering - but it also brought the recognition that the only solution to that suffering lay in the hands of ordinary people.  This is no less true now than then, although it is sometimes hard to see or remember.

Or think, for example, about the tremendous energies used by Southern slave owners to prevent slave rebellions.  The prohibitions against reading and writing, the hideous punishments of failed ones, all of this was used to convince slaves that they could not win - even though there’s an excellent chance they could have, had enough rebelled.  Deep at the heart of slavery and every kind of repression is the knowledge that if enough people care enough, are angry enough, are willing enough to sacrifice for something better, all the slave owners and entrenched powers are doomed.  All it takes is enough “no”s.

On the same day I read Ehrenreich’s article, I got an email from a man who said:

 ”I’m getting ready for climate change and peak oil. I’m working with my community.  I’m preparing personally. I know I’m doing the right thing by reading and learning and teaching others.  But I can’t shake this feeling of sadness.  When my daughter was born, 6 years ago, I was so excited, so filled with hopes and dreams for her.  Now, as I learn more about the world, I feel like all my dreams have died, and my hopes are being reduced to ‘I hope my daughter gets to live in a world that isn’t too brutal and inhumane’ or ‘I hope even though there might not be enough resources to go around that she gets some.’  I don’t like the dreamless person I’m becoming.  How do I find something to hope for, to dream of, that isn’t the bare minimum of survival?”

It was an email I didn’t quite know how to answer when I first got it, and the gentleman kindly gave me permission to think about it and print an answer here.  But now, I think I do have a kind of an answer. 

One of the criticisms levelled at my end of (the relocalizers, permaculturists, sustainability crew) is that we’re unrealistic, utopian, that we don’t fully grasp how hard it will be to simply keep alive, and now we’re shooting at making things better?!?  And there’s almost certainly some truth to that criticism - as there is to all potent critiques.  And lord knows, as a recent Onion Headline (”Small, Dedicated Group of Concerned Citizens Fails to Change World”) points up, it is easy to get a little too fuzzy and cute about empowerment and imagine that simply by reducing the scale of some things while fundraising and putting up the right bumperstickers that we’ll magically make all the entrenched powers go away.

But while they are pretty good at ignoring or subverting small groups of concerned citizens, the old adage about coyotes (that they are more scared of you than you are of them) rather applies to politicians, corporations and other entrenched powers when faced with big groups of pissed off people.  Want proof?  Look at history - at the number of times angry groups of people have changed societies quite rapidly and radically.  It happens all the time.  It isn’t happening yet, but that doesn’t mean it can’t. 

So as I cast about for answers to what my correspondent can dream for his children, and I for mine,  I found this - a dream of anger, used wisely.  A world in which today’s parents,  and all today’s grownups have the courage to get angry, and use the power they have.  In which they have the ability to see what is possible, and to take in a host of ways as much power as they can for ordinary people.  As institutions and politicians and corporations are more and more proved utterly unequal to the task of meeting our needs, we can open our eyes and see that we can meet them - or we can withdraw our support and tolerance from those institutions until serve us, rather than forcing us to serve them.  Anger is a dangerous tool - but it is a tool, and one we cannot put down entirely, because if those of who us know the truth put it down, it will be wielded by those who tell lies.

I can dream of two things for my boys, and for my reader’s daughter.  First, that they will grow up uncowed by those powers - aware that they only seem distant and immovable.  And also that they will know that their anger and passion are powerful enough to take an imperfect, warmer, depleted world, and find a kind of sufficiency within it - with enough left over for dreams for the next generation.



Goldman Sachs Isn’t a Vampire Squid…

Sharon July 29th, 2009

…it is much, much more sinister.  At least according to Bloomberg’s very funny Michael Lewis.

“Rumor No. 5: Goldman Sachs is “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Those words are of course taken from a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine and they are transparently false.

For starters, the vampire squid doesn’t feed on human flesh. Ergo, no vampire squid would ever wrap itself around the face of humanity, except by accident. And nothing that happens at Goldman Sachs — nothing that Goldman Sachs thinks, nothing that Goldman Sachs feels, nothing that Goldman Sachs does –ever happens by accident.”

The best I could muster way back in October was a vision of Paulson and Bernanke, in preparation for erotic release, drinking and singing “And no one’s getting fat except Goldman Sachs.”  I swear, I was trying to be funny, not making serious predictions.  Uh-oh.


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