A belated vegan review of eaarth (Bill McKibben, 2010) and Diet for a Hot Planet (Anna Lappé, 2010).

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Last summer, I received review copies of eaarth and Diet for a Hot Planet – authored by Bill McKibben and Anna Lappé, respectively – though Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. Though I devoured them rather quickly and back-to-back, it’s taken me quite some time to put together reviews for each. (2010 was a funky year for me, and not in a good way.) Given that they cover similar territory; complement one another in several respects; and suffer the same, all-too-common pitfall (in a word, speciesism), I thought a joint review might work best.

Eaarth by Bill McKibben (2010)

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben (2010)

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Let’s start with Bill McKibben’s eaarth, which is by far the more radical of the two books. eaarth opens with a terrifying premise: that, when it comes to climate change, humanity has already altered the earth’s environment to the point of no return. For the bulk of human existence, the level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere has remained somewhat stable at 275 parts per million (ppm). Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels have been on the rise, as has been scientific debate over its safest uppermost concentrations. Initially, 550 ppm was the supposed ceiling; in 2007, climatologist Jim Hansen identified 350 ppm as the “safe number.” This is problematic to say the least, as currently the planet has almost 390 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Even if we drastically reduce emissions overnight (an impossibility, both practically and politically speaking), we’ve already reached the tipping point; our home’s climate is changing, and for the worse.

“Worse,” anyhow, for most of the species that have evolved to live on earth as it was, humans included. The “new earth” – christened “eaarth” by McKibben – will be a planet of much harsher living conditions and more extreme weather patterns; a planet “with dark poles and belching volcanoes and a heaving, corrosive sea, raked by winds, strafed by storms, scorched by heat.” McKibben looks to current climatological trends as indicators of what’s to come: warmer air and water temperatures, melting glaciers and ice caps, rising sea levels, increasingly acidic oceans, more powerful storms, prolonged droughts, a decrease in biodiversity and corresponding increase in invasive “pest” species – all of these phenomenon are interconnected and influence one another in myriad ways; sometimes unpredictable, almost always tragic.

I’m no climate scientist, so I can’t speak to the veracity of McKibben’s predictions – but the data presented in eaarth (buttressed by 25 pages of end notes) certainly makes for a striking argument. If nothing else, McKibben clearly demonstrates the degree to which seemingly disparate natural occurrences are interdependent; a change in one aspect of the earth’s climate affects all others. Human-driven climate change is real, and it’s really happening. Even if you accept this as a scientific truth, however, McKibben’s solution will be hard to swallow (not that you’ll necessarily have a choice, mind you).

In the second half of eaarth, McKibben shares his vision of a new way of life for a new planet. Though he doesn’t describe it in so many words, McKibben’s eaarth strikes me as somewhat anarchist in nature, marked by a number of small, mostly self-sufficient city states functioning under a shared moral code or social contract.* (It’s hard to pin down this new society exactly, as MicKibben doesn’t elaborate on such minor details as systems of government or human rights. I guess those things will just…work themselves out? Sarcastic, who me?) Rather than “regressing” to older ways of life, McKibben sees us living lightly on this changed planet by retaining some necessary and beneficial aspects of our current culture (e.g., the internet, new energy technology) and discarding those which are unnecessary and unsustainable (most of our current, bloated economy, including but not limited to the entertainment industry. No word on traveling bards, fwiw.)

(More below the fold…)

Frugal vegans don’t waste food.

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Rosie the Riveter

J. Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It!”, commonly mistaken to be Rosie the Riveter.
CC image via Wiki.
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A recent study in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology estimated that Americans waste nearly 350 million barrels of oil per year in the form of food. These figures represent 2% of our annual energy consumption, and are based in part on an even more shocking 1995 estimate that 27% of our edible food is wasted – simply thrown away – at both the individual and institutional levels.

While much of this waste happens before food even reaches consumers – for example, produce that looks “irregular” or is marred by “blemishes” may be tossed by farmers or rejected by grocers – who among us can say that she’s never thrown out a half-finished bag of moldy rolls or composted the odd bruised apple? If just half of this waste occurs in our own kitchens and pantries, then the average American is tossing nearly 15% of the food she purchases straight into the garbage.* By cutting out this waste, then, we could potentially save 15% on our grocery bills.

Reporting on these findings over at Salon, Francis Lam offers seven tasty ways to stop wasting food – six of which are vegan or vegan-friendly. These include:

  1. Be creative about stale bread;
  2. Freeze in-danger-of-expiring (nondairy) milk;
  3. Save trim and scraps for stock;
  4. Sauté leftover pasta, rice, and cooked grains (or, you know, just reheat and it, if you’re not a food snob like Lam);
  5. Repurpose leftover sauces, soups, and (vegetable) meat juices to add flavor to other dishes; and
  6. Don’t toss an item just because it’s expired – many foodstuffs are edible past date. Trust your senses and use good judgment.

Building on Lam’s list, Jordan @ vegansaurus! recommends that you be a more awesome vegan by:

  1. Making impromptu soups, stews, and curries with neglected veggies;
  2. Baking fruit crisps and crumbles with overripe apples and such;
  3. Liquefying extra produce into smoothies;
  4. Investing in high quality food storage containers; and
  5. Buying a spiffy new lunch set that will hopefully inspire you to take leftovers to work.

Of course, because I am a totally awesome – and usually-frugal – vegan, I have a few additional suggestions to add to the mix!

(More below the fold…)