Tag Archives: book review

Recipe For America: A Must Read

Once upon a time in America we were all promised a future where there would be “better living through chemistry”.  Well here we are. It’s the future. And the better living future we’re experiencing is chock full of unexpected consequences.

Jill Richardson’s new book, Recipe For America, is filled with stories about those consequences.  As a contributor with Daily Kos and La Vida Locavore, she’s made her mark covering issues that relate to the food chain.  She gets the connections between obesity and the current health care crisis. She makes the connections between policy and reality. And she’s offered up a paperback that backs up the horror stories with plans, goals and resources so that those of us who care about these issues can begin the process of taking our food chain out of the hands of those who put profits before people.

I sat down with Jill last week in San Diego to talk about the release of her book and her plans for the future.  She explained to me that the purpose in writing the book was to help people make the connection between the sorts of personal actions they’re making (like planting gardens & buying organic) and the broader policy issues that have led to a crisis that has implications for the entire planet.  

All this better living we’ve been sold means that, along with the façade that we’re “eatin’ good in the neighborhood”, the obesity rate for Americans more than doubled over the last three decades-and it tripled for children aged 6 – 11.  Four of the top ten leading causes of death are directly related to diet.  Our per-person expenditures for health care have also doubled over the last three decades.  Pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and chemical residues are all implicated in complex health issues that appear to be connected to the seemingly limitless choices available in the supermarket aisles and chain restaurants of our nation.

One thing is for sure: all this better living is killing us.

Oh, and, by the way, it’s our fault.  

At least that’s what the overlords of agribusiness and their food processing compadres would like us to believe.  They have benefited by the lessons learned by big companies in their fifty year fight to save the tobacco industry in the face of an obvious public health threat. So now we’re now hearing lots of food industry rhetoric about “consumer choice”, CongressCritters are stalling for “further studies”, and spokespersons are hard at work denouncing, delaying and denying the ever increasing amount of data pointing towards the possibility their products and processes are poisoning us.  They’ve learned well.

Jill Richardson certainly didn’t plan on a life of activism.  As a healthcare software analyst, she was headed towards a life of working with medical professionals, demonstrating and teaching solutions that could make a difference in that field.  As part of her work, she gained insight into the everyday problems faced by healthcare professionals. She kept hearing doctors telling the same stories over and over again about their patients; the fact was they spent most of their time dealing with chronic illnesses that were lifestyle related like high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Her subsequent research on dietary factors related to those chronic illnesses led to publication of a piece at Daily Kos entitled “Vegetables of Mass Destruction: Food, Poverty and Environmental Edition”.  The response to the diary was remarkable- hundreds of readers left comments-and, although she didn’t know it yet, Jill was headed down a new path.  Over the next couple of years she expanded her work to include a weekly column and started her own blog.  What started out primarily as book research and internet searches grew to include field research and an ever-increasing network of contacts willing to help her dig for facts.

At the 2007 Netroots Conference, she connected with a publisher and that led to the book deal.  It’s just been published, and she’s soon headed off on a book tour, starting in San Diego on August 2nd.  The first event, scheduled at Sea Rocket Bistro, is already booked solid and a second night has been added.

Other dates on the tour include:

August 6 – Philadelphia, PA at Big Blue Marble Books at 7pm

August 7 – Lancaster, PA at Kimberton Whole Foods at 6pm

August 8 – Lancaster, PA at Eastern Market at 9am

August 8 – Lititz, PA at Aaron’s Books at 7pm

August 10 – New York City at The Tank at 6:30pm-8pm

August 13-16 – Pittsburgh, Netroots Nation

August 17- Morrisville, VT at Apple Tree Natural Foods Market

August 23? – Martha’s Vineyard, MA

August 24 – Northampton, MA

August 25 – Northampton, MA at Knitting Liberally & Drinking Liberally

September 5 – Tacoma, WA, Farmers market in the AM; King’s Books at 3pm

September 7 – Portland, OR, Slow Food’s Labor Day Picnic Eat-In

September 8 – Portland, OR, InFARMation (and Beer!) at 5:30pm-8:30pm

September 9 – Portland, OR, Powells Books at 7:30pm (Burnside location)

September 10 – Portland, OR, Drinking Liberally

September 26 – Madison, WI at the Food for Thought Festival (not confirmed yet)

October 10-13 – Des Moines, IA, Community Food Security Coalition conference

October 16 – Los Angeles

October 17 – San Jose

Late October – Bay Area

Early November – Austin, TX

November 16 – Canyon Democrats

Week of November 30 – Naperville, IL/Chicago

The corporate media push back on Recipe For America has already begun.  Barnes & Noble booksellers are refusing to sell the book-I even tried placing a “special order” with them.  There have already been a number of “trade” reviews that are shockingly similar in language and content, as if they’d been written from a script.

LaVidaLocavore.org’s influence has already been included mentions on television and mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times. While quite modest about her accomplishments thus far, Jill’s passion for the cause and dedication to energizing the movement are undeniable.  She’s already begun contemplating the global implications of US food policy in light of the historic agribusiness domination in our domestic corridors of power.

Recipe for America is not an exposé-although there are plenty of stories illustrating the consequences wrought upon people as the result of the current state of affairs in the food industry.  It’s more like a tool kit, designed to give us a hand in countering the spinmeisters and lobbyists who play the game of preserving the status quo in agribusiness, food processing and food distribution.

This book plainly shows us how sustainable agriculture-where local farms raise food that is healthy for and does not harm the environment-offers the only solution to America’s food crisis. Jill also plugs the reader into the rising grassroots food movement, with lots of contact information, blogs to read and suggestions for action.  If you care about the food you eat and the future of the planet it’s not enough to simply shop at the Food Coop and the local Farmers Market. Buy this book, use it, and thank your lucky stars that there are people like Jill Richardson out there in this world willing to lead the fight for food safety, a greener planet and good nutrition.

Book Review: Jason Carter “Power Lines: Two Years on South Africa’s Borders”

Cross-posted from Turn Tahoe Blue


In Gogo’s mind, she translated the word “hope” to the zulu word themba. “Themba” means not only “hope” but also “believe.” For Gogo, “hope” is not a possibility but a certainty.
Too often, perhaps, we lose hope because we fail to look for it where we least expect it – among poor black people in a South African homeland or an American inner city, or poor white farmers in clapboard shaks in south Georgia. But there it is.

Hope and believe, or “themba,” that’s what it is ultimately all about. Jason Carter, the son of last year’s Nevada U.S. Senate candidate Jack Carter and brother of blogger Sarah Carter, comes to this conclusion at the end of his book, at the end of two years in South Africa.

Jason arrived in Lochiel, a little settlement on South Africa’s border to Swaziland, on April 8, 1998 – nine years ago yesterday. Lochiel is really just that, a settlement, people were forced to move there when the South African government in the 1970s decided to establish “homelands” for South Africa’s different tribes. The Swazi people in townships outside Johannesburg, Pretoria and other places were rounded up and brought to KaNgwane. However, none of the homelands gained real independence or autonomy. People had to commute outside of their homelands if they wanted to find work and survive. Each night they had to go back to their homelands to sleep without any rights, much less any comfort:

[T]he trucks dropped people off in the middle of nowhere, and the government was not going to provide much assistance. There are famous pictures of the “houses” that the government provided in the “relocation camps.” They look like rows and rows of outhouses, or cube-shaped pens, with sides of corrugated iron and a dirt floor.

In Lochiel, Jason was the only white person among the 200 families living there. At first, the locals were apprehensive but soon got used to his presence. He worked in the local schools helping to implement the government’s new education program.

In post-Apartheid South Africa, Jason was in a unique position. As a white American he had few difficulties blending in the industrialized, rich and white South Africa. Though, oftentimes he felt more than uncomfortable, not only because of the abundant luxury so few miles away from the poor townships and settlements like Lochiel where he spend most of his time, but also, or maybe even more so, because of the blatant racism by many.

One would think that a white American would have a tougher time in a black South African community than a black American. Surprisingly, this was not really the case. South Africa, because of Apartheid, is a very complicated country. Jason soon discovered a tool that put black South Africans more at ease with the presence of a white man – their language. He soon picked up enough quite a bit of Siswati and Zulu to easily communicate with people in Lochiel and elsewhere.

While there were many uncomfortable situations for Jason, he had less trouble than some of his fellow Peace Corps volunteers from the US. African-American men had to endure the racism and frequent bad treatment by white South Africans just like black South Africans did. African-American women had to cope with the extreme macho attidudes against women in South Africa’s black society on top of that.

Yet, these few paragraphs don’t begin to grasp the complexity of the situation in South Africa as Jason also discovered a willingness among both black and white South Africans to cross the racial divide, to overcome fear and prejudice. However, looking at race relations in America more than 140 years after the end of slavery and more than 40 years after the civil rights legislation one has to wonder how long it will take South Africans to overcome Apartheid.

30 years prior to Jason joining the Peace Corps in South Africa, his great-grandmother Lillian Carter, at the age of 70, went with the Peace Corps to India. Her experience there is wonderfully described by former President Jimmy Carter, Lillian’s son and Jason’s grandfather, in the introduction to Power Lines. However, compared to Lillian Carter’s life outside of Bombay, Jason’s was quite different. The so-called first and third world were just a few miles apart. The first world actually drives by Lochiel on a daily basis, as it is situated on Highway 17, connecting Johannesburg and Swaziland’s capital Mbabane, where luxury hotels and casinos lure many white South Africans.

Jason Carter easily manages to capture the readers attention by not just describing his two years in South Africa, but rather by drafting a story and taking the reader along for the ride. By doing so, he takes the reader beyond the usual image of black Africa portrayed in the media – poverty, despair, war and AIDS. He takes us inside the daily lives of the family he stays with, goes along on a trip for a family wedding, treats us to scenes in the family kitchen and takes us to a funeral, and another one, and yet more funerals. For that is the reality of South Africa. The country has to battle with HIV/AIDS and in no other place does the utter despair of this situation become more visible than in the current of funerals:

Saturday, umbgcibelo, is the day of burial. Death became a part of my life to a greater extent than I had ever experienced. In my two years in Lochiel, I went to more than 30 funerals.

However, just as many as died from AIDS-related illnesses, “died from sicknesses and a lack of health care, in addition to car accidents.” And all that in a country where first rate health care is available. But only for those who can afford it.

And yet, there is hope and believe – themba. In this short book review I was only able to capture a fraction of what Jason wrote in Power Lines. I’ll therefore leave the closing remarks to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his praise for the book:

In Power Lines, Jason Carter writes insightfully of strength, commitment, and idealism, his own as well as that of the many South Africans whose stories he tells.

Power Lines: Two Years on South Africa’s Borders
By Jason Carter
National Geographic Society
Washington D.C., 2002

Power Lines is availabe at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Powell’s.

Jason Carter has not only written this book about his time in South Africa. He has come back from South Africa with a set of ideals, a willingness to get involved and themba. He has recently co-founded “Democrats Work” with Thomas Bates. The motto of Democrats Work is “putting our values into action.” Check out their website and find out how you can put your values into action.