If you have any interest in following me down this crazy, meandering mental path that somehow leads a well-educated, city-bred, thirty-something woman into hankering for a farm... here's your reading list. :)
is a book I read about four years ago, and then promptly moved to an outer suburb -- so apparently, I wasn't paying attention. But it taught me to pay attention to things that I hadn't given any consideration whatsoever. Like aesthetics. I would never have consciously considered aesthetics to be an important aspect of where or how people live. But I realize now that part of what pushed us to leave the somewhat gritty inner suburb we were living in until three years ago was aesthetic. We didn't like looking at trash all the time, we didn't like the gross strip mall where we did our grocery shopping, or stepping over broken bottles trying to walk on the nature trails by our house. We didn't just pick our current house because it's pretty... but it's a bigger reason than I probably realize.
Now of course, Suburban Nation is about more than the importance of aesthetics in urban planning -- it's about new urbanism, and the importance of mixed-use, transit-based, high-density development. And I'm totally on board with that. That isn't where I live, at all, but I respect and support it. What we found, though, when we were house-hunting three years ago, is that we couldn't afford it. Which is a damn shame, but there you have it. A lot of these new urbanist communities are really cost-prohibitive for young families like ours.
Last Child in the Woods
is one of those books that you read that doesn't have to convince you of anything, because everything it says just makes such perfect sense. I need to check this book out of the library again and re-read it, because I think of it as a well of inspiration. You might just instinctively believe that children need nature, but this book tells you why. More importantly, it tells you how to make nature a part of your children's lives. I read this book, and then immediately turned around and started a garden with Susie, who was then two. She is now four, and the proud caretaker of her third garden. And I would be hard-pressed to find a child more loving of nature. A lot of the mucking around we do in the backyard, started with this book. It motivated me to get out there and get dirty with my kids.
The End of Food
really freaked me out. It was one of those books I immediately wished I hadn't read, because ignorance is bliss. (Kind of like the movie Fast Food Nation... like, uh, I really didn't want those images in my brain, thanks... this is going to make it a lot harder for me to enjoy my Whopper.) It was a lot of food for thought (ha!), but I can't say I enjoyed it. I battled with it. I struggled with it. I didn't even finish reading it! But it stayed with me. Percolating. What is this stuff I am putting in my mouth? Where did it come from? How was it produced? All kinds of questions that are easier not to ask... because when you start asking, it's hard not to want to radically change your life.
But then later, I read In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto and it all started coming together. Ideas started to gel in my mind. How does this food in my grocery store get there? What am I buying, really, when I purchase my food? What systems am I supporting with my food dollars? And why does all this "food" taste like crap??
It's happened gradually, the food changes in our house. I don't think anyone woke up one day and said, "hey, who through out my Cheetos?" We just started eating more mindfully. More healthfully, more ethically, and more... taste-fully. More and more, I can feel like I'm supporting the right kind of systems with my food dollars. But an even more radical idea has been growing in my mind: skip the grocery store entirely.
What if your food didn't come from a grocery store? What if it came from your own land? What if you grew it, preserved it, raised it, nurtured it?
It's a crazy idea, I know. And completely impractical in our HOA-restricted outer 'burb. But with every cucumber I harvest from my front yard, I feel a little thrill of the subversive.