Thursday, July 18, 2013

Harvest For Hope

My husband and I read this book together. We try to have one book that we read aloud with each other. We began doing this when we were dating, and have continued over the years. We found this book in a used bookstore, and it is a topic we are both interested in, so we decided to give it a try.

This is the perfect book if you care about your health, and if you are curious about eating organic. Jane Goodall covers topics such as: eating food in season, fisheries, school lunches, farming practices, and factory farms. Each chapter is a clear argument why it matters how your food is grown, where it comes from, and how it was prepared. The clarity of the book makes it easy to decide what you want to change about your eating habits, and it provides some ways to get started. There is a great reference section that provides information on books, websites, dvds, periodicals, etc. where she gets information, and where you can explore these topics further.

One of the biggest take aways for me from this book, was the section about eating locally. I had already decided several years ago to go organic whenever possible. I would often get food locally at a Farmer's Market, but not always. This book was a reminder about the importance of getting your food from local sources. A few of those reasons are:

  1. The food is in season. 
  2. The food does not travel as far. This saves on fossil fuels, which is better for the environment, and your food is fresher.
  3. Your money stays in your community. Your money goes to small farms, and not big corporations.

As a result, I have joined a CSA(Community Supported Agriculture) with a local farmer that I had bought from several times at the Farmer's Market. After only a few weeks being part of the CSA, I love it! The price is comparable if not slightly cheaper than the grocery store. The farmer we buy from is organic, so we don't have to worry about GMOs, or what pesticides have been sprayed on our food. I have already cooked with new vegetables, and have enjoyed cooking new dishes. Being part of the CSA has put more variety in the vegetables we eat. This is much better for our health. I am very pleased that this book gave encouragement to join a CSA.

Another important section is about the different factory farms for animals. This is a must read for anyone that does not know where their meat comes from. Not only are these farms cruel to the animals, they are unhealthy for anyone eating the meat that comes from them. Goodall writes about the use of antibiotics in the animals, the space, or lack thereof the animals are kept in, slaughtering methods, the impact these farms have on the environment, and how far the meat travels. There are plenty of options for meat that do not come from factory farms.

I would encourage everyone to read this book. I only covered a couple of topics from this book. There is so much more information contained in this book. Her arguments make it easy to understand that it is important for us as individuals and communities to comprehend the impact of how the foods that we eat affects us all. For all these reasons, and many more this book has a place on My Favorite Books List.


  1. This is a topic which has recently become important to me personally, but it's also one on which I think it is very easy for people to develop misconceptions. That said, it's good to see work on the subject from someone so outstanding in her field, whose work you know and trust.

    1. I agree that it is easy for people to go to extremes, making something that is good for you not so good or appealing. Moderation is key to most situations. Although Goodall is clearly supporting one side, I think she lays out a clear argument why she supports it. She also seems aware that people may not be ready or able to go completely organic etc. all at once. She points out things you should try to focus on if you can't or don't want to do everything immediately.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this book and found it quite informative. I wanted to comment on two points that stayed with me, both of which reinforce the things that Bitty already brought up (like the need to reduce fossil fuel use).

    1. First is the use of water. The human population continues to grow, and we are wasting more water than ever before. It is not sustainable; we are using fresh water up faster than the natural water cycle can replenish it. Many of the droughts you hear about happen with local water supplies that would have caused no comment 40 or 50 years ago. It's that we are just using so much more water than we used to. Goodall has a chapter devoted to water use in Harvest for Hope, and brings it up in other places when relevant.

    Large agribusiness corporations not only use chemicals and pesticides that contaminate underground aquifers and local fresh water sources (thereby effectively taking water out of the available supply), but their business practices use _far more_ water per pound of food produced than that of local small farms. A big part of this usage comes out of the lengthy (literally, long distance) trip that the product takes from the farm to the grocery store, with many stops in between. The sheer amount of product being handled requires machines to be used to handle, sort, and distribute the food. These machines require lots of _water_ usage (especially if they are to be cleaned to avoid bacterial contamination that would otherwise be rampant!). But all of this in-between process can be completely cut out of the picture if we buy from local farmers!

    It is also instructive to compare figures on how much water is used to produce different types of food. For example, the whole process to produce 2 pounds of beef (using conventional agricultural methods) requires 26,400 gallons of water, but 2 pounds of chicken only requires 920 gallons. Two pounds of rice requires 505 gallons of water, but 2 pounds of wheat only needs 235 gallons. So even if you are not ready to be a vegetarian, eating chicken more and beef less dramatically reduces your impact on water.

    P.S. If you buy bottled water made from PET plastic, more water is used to make each bottle than the amount of water that is put into the bottle.

    2. The second thing that really stuck with me was that the practices of factory farms and large agribusinesses are making us more vulnerable to bacteria and disease. I won't touch on subsidized corn and soy, but stay with farming practices.

    Cattle and chickens are often packed into cramped spaces, many never even seeing the outdoors (except for maybe right before they are slaughtered). Of course a dark, warm factory tightly packed with animals, and their high calorie feed along with their waste, is a paradise for bacteria of all sorts. This is handled by giving the animals lots of antibiotics (makes sense, right?). But this doesn't remove the source of the bacteria explosion, it just makes it harder for bacteria to live there. Natural selection does its work, and we get super-bacteria that give us humans all sorts of lovely experiences.

    There is also the problem with monocultures. Sure, they have a higher yield. But planting the same crop over and over on one plot of land deteriorates its nutrients. Moreover, a huge corporation farm is not just farming all corn, but essentially all the same corn (genetically). The lack of biodiversity makes that crop supply extremely vulnerable to an attack by just the wrong type of organism.

    I've probably gone on (more than) long enough. Read the book! :)

    1. I'm glad you brought up the issues she raised about water. It was eyeopening to read this book, and I wish I could have covered everything.