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Book Roundup Wednesday: Considering Our Consumption

Posted Jan 19 2011 5:40pm

Books about environmentalism Each Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today, we're recommending books that examine our colossal consumption habit.

Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America (by Nick Rosen, $15, Penguin, July 2010): Nick Rosen’s documentary-style book profiles people across the U.S. who live "off the grid." Exuding an air of rugged individualism, his subjects have chosen to forego their dependence on the mainstream world for life’s basic necessities — power, water, land and food. The eclectic mix of people, lifestyles, and motivations for going off the grid makes Rosen’s book an interesting and thought-provoking read for anyone who has ever considered a more self-sufficient existence.

On a Dollar a Day: One Couple’s Unlikely Adventures in Eating in America  (by Christopher Greenslate and Kerri Leonard, $15, Hyperion, Feb. 2010): There are few things more directly related to our personal consumption than what we put into our mouths. At least that’s how Leonard and Greenslate felt when they conceived their personal experiment to spend less on food after a pricey trip to the local grocery store. What resulted was a popular blog-turned-book that chronicles their three-fold mission: to feed themselves for one month on one dollar a day each, to live on the federal allotment of food stamps ($4.13 per day) for a month, and to assess the real-world cost of eating a healthy diet. The couple’s book offers an in-depth look into the inequalities of the U.S. food system that will certainly make you think more about what you put in your cart during your next trip to the grocery store.

American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of its Food  (by Jonathon Bloom, $26, Decapo Press, Oct. 2010): "Waste not want not" is the credo of author Jonathon Bloom, whose book points out the paradox of a nation that throws away almost half of the food it produces while many families still struggle to eat. Bloom traces the commodity chain of a wasteful society, from the farm to the landfill, and points out the problems associated with unharvested produce, confusing sell-by dates, and all-you-can eat restaurants. In the process, the author also provides tips to help individuals reduce their waste and thus their own consumptive habits overall.

The Shadows of Consumption: Consequences for the Global Environment (by Peter Dauvergne, $13, MIT Press, Dec. 2010): Dauvergne’s academic look at worldwide consumption is somewhat gloomy, likening each individual act of consumption to “raindrops in a typhoon." Analyzing the global impact of five commodities — automobiles, leaded gasoline, refrigerators, beef, and harp seals — the book provides an in-depth look at the far-reaching grasp of our consumption. Dauvergne advocates for what he calls "balanced consumption," or a world where increased regulation across governments prevents rampant inequality and individuals’ habits are governed by frugality, simplicity, and self-reliance.

Green Barbarians: Live Bravely on Your Home Plane(by Ellen Sandbeck, $15, Scribner, Dec. 2009): In her book, Ellen Sandbeck endorses a back-to-basics lifestyle that eliminates the need for many of our modern household conveniences and reduces our consumption in the process. The book is filled with “domestic strategies, both ancient and modern” on topics as varied as wild gleaning, frequency of flushing, and using bread as napkins. Written in a humorous and somewhat rebellious tone, Sandbeck’s ecological how-to guide is a perfect choice for anyone trying to make concrete changes to their household consumptive habits. 

--Rosie Spinks

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