Saturday, October 30, 2010

Death, life and vegetables

Good morning,

Joan Dye Gussow's new book is titled Growing Older: a chronicle of death, life and vegetables.

I've been reading it chapter by chapter, enjoying her humour, finding that I agree with much of what she says, discovering that I'm also a curmudgeon (as she describes herself), and see just about everything I do as it relates to environment.

Joan's book is not an easy read, as I'd wanted it to be. I wanted her to tell me what to do. What was I thinking? She's a professor of nutrition, developer of a course on how nutrition, food production and environment are all related matters. She's at the heart and start of this whole field of food-related thought (in North America anyway) and her ideas have influenced academics and activists like Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Barbara Kingsolver.

What I mean is, she's not academically or personally geared to telling someone directly what she or he should do. And ultimately this gets people on side to doing what should be done. Smart woman, eh?

Gussow analyzes her own life and I bet I'm not the only reader who will be taken aback in the first chapters when she acknowledges that she didn't 'miss' her husband after he died. But then, as she talks about their relationship - the who-did-which-tasks during their marriage, the habits they each had, their individual strengths, and joint projects - there is my recognition that they had mutual as well as individual strengths. They planned together, and they each had individual lives; this left her with her own life and abilities to change when he died. People don't often talk about how being one’s own person keeps you going after a partner dies. I think that’s cool. And an honesty one doesn't hear often.

She talks about how, in 1979,she read a paper by Joanna Macy about despair and how to keep going after facing the worst, and this got her looking at her own worst fears: that we humans were harming the interconnected environment systems from so many directions that we really were/are on a path of system collapse. She had to realize that she really did believe this, and move through the despair. Relating this to her reactions after her husband died, she realizes:

Reflecting on my early confrontation with despair has helped me to understand my failure to seriously grieve after Alan’s death. Losing him was not the worst thing that could happen in my world. That I had already confronted.

The book covers varied topics; many have to do with what happens inGussow's garden the year ‘round, connecting to issues of local food production, international issues and human connections of all sorts. She describes her ongoing problem of a backyard garden that is lower than surrounding lots and subject to flooding again and again. Apparently, this spring, while her book was going to press, she had the money and volunteers/friends/workers to bring in soil and raise the yard, which all her friends and readers (like me) surely hope will solve a lot of problems. But even those ongoing struggles and observations of plants that recover gave something important.

from the chapter, Watery Lessons:

Hope is the lesson Nature keeps teaching me. She keeps producing. She recovers. She creates beauty out of loss. She forgives us our impatience and frustration and insistence that things turn out the way we planned. They don't. They turn out the way she planned. We need to be willing to sacrifice control; to learn by adaptation. We need to pay more for food grown by local farmers who can find something to feed us no matter what - even if it's not what we planned on this morning. And that's going to have be be okay. What an important lesson to learn as we face a world that is changing in ways that we don't really want at least partly as fallout from our demand for the things we really thought we needed.

I’ll end the book report here, lest it get really too long. (maybe there'll be a part 2 book report; I haven’t finished the book yet. ) But absolutely, if you get a chance, get the book. Tell your library to get the book.

As always, best wishes to you all,

Why's Woman

Growing Older: a chronicle of death, life and vegetables. Joan Dye Gussow. White River, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010. (
Other great book by Gussow: This Organic Life: confessions of a suburban homesteader.

(If possible, buy your copy from an independent book retailer!)

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