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Green Books: What's at the Top of My List

There are a gazillion books out there on sustainable living, from inside the home to gardening to lifestyle, political, and systemic issues we are facing in the world today. Rather than digging deep into reference books, I'm instead sharing some of my favorite books that primarily focus on a holistic view of sustainable living, how we got to where we are today, and ideas that spark not only creativity, but mindfulness and simplicity.

As I am vehemently against promoting Amazon in any way, shape or form, based on not only their terrifying labor practices, sickening inequity and historical smothering of small businesses, but they also have one of the worst environmental footprints on the planet. So I am linking these books to used versions available at Powell's Books in my hometown of Portland, but would encourage you to first check it out at your local library before investing in a book you may or may not want to keep indefinitely.

  • The Botany of Desire: A Plants Eye View of the World (Michael Pollan) - I've had this for ages, and still consider this his best publication (even though yes, Omnivore's Dilemma and others are definitely brilliant), I think because the historical perpective he provides is one that is not nearly studied enough in schools or showcased in the media.

  • Food & Society: Principles & Paradoxes (Guptill, Copelton, Lucal) - This was the primary textbook for my Community Health class in Food Systems that I finished up during the first year of the pandemic. It was an ironic time to be completing my certificate, particularly with the discussion of global and societal aspects of food culture. There are multiple editions available (I've linked the 1st, but it's up to 3rd now, Powell's has them all), so it just depends on your budget.

  • Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (Kris Bordessa) - I've owned a number of lifestyle books over the years that go over things like canning, gardening, beekeeping, chickenkeeping, etc., but quickly found that they weren't worth much to reference back to later as they all covered the basics of what some refer to as "homesteading" and often have a my-way-or-the-highway approach to doing things. Many of them are also not as green - or healthy - as they purport, and often reek of privilege, without a sense of how to make this work for everyone. This is the only reference book (beyond my - not pictured - favorite garden book, Buckingham's Kitchen Garden - and a book on roses that my dad bequeathed me years) I've kept, because there is literally always something in there to learn, that I've never tried, and that is REALISTIC to try.

  • The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience & Farming (Natasha Bowen) - This came recommended by a classmate in the aforementioned Food Systems & Public Health class I took, and I absolutely inhaled it. Not only are there a large number of case studies, they are beautifully told, incredibly inspiring, and totally down to earth. Bowen magnificently educates the reader on the long history of BIPOC farmers in our country and reminds us of how sustainable agriculture is essential to our culture AND our health as human beings.

  • Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal (Mark Bittman) - Holy cow. Okay so I still have this checked out from the library, haven't even finished it, and it's on this list. It's brilliant, and not at all what I expected as it dives DEEP into humankind's relationship with food before modern day agriculture and takes us to present day. I've read quite a bit of Pollan/Salatin-esque books on food systems but Bittman is so far beyond their work. If you've read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States or Nikole Hannah-Jones 1619 Project, think about the first time you inhaled their words, and how incredibly moved you were. Few books make me have to stop and take a break and breathe it all in: Bittman's is one.

  • Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture (Shannon Hayes) - I've saved my favorite for the end. This book came to me at the exact time I needed to read it. Literally as I left my last corporate job over a decade ago, I stumbled upon this book, and when people ask 'what books changed your life?' I can only name them on one hand - Liz Gilbert's Eat Pray Love; Maya Angelou's Singin' & Swingin' & Gettin' Merry Like Christmas; Soraya Chemaly's Rage Becomes Her; Gloria Steinem's Revolution From Within; and this one. It's all about seeing the world in a different, cut-the-BS, simpler way. It challenges you to think about your needs in a way that is NOT about what society has trained us to desire, but what we truly need to be happy. Reading this helped me laser focus on my business, getting shit done and paying off every ounce of debt I had. After reading this, I no longer can imagine having a car payment, forcing myself into debt for a bigger house, or blindly following every doctor's order without a second opinion. Now I ask more questions, dig deeper, find unique ways to save, and think about decisions based on MY needs - not theirs. It changed my life in a momentous way.


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