This Organic Life

This Organic Life

Confessions of A Suburban Homesteader

Book - 2001
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Joan Dye Gussow is an extraordinarily ordinary woman. She lives in a home not unlike the average home in a neighborhood that is, more or less, typically suburban. What sets her apart from the rest of us is that she thinks more deeply--and in more eloquent detail--about food. In sharing her ponderings, she sets a delightful example for those of us who seek the healthiest, most pleasurable lifestyle within an environment determined to propel us in the opposite direction. Joan is a suburbanite with a green thumb, with a feisty, defiant spirit and a relentlessly positive outlook. At the heart of This Organic Life is the premise that locally grown food eaten in season makes sense economically, ecologically, and gastronomically. Transporting produce to New York from California--not to mention Central and South America, Australia, or Europe--consumes more energy in transit than it yields in calories. (It costs 435 fossil fuel calories to fly a 5-calorie strawberry from California to New York.) Add in the deleterious effects of agribusiness, such as the endless cycle of pesticide, herbicide, and chemical fertilizers; the loss of topsoil from erosion of over-tilled croplands; depleted aquifers and soil salinization from over-irrigation; and the arguments in favor of "this organic life" become overwhelmingly convincing. Joan's story is funny and fiery as she points out the absurdities we have unthinkingly come to accept. You won't find an electric can opener in this woman's house. In fact, you probably won't find many cans, as Joan has discovered ways to nourish herself, literally and spiritually, from her own backyard. If you are looking for a tale of courage and independence in a setting that is entirely familiar, read her story.
Publisher: White River Junction, Vt. : Chelsea Green Pub. Co., c2001
ISBN: 9781890132941
Branch Call Number: 635/.0484/09747/28/Gus 359401 1
Characteristics: xi, 273 p. --


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Feb 04, 2018

I had been warned about the "chatty" style and the lack of focus, but I was intrigued enough about the subject itself to overlook those potential flaws. I used to belong to a CSA Farm, so the subject of sustainable and responsible agriculture is close to my heart.

The style of writing did not bother me. Although she does seem at times to meander in the early chapters, she has quite a few complicated and inter-related subjects to cover: the purchase of her first home, the purchase of her new home, the development of her commitment to self-sufficient agriculture (or something close to it), and the death of her husband. Once those subjects are covered, I found the book became clearer and more linear (for better or worse).

Most of what she says I can't argue with. I agree that there is something fundamentally wrong with a food production system that makes it more affordable for we Northeasterners to buy food shipped in from California than to buy food from our own home states. When she describes the system as essentially a lot of fuel going to ship cold water, one has to want to reevaluate their food choices.

I found myself nodding in agreement when she talked about the taste of the foods we have the "luxury" of being able to buy year round. Having tasted food right off the farm, I can verify that there is a world of difference between it and the items you find in your store- even if they are "in season". Fresh produce does get addictive. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of having enough land to grow a substantial garden on, as Gussow points out. She suggests a CSA as an alternative, but that can be an unrealistic commitment for many people as well.

I took puzzled offense to her chapter on vegetarianism. While I feel that serious gardeners and farmers have a right to protect their crops from "varmints" and that therefore there is a little death in even the most stringent vegan diet, I felt that she completely dropped the ball in her argument against a vegetarian diet. Throughout the book she drives home that the gasoline used to ship food all over the country contributes to the greenhouse effect that caused her (and most of the country) some of the most erratic summers and winters on record. In her dismissal of the vegetarian diet, she does not once make mention of the fact that the waste from the livestock is also a major contributor to the greenhouse effect. She talks about an organization that touted the belief that the planet would return to an Eden-like state if we all stopped eating meat. Perhaps (although she gives an incomplete argument against that assertion), but the argument I have heard for the last decade is that if everyone in the US cut their consumption of meat by 10%, we would significantly reduce energy consumption and livestock waste- enough to make a difference in the global warming trend she (and I) is so concerned about.

That aside, this is a book worth reading if you are interested in sustainable agriculture. Again, it's not something we'll all be able to do, but it's something we can all participate in.

May 23, 2013

Gussow has a wonderfully easy writing style, a pleasure to read from a gardener's perspective, and interesting to read from a food perspective. Plus some good recipes along the way!

Apr 02, 2011

enjoyable story about one woman's quest to eat local food and grow much of it herself. interesting how this has taken off in 10 years.

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