Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating

By Jane Goodall, Gary McAvoy, Gail Hudson

Book Review

A few years ago, I read Jane Goodall’s autobiographical book, Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey.  Her story is an amazing voyage of experience from her childhood in rural England to the forests of Gombe in Tanzania.  Goodall’s life has been a remarkable one.  She has been on the cutting edge of chimpanzee research, braving a life in the forest, and discovering many traits in her subjects – including, famously, the use of tools – once thought to be unique to humans.

Her research afforded her a chance to learn a great deal about the chimpanzees, but also, I can just imagine the effect on her soul of spending so much time out in the world as it was created, experiencing the beauty and danger of the wild.  From her time at Gombe, Goodall has dedicated her life to educating the world about Africa and chimpanzees as well as conservation and animal welfare.  Her voice has become one of the most respected in our world today.

So naturally, I was interested when I found that she had helped to author a book about food.  Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating is a call to awareness and action regarding our food and its sources throughout the world.  Goodall covers many issues regarding food production from farming, meat production and aquaculture, as well as discussing the health of our world’s water sources.  While there are numerous different concerns, in the realms of both ethics and nutrition, there is a common theme:  safety, health and sustainability are often sacrificed for the sake of profit.  She writes, for example, of the loss of the small farm along with its traditional ways of maintaining the land. The kind of rugged family farms that we envision as the source of our nutrition are rapidly disappearing to be replaced by larger corporate endeavors who use greater numbers of harmful chemicals and grow in less sustainable ways than traditional farming.  Much of our meat production occurs in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO’s, which carry both ethical and environmental costs and create health risks for the consumer.

It sounds like a lot of bad news!  And it is true that we face some very real challenges, even crises, in our world’s food supply.  But the word “Hope” in the title is not misplaced.  Harvest for Hope helps us to realize that we have both responsibility and choice in our eating.  We readers are offered ways to make a difference in what we eat, decisions we can make to have an impact on the food industry and the world.

Some of Goodall suggestions are farther reaching than many will want to go.  She strongly recommends vegetarianism, for example, citing the health benefits for both individuals and the globe.  She is right – and studies have backed her up – that more vegetables and less meat would be a tremendous benefit to our diet, especially in American culture in which meat is so central.  Still, even those who can’t make this leap are offered many avenues of change through food choice.

What I found in Harvest for Hope is solid, well cited information that can make us aware of the impact of our eating on both our health and our world.  This book gives us tools to make some good choices and leaves us with the call to do so.

Choice, the ability to make our own decisions, is something we hold dear in our land of the free.  Today’s high technology gives us a broad range of choices, and our choices have a greater impact on our world than at any other time in history.  Still, we often fail to make our choices mindfully.  We can be somewhat nearsighted when it comes to the ways our actions impact the world.  The busy-ness of our lifestyles discourages us from learning about and deeply considering important issues, specifically what goes into our bodies.  So if we are to remain true to our conscience – and for many of us, true to our faith – we will have to make the choice to live differently.  To turn our backs for a while on all the things we think we need to do, and take some time to think about what we eat.  Learn about the subject.  Make thoughtful choices.  Feed yourself and the world.

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