Month: February 2022

by Frances Moore Lappé

This book was first published in 1971. But I’m noting the 2021 publication date below, because I read the revised edition which has of course a new introduction and preface, but also additional chapters and rewritten chapters, plus many added or revised recipes (and some were deleted). While it’s still outdated in regards to the nutritional info (according to some other reviews I’ve read), the content about how politics and economics shape our food options, seems just as relevant today. Not to mention the environmental issues! To be honest, I skimmed a large portion of this book (which is why I gave it three stars instead of four)- one of the introductions in particular was hard to read, it felt very rambling and full of short snippets that expected me to already know a lot about the author and her stance on things. I had less interest in reading about the politics around food, though it is eye-opening to realize how much goes wrong with food systems all over the world. Lappé insists that most countries produce well over the amount of food needed for their populations, but so much is wasted, or exported (because that makes more money) or in myriad ways made inaccessible to the poor, that far too many people still suffer from hunger. Her other big point is that far too much land is used to grow food for livestock- and that more food would be available for people, if we just ate the plants that grow on that land ourselves. Eating low on the food chain, consuming mostly fruits, vegetables and grains. She’s not vegetarian though and quite a few of the recipes in the book contain animal products (though none feature meat). It’s about eating whole foods instead of processed items, and making plant foods the center of the diet, not meat. The reciepes provided are supposed to give you plenty of protein through a variety of whole grains and vegetables (lots of them feature beans or legumes). I’m curious to try a few so copied some of them down.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
415 pages, 2021

by Mervyn Cowie

Subtitled: The Story of Africa’s Great Animal Preserves, the ROYAL NATIONAL PARKS of KENYA, as Told by Their First Director. It’s pretty much what that says. The author grew up near Nairobi, when it was just the tiny beginning of a town. His father was a big-game hunter and Cowie learned the same skills, but as he got older he started to feel that killing wildlife for mere trophies or to get rid of threats to livestock was incredibly wasteful. He became imbued with a desire to protect wild lands that he saw being overrun by cattle, plowed for crops or razed to build houses. This book is about his life’s work to protect the animals, thwart poachers, influence public opinion and people in power in order to get land set aside for national parks. Then there was the effort to staff the parks, manage visitors, instill rules (early on it was common for people to approach lions and other wildlife far to casually on foot- for a better view or photographs). The author admits to his own errors early on- for example habituating a lion family so they could impress a dignitary by taking them to view the animals. End result was the lions became so used to humans they were finally deemed dangerous and had to be shot. There are many small stories about encounters with rhinos, hippos and buffalo, hyenas stealing things, the importance of vultures to the ecosystem and more. There’s also a lot about local politics, warfare that interrupted the work on establishing the park system (two world wars and a local rebellion), and the difficulties with managing everything that had to do with such an endeavor. Of course I found the parts about the animals more interesting, but the rest shows just how hard it is to change people’s minds, and what a significant difference this man’s work had.

Rating: 3/5
245 pages, 1961

by George Schaller

A much better read than The Serengeti Lion, this book details what the field work was like on a personal level. Schaller describes the difficulties he encountered, from getting vehicles stuck in ruts, to loosing track of animals (radio-tracking was in its infancy). One chapter is about how his family handled living in the bush and their various wild pets (at different times, a warthog, mongoose and lion cub). There’s a chapter about dealing with poachers and examining the significance of that problem, listing man right up there alongside the prominent predators. I enjoyed greatly the chapters on wild hunting dogs, cheetah and leopards, but of course it is mostly about lion prides. It has all the same information as The Serengeti Lion (some of the sentences repeated word-for-word) but with far fewer statistics and more inclusion of personal descriptions and interesting incidents. Especially Schaller’s own feelings and perceptions about the work, the animals’ individualities, and the landscape around him.  It’s very palpable through his words how much the author loved the land and admired the animals he studied. Very interesting is a final chapter where he and a companion roamed the landscape to see how many opportunities they would have of scavenging food or finding weak prey they could easily tackle- once he laid hands on a sick zebra foal, another on a blind giraffe calf- in order to estimate how well primitive hominids could have lived in the area. I don’t know how well his assumptions stand up to modern anthropology, though. These words very nicely state his feelings about it all:

Many people seem content with the anonymity of modern life, subverting themselves by restlessly searching for ever more powerful stimuli- louder noises, faster cars- until their inner selves shrivel, their existence looses awareness, while their bodies race on. Others abhor life in the city. They strive to return to the elemental complexity of the wilderness; they seek the touch of earth and wind and rock. I am of the latter type, and throughout my life I have tried to heed the ancient call that demands contact with nature, foregoing security for pleasure. I prefer a life of quiet, of consciousness with beauty around me, a life where my scientific endeavors are enriched by a sense of unity with the animals I study.

Also this sentence near the end really struck me. I think it applies to many things, not just the persecution of hyenas and wild dogs: Man is always quick to condemn, but slow to gather facts, and, if some are available, even slower to accept them.

I highly recommend this book over the prior one. It’s just the kind of work a casual reader like myself can appreciate, enjoy and learn from.

Rating: 4/5
287 pages, 1973

A Study of Predator-Prey Relations

by George B. Schaller

A book that’s long been on my want-to-read list, but turned out to be slightly disappointing. It is a very early work from research on African lions, conducted by the author over a three-year period. At the time very little was known about lions- only a few people had studied them. Schaller’s intent was to find out what impact lions had on various prey species, and since the lives and habits of all the animals in the area are so interconnected, he included other predators in his study too. Mostly of course, it is about the lions- how they used the land, pride dynamics, hunting methods, how often they hunted and how much they ate (compared to how much other animals stole or what the lions abandoned), mortality rate of different age groups, numbers of prey animals killed per species, age group, location, time of year, etc. There’s lots of numbers, percentages and charts which makes it valuable scientific data but rather dry reading. More interesting for me are the details about the lion’s lives. I had no idea, for example, that the pride structure was so fluid- males being replaced every three to six years, young often moving out, large numbers of nomads, mating between residents and nomads, etc. I’m surprised at how indifferent the lionesses seemed towards their own cubs- when food was scarce the lioness would eat herself and leave the cubs to starve- and they were also not actively protected much it sounds. Curious to the reason, but Schaller had no insight. (In contrast, wild dogs would carry food to their young, and let them eat first at a carcass). Sounds like the cubs had an advantage in another way though- they would often nurse from other females in the pride, not just their own mother. And here’s an unimportant but very odd detail which surprised me- did you know some lions have a horny nail protruding from the end of their tail? Like a manticore spike, hidden in the tuft of fur there. I’d never heard of this before!

The book also looks at the different prey species- how they react to lions, how their numbers are impacted by predation, what animals in the population are most vulnerable, etc. Also details on the main predators that live in the same area as lions- cheetah, hyenas, wild dogs, jackals, vultures, leopards and man. Interesting to note that lions don’t seem to choose the weakest or sick prey, whereas wild dogs and cheetah apparently do. Schaller’s final conclusion was that lions are an important part of the system in keeping prey numbers in check (even though they don’t necessarily eat the sick ones) and should be protected. At the time, predators were wantonly killed for all kinds of reasons- wild dogs and hyenas just because people thought their feeding methods and habits were distasteful, lions for trophies or to protect livestock- so I believe his research helped a lot to provide a true picture of how important the lion’s place is in the ecosystem.

However I am enjoying a lot more this other Schaller book called Golden Shadows, Flying Hooves– which tells the personal story behind his lion study. It’s far more readable and has all kinds of details this report didn’t include.

Rating: 3/5
480 pages, 1972

A Gluten-Free Survival Guide

by Elisabeth Hasselbeck

I was looking for cookbooks at the library and came across this on the shelf. It was a quick read, and the first I’ve done that gives me a perspective of someone else who’s “been there.” I don’t know anything about the celebrity author except that she was on “Survivor” (which I didn’t see). It was that experience that made her realize she had a serious health issue- she’d always suffered from severe stomach pain and digestive problems, but they disappeared when she was on the reality show. Afterwards she realized she hadn’t eaten any bread or wheat products during that time- and pretty soon she got diagnosed with celiac disease (with difficulty). She wrote the book to provide information and give tips on how to navigate living “G-free”- everything from cleaning your kitchen to food shopping and what to do in restaurants or attending dinner parties. The forward is written by an actual doctor, and she quotes him a few times, but most of it is just written from her own personal experience.

I had mixed feelings about it all. On the one hand, I don’t think I have celiac disease, but I am becoming more certain that I have a gluten intolerance. I don’t experience the same symptoms this author did, but mine are significant enough that I feel like I never want to go backwards- I’ve been mostly gluten free for a few months now, and the few times I do make a mistake (didn’t know there’s gluten in soy sauce- oops! or probably in the barbecue my husband brought home once) I can definitely tell. Like her, it takes my body exactly three days to get back to normal- or what I hope is now my normal! I appreciated that she was honest about how hard it is to be gluten-free at first, about her personal slips, the moments when she just caved and ate things she knew would make her sick, or felt embarrassed to explain it to people, etc.

Well, so her book has a lot of descriptions and lists of what to avoid, how to read labels, how to tell friends or restaurant waiters what you can’t eat, and strategies for travel or eating out. Some of it affirmed what I have already learned, other details were new to me. I didn’t realize there’s gluten in many lotions and shampoos, for example. I knew to avoid teriyaki and soy sauce (there are gluten-free versions) but just realized the imitation vanilla I bought last month because the store ran out of the real thing (there’s still a lot of blank spaces on shelves here probably due to covid-related supply chain issues- and it’s totally random- one week there’s no milk, the next it’s cream cheese or onions or all the fresh green produce) well, the vanilla maybe has gluten (could be in the caramel coloring which is made from malt which is from barley which has gluten). It gets complicated you see. I don’t know for sure unless I call the manufacturer (a thing this author apparently has done repeatedly for many products) but I’d rather have real vanilla on my shelf again anyway so I’m just going to replace it.

What I found surprising was how fanatical she is about avoiding contamination. Maybe because I seem to just have an intolerance which is less severe, but I haven’t gone so far as to avoid touching bread crumbs on the counter, or washing my hands after fixing bagel for my kid, for example. I do wonder now though, if the nights I don’t sleep quite as well, or the days I have joint pain again, are following an accidental contact. It certainly doesn’t take much in terms of ingestion to trigger my symptoms I’ve found. (I have learned to avoid possible cross-contamination from walnuts in products I buy- having reacted to something that the only possible reason is that it was “made in a facility that also processes tree nuts”).

In terms of strategies- I thought I would learn something helpful here but I was a bit disappointed. I can’t picture dropping on the floor a cookie someone insisted I eat to avoid refusing it- or putting my plate in front of someone else at a dinner table while eating energy bars out of my lap. Her biggest one seems to be eat as much as you can before leaving the house, so you’re not hungry if you can’t eat where you go. This book is older, I’ve found many food items at the store are labeled “certified gluten free” now and most restaurants I’ve been to (the very few times we’ve eaten out recently) have things marked on the menu that are gluten-free (or can be made so upon request) so I don’t think I need to carry a special card around explaining what that actually means for restaurant staff (but I was annoyed that she stated in the book a copy of her diet card was provided in the back- and it was not there). The entire chapter about going gluten-free as a way to eat healthier was also rather off-putting to me. Yes, it might make you make healthier food choices because you simply have to avoid so many processed foods- but I do not think it’s an automatic way to loose weight and I was annoyed that she kept touting this as a weight-loss diet.

I’m sure there’s much better books out there about being gluten-free and I’ll probably look for some.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
234 pages, 2009

More opinions: So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
anyone else?

Honest Essays on Blood Sport

by David Petersen

The viewpoints of hunters. From collected essays, and a few book excerpts. They’re really varied. Most of them write about hunting deer or elk, sometimes pronghorn antelope. A few also include fishing and there’s discussions on hunting bears near the end of the book, also whales or seals in the north. Many different opinions and methods, from those who seek trophies and bragging rights, to people solely interested in getting meat to feed their families. The majority are very reasonable-sounding men who value feeling a connection to nature and the land, who recognize that all life depends on other life, and consider that taking one deer for a year’s supply of meat is less harmful to the environement and allows the animal a better life, than buying hamburger meat in the store from a cow that got fat in a feedlot. It almost persuades me to wish I had learned to stalk deer in the woods alongside my father, surely the skill and keen observation and patience needed is challenge enough. Some of the writings featured here are brisk and argumentative, some lean heavily on the side of proving things and get a bit technical or opinionated, many are just describing what a particular hunt was actually like. There’s even a few descriptions of things like men taking shots at grouse that feed on roadsides, taking fish from spawning streams by hand, shooting pen-raised birds released from towers, or quietly and unobtrusively poaching deer. Questionable perhaps, but here clearly pictured with only light criticism. Not all the writer’s voices resonated with me- some I found awkward or dull, but most gave me new things to think about, new ways to look at this topic. It’s getting shelved in my library right alongside Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America– as they seem to compliment each other.

Note on the publication date: it’s when the author compiled the works. Actual publication dates of the individual essays range from 1984 to 1996.

Rating: 4/5
332 pages, 1996

Forty Seasons of Mountain Living

by Karen Auvinen

I’m disappointed to say this book didn’t really get a hold on me in any way. It reminds me of The Salt Path in that a terrible disaster strikes the author near the beginning, leaving her with almost nothing. It reminds me of Fox and I because it’s about a woman who felt she didn’t fit in, who needed to find her own way and much preferred living alone, in wild spaces. But sadly I didn’t get much sense of those spaces, or of her wildlife observations, even though she mentions taking copious notes of them, she never really shares them in detail. The book is more about her difficult childhood, uneven friendships with people in town, a man she briefly dates after being single for over a decade, amazingly delicious food she cooks, her writing, the many ways that snow falls and cold closes in, sputtering attempts at a garden in the brief season (too much shade and wild animals eating things), admiration of hummingbirds, and struggles to deal with her elderly mother’s failing health (which brings up close contact with her estranged siblings). In the few final pages she describes a disastrous mudslide and flood that buried much of her town and finally meeting a man who loved her completely and made her feel safe. She tends to her beloved dog through his final days, and then moves on to live elsewhere. It’s a book about someone’s life, and very much about the dog her close companion- though I admit the cover beguiled me, thinking there’d be a fox. Well there is– in the epilogue. A lovely fox that visits the cabin regularly for a while, and is featured on a handful of pages. I do really like that the cover image, and some watercolor paintings inside the book (reproduced in black and white) were created by the new man in her life. They’re of the actual place where she lived. I’m sorry this book didn’t resonate with me- it’s very nicely written, and is many things, none are quite what I expected though. Could just be wrong place, wrong time for this reader.

Rating: 3/5
302 pages, 2018


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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