"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Book Review "Independence Days" by Sharon Astyk

I've been reading a terrific book. It's called Independence Days by Sharon Astyk. It is a guide - a very practical guide - to creating a food store from mostly local and home grown or home preserved foods. Sharon also writes a blog http://sharonastyk.com/ which I highly recommend.

Her book is not only useful, but also down-to-earth, sensible, ethical, spiritual, and funny. Believe it or not, a book about canning beets and storing water has kept me up until one in the morning because I simply can't put it down. Maybe that says something about me, I don't know.

At first, I was rather alarmed. Here, after all, is a clearly smart, sane, sensible and humorous woman - much like myself, I like to think - who is nonetheless concerned about some fairly extreme scenarios. Some of the same scenarios that keep me up at night, in fact. Climate refugees numbering in the hundreds of millions. Decades long drought decimating the food supply and disrupting municipal water supplies. The collapse of safety nets to which we have all become accustomed.

Yet, instead of blithering like an idiot, as I have tended to do, she has apparently been slowly and steadily working on creating a safety net that encompasses not only her own family, but which also takes into consideration the necessity of rebuilding small scale community resources such as village-level energy generation and water and waste management. Sharon manages to talk about such things as rain water catchment and medication shelf-lives without sounding like a crackpot.

One of the concepts I loved in her book is that of the Chatelaine - an honorable office in the middle ages for which there is no modern equivalent. A chatelaine is the "keeper of the keys," the manager of the food stores and the means of production on an estate. The chatelaine would, for example, be in charge of knowing what the consumption needs of the household are - from wheat flour to medicinal herbs - and of procuring them or of organizing the means to produce them. A kitchen garden, an herb garden, maintaining a network of neighbors that can provide necessities that no individual household can. Creating and organizing a pantry. Performing and/or overseeing food preservation and rotation. Probably also knowing and managing the needs of the household animals that provide food like chickens and goats.

I realized instantly that here is this terrific word, this regal-sounding word out of my own ethnic history, that describes and gives importance to the job that I actually do - in addition, of course, to my jobs as mother and wife, as teacher and accountant and scullery maid. And chauffeur and laundress and cook and goatherd and cheesemaker-in-chief and .... blah blah blah. Anyway, here is a word to describe an office of dignity and importance. I appreciate that, even if nobody else in my household is likely to.

Sharon also writes eloquently about the moral obligations of the (globally speaking) wealthy. She rightly points out that every religion and traditional society we know of stresses the importance of hospitality - and that these traditions and religious obligations were formed at times of relative poverty. We have never been richer than we are now. Those of us who can afford to put aside food and water, who can afford to invest in the tools and utilities that will be needed by our neighbors in the future - small scale water collection and purification, communal ovens or wells or tractors or granaries - should do so, not only as a mitzvah (Sharon is a Jew) but also as a means of preserving the common security, including our own.

If I have a complaint about this book it is that it seems to still be more a collection of blog posts than an integrated work of literature. But that is a complaint I have generally about many recent books and it seems like a complaint that should be directed more at the editor than at the author. Hey editors: blogs are great, and I love them, but they aren't books. Help the authors make it a book.

That being said, I urge you all to read this book. It is absorbing, entertaining, thought-provoking, and informative all at the same time. Yay Sharon!


Milkweed said...

Thanks for the suggestion - looks great and I appreciate your detailed overview...I'll check it out!

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