Thursday, April 30, 2009

Eating Green

Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood
by Taras Grescoe

Packed with useful, interesting, and thought-provoking information, Bottomfeeder is like The Omnivore's Dilemma of the oceans. Although I have not read Fast Food Nation, I can also see some parallels with that book and Bottomfeeder, as both are intended to help consumers make better food choices for the sake of their own health. Bottomfeeder also encourages us to choose our seafood with the long term health of the oceans and the entire planet in mind. If you love seafood, as I do, this is an important book to read, because it tells us very specifically how we can still enjoy seafood AND take care of the oceans. However, doing both these things simultaneously is only possible if we are willing to make a few sacrifices and not insist on eating whatever we want whenever we want it.

Bottomfeeder is a fascinating read - we get inside looks at the fisheries industry, high-end and low-end restaurants and their philosphies and practices of seafood, and the logistics/mechanics of fishing itself. We learn about healthy, ecologically sound fishing practices that do not decimate the populations of the fish, as well as terrible practices that kill not only a few fish for eating, but mess up the habitats of the fish and prevent them (and other species from reproducing. After reading this book, I have hope for the future of oceans and marine life, for Grescoe gives us tons of good information and a great list of resources that we can turn to so that we can learn even more. Grescoe himself carried a small credit-card sized card in his wallet that lists fish that are fished sustainably and whose populations are not currently endangered. Just being armed with that information can help people make better choices.

One thing I noticed is that there are not across the board rules for eating seafood ethically. For example, some fish farming ("aquaculture") is a good thing. Oysters, clams, and mussels' respiration process involves filtering water through their own systems, so farming those shellfish actually helps to clean our oceans and increases the population at the same time. Farmed shrimp and salmon, however, are another story. Bottomfeeder contains hideous descriptions of the bacteria that plague these farmed fish, the chemicals and synthetic hormones used in raising them, and the damage that the farmed species do to the wild populations when they accidentally get intermingled. Grescoe's description of sea lice (GROSS!) on farmed salmon is enough by itself to turn the reader off the stuff (I haven't had any since I read the book, and have no plans to).

As far as the books title goes, "Bottomfeeder," refers to the fish who are realtively low on the food chain. Apparently, it is better for us to eat from the bottom of the chain, because the more of the big predators that we eat (shark and swordfish, for example, as well as bluefin tuna), the more havoc it plays on the populations of the smaller fish. When one link of the chain gets to be too populated or not populated enough, all links are affected. So, we should be bottomfeeders and know which fish are plentiful, fished sustainably, AND tasty. Bottomfeeder is a good reminder of the connectedness of all creation, and our responsibility to be good stewards of the oceans and the whole planet. The choices we make DO matter, and while the fish populations are precarious, the situation is far from hopeless.

Reverent Reader

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

That Human Connection

Same Kind of Different as Me
by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

Read this - you'll be glad you did. The writing itself is not gorgeous - the words are the vehicle used to tell the story, but the prose does not sing. The theology of the main characters is limited in ways that make my teeth itch. I suspect that if I were to meet Ron Hall and his late wife, Deborah, in person, I would find them likable and personable, but there would be many theological points on which we would disagree (not to mention political). The story of the unlikely relationship between Denver Moore and the Halls, though, is inspiring and hopeful. The power of connection between people and the possibility of redemption for even the most far gone of souls are ideas worth contemplating, and Same Kind of Different as Me helps us do that.

I read this several weeks ago and then got way behind on my blogging due to some extenuating circumstances with both work and family. This longer than normal lag between reading a book and posting about it, though, has caused me to see that Same Kind of Different as Me is staying with me. There are many, many books that I enjoy and within which I find interesting, stimulating, and moving ideas. Even so, though, details of narratives fade fairly quickly for me and I often wish I had time to reread more books because I think I miss stuff in my hunger to read and find out what happens next. This book, though, even though it is far from a literary masterpiece, has penetrated my consciousness. I find myself thinking about Denver Moore and the hope he inspires for people who are homeless and drug addicted. I think about Ron Hall and how an arrogant, shallow person of privilege can be transformed into a caring advocate for people who are less fortunate than he is. That is the power of relationship and connection. Thanks be to God.

Denver Moore may be illiterate, but he is no dummy. His words brim with pragmatism and spiritual wisdom. In his own unique dialect, he shares his life with us - the good, bad, and REALLY ugly parts. Even though he has lived most of his life on the streets, he maintains that his life is not better AND not worse than Ron and Deborah Hall's - just different. At one point, he is looking at Ron Hall's key chain, the keys to Ron's multiple vehicles, homes, and offices. "Do you own all that stuff or does it own you?" Denver asks Ron. Touche'. Towards the end of the book, he says that we are all "the same kind of different." What everyone needs is to be loved, to be forgiven, and to be made to feel worthwhile. He says in a way, we are all homeless - we are all searching for that home that we can never lose - the home that we find in the presence of our Creator God.

Reverent Reader

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Things I've Been Silent About
by Azar Nafisi

Relationships are complicated and often painful, whether it is a relationship with a family member or a home country. Nafisi expresses those mixed feelings, misunderstandings, and manipulations very vividly in her newest book Things I've Been Silent About. Many may remember her prior book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, which tells the story of a group of women (Nafisi's former students at the University of Tehran) who met secretly to read and discuss forbidden works of literature after the 1978 Islamic revolution in Iran. Things I've Been Silent About also touches on the power of reading to liberate the mind and spirit in the face of oppression, but also gives us more detail about Nafisi's family and personal life, as well as the recent history of Iran.

Azar Nafisi gives us a window into the rich culture and literature of both ancient Persia and modern Iran, and her descriptions of the marketplaces and natural beauty are absolutely lyrical. Her childhood was relatively privileged. Her father was a close ally of the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and for a time he served as Mayor of Tehran. Her mother briefly served in the Iranian Parliament. However, the family had more than its share of sorrow, when her father was imprisoned for several years because the Shah had come to see him as a threat and rival. Nafisi herself was educated here in the United States (at my own alma mater, the University of Oklahoma). While a professor in Tehran in the early 1980s, she lost her job because she refused to wear a veil in public.

Azar Nafisi lives in the United States now and has raised her family here. While she appreciates the opportunities she has enjoyed in our country, her homesickness for Iran is palpable in her writing. She expresses deep love and longing for her home nation but also sadness and even disgust at the way Islamic faith and culture has been corrupted, causing unnecessary grief for so very many Iranian families. Likewise, Nafisi's feelings about her own family, especially her mother (who died just a few years ago) are complex. The two of them clashed almost constantly (her mother strikes me as a manipulative and histrionic person), yet love was present in the relationship and it is clear that Nafisi still grieves the chasms between them that could never be bridged. She is to be commended for writing about difficult, personal subjects so honestly, for in doing so she challenges us to confront the troubled relationships in our own lives and consider if those are worth making the effort to salvage. She also speaks eloquently to the parts of each of us that still long for home, even when we have created a new home that shelters us more adequately.

Things I've Been Silent About is worth reading for anyone who wants to experience a bit of the richness present in the Iranian mind and culture, as well as people who love reading and understand it to be a foundation for the interior life. Nafisi is a wonderful writer - her insights into Iran and her own life speak to all of our common humanity.

Reverent Reader

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Short Break

Hello, fellow readers. I'm sorry I have been negligent in my blogging lately. We had a spurt of injury/illness time in our family, and we lost a beloved congregation member and close family friend yesterday. She was a wonderful vibrant woman taken from us too quickly and too soon. As Ben Bradlee said when he eulogized Katharine Graham several years ago "She was a spectacular dame, and I loved her very much." That pretty much sums up how I (and so very many others) felt about BL.

I find that I am feeling a little overwhelmed this week - I have a backlog of books and even some articles that I want to post about (should that be called a "backblog?"), but am having trouble finding the time and/or energy to organize my thoughts in ways that I think are engaging or meaningful. What little energy there is will be devoted to holding steady for my family and congregation, and doing what I pray will be my best work for BL.

Given that reality, I am taking a one-week break from "Ex Libris Fides." Tune in again beginning Tuesday, April 21 for reviews on Azar Nafisi's Things I've Been Silent About, Ron Hall and Denver Moore's Same Kind of Different As Me, and much, much more.

Reverent Reader

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Second Tier

The Double Bind
by Chris Bohjalian

I refer to this as a "second tier" book because there is nothing awful about it, but nor does it make a major impression. While reading it, I enjoyed it and found it a pretty engaging story that moved along at a good clip. However, it is not one of those books that sticks with you or that you find yourself wanting to read over and over again. There are lots of second tier books out there, and they serve a purpose. Without them, we would not recognize first tier books when we encountered them.

One problem with The Double Bind is that there is a Sixth Sense-esque twist at the end, but it does not come as a surprise. Any halfway discerning reader who is paying attention can spot it about 100 pages from the end. I can't write about it because that would spoil the story for those who choose to read it, but in my opinion the big revelation did not pack enough punch.

In brief, The Double Bind traces the detective work of a young female social worker as she investigates the history of some photographs taken by one of her recently deceased clients who was both homeless and mentally ill. Interestingly, the author got the idea for the story from a real client in a Vermont homeless shelter. One of the book's strengths is that it serves as a reminder that every homeless person has a history and a story that are worth hearing. The most unlikely people can have talents and gifts that do contribute to society, whether we choose to recognize them or not. The book also leads us to question our preconceived notions about the mentally ill.

Reverent Reader