Permanent Publications, 2018
Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain
When I look at the bookcase in my study, I can see one entire, four feet wide shelf devoted to books on health, nutrition, permaculture, organic gardening, food production, vegetarianism and cookery. Goodness knows how much money that shelf represents. There are hundreds of thousands of words between those covers and many wonderful pictures. Even though I have read all those books at one time or another, there is, of course, a lot of information on those shelves that I have not retained. But the essential core of knowledge that I needed from them, I did retain, and it has guided me for many years. So I am grateful for them.
However, if I were starting out now, maybe I could have obtained exactly the same thing—that essential core of knowledge—from just one book. Because GreenSpirit member Piers Warren and his daughter Ella Bee Glendining have somehow managed to assemble, between two covers, pretty much everything that the ordinary person would need to know in order to feed themselves in an optimally healthy, ecologically sound and sustainable way.
Piers and Ella, who are both committed vegans, start by explaining why veganism—which is becoming increasingly popular—is the most ecologically responsible diet for today’s overpopulated world and the best way to avoid colluding with an industrialized system of food production that exacerbates climate change and treats other living creatures as mere commodities.
As they point out, meat and dairy are not essential to our bodies. We have the same digestive systems and dentition as our close relatives, gorillas, who thrive almost entirely on shoots, leaves and fruits (the ants and termites they occasionally eat make up less than 0.1% of their diet). They clearly
get enough protein and other dietary requirements from this plant-based diet to grow immensely strong. People eat so much meat and dairy worldwide simply because they like the taste – a shallow reason to fund cruelty and climate change at the expense of our own health, especially when vegan food can be extremely delicious.
Then, starting with the basics of organic gardening—soil fertility, composting, mulching, crop rotation, companion planting etc.—and including some of the basics of permaculture such as ‘reading’ the land, zones, and forest gardens, they teach the reader everything he or she might need to know to establish a backyard (or allotment) food supply, including where to buy seed, what to plant and where and when, how to protect and feed the plants, and how to tend and harvest them. Plus they cover seed-saving, storage and preservation methods such as pickling and bottling and discuss how we might best obtain ingredients that we feel we need to round out our diet but which cannot be grown in our climate.
They include useful descriptions/evaluations of the various grains, seeds, oils and sweeteners that one might want to use in cooking. Plus a table of optimum ways to obtain what one cannot grow oneself, in order of preference, starting with barter between neighbours and ending with supermarkets.
Trying to eat seasonally and locally as much as one can is of course the key. As the authors remind us: Using seasonal ingredients grown locally helps the fight against food miles (how far a food item is transported from producer to consumer). It is nonsensical that we can buy asparagus imported from South America at the same time as our own local asparagus is available. Apples flown halfway round the world are on sale just as our local ones are in season. Every time we buy an imported foodstuff that grows in our own country, we are contributing to climate change unnecessarily.
The final section of the book is devoted to a collection of seasonal, mouth-wateringly delicious vegan recipes, arranged month by month. These include not only the unusual sort of things that non-vegans might not be familiar with, like cashew cheese, but beloved old favourites—hash browns, apple and blackberry crumble, brownies—with a new twist.
The whole book is illustrated with gorgeous colour plates, from a basket of just-picked vegetables that look so fresh they practically jump off the page to dishes so healthy and delicious-looking that you can’t wait to try them out.
Thank you, Piers and Ella, for a wonderful, useful book. I hope it becomes a best-seller. It certainly deserves to.