Each of the following five books is, in one way or another, about food – though none in the traditional sense. Their subjects range from entomophagy (eating insects) to a North American movement reviving local grain. They are all about hunger. Some focus on the hunger for new skills and stronger, more self-sufficient communities. Others seek sustainable ways to help the billion vulnerable people who lack basic food security around the world. Still others urge us to step out of our comfort zones when it comes to how we think about agriculture’s environmental impact. From a restaurant in Kigali, Rwanda, to an organic farm in Duncan, British Columbia, each of these books offers something to chew on.
By Josh Ruxin
To this day, most people still associate Rwanda with one thing — the genocide that occurred there nearly 20 years ago. There’s a lot more to the equatorial country than its tragic past, though, and Josh Ruxin sets out to paint a different picture of Rwanda in his new book “A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, Hope, and a Restaurant in Rwanda.” Ruxin moved from Manhattan to Rwanda with his wife Alissa in 2006, after a donor and admirer of his entrepreneurial company, Health Builders, offered him the funds to build a real-life prototype of a perfectly developed sustainable village.
In “A Thousand Hills to Heaven,” Ruxin shares how the couple’s initial work in helping to rebuild the country’s health care system led to the construction and establishment of the restaurant Heaven in Kigali. After volunteering with orphans of the genocide and helping to raise scholarship support for many of them, Alissa Ruxin realized that what they really needed was jobs so that they could put themselves through school. She and Josh built and opened the gourmet restaurant as a sustainable model of what can be done to boost the local economy.
There’s no writing about Rwanda without addressing the impact of the genocide, but Ruxin balances this unavoidable truth with his optimistic, intimate and lush writing. He shares memories of starting and raising his own family in the beautiful land, and describes the opportunity to know and make a difference in the lives of the people of Kigali. "Rwandans are conscious of, and thankful for, the miraculous luck of their personal survival,” writes Ruxin. “They are proud of their country for how it has moved on from unspeakably dark times. They believe it is on its way to greatness — the Singapore of Africa, perhaps. That thought helps them get out of bed and keep at it.”
By living, working in, and writing about Africa, the Ruxins are building bridges others can cross, from the thousands of tourists who travel to Rwanda each year to visit the mountain gorillas to those looking for a way they too can make a difference. A memoir of love, adventure, and family, “A Thousand Hills to Heaven” also provides a remarkable view of how, through health, jobs and economic growth, our foreign aid programs can be quickly remodeled and work to end poverty worldwide.
"40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World"
By Howard G. Buffet
Billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffet has described his fortune as “a whole lot more money than anybody can spend intelligently on themselves,” and, in that spirit, he has looked for ways to spend it intelligently on the rest of the world. In 2006, he announced he was leaving the bulk of his fortune to philanthropy and posed a challenge to his son Howard: If you had the resources to accomplish something great in the world, what would you do? The challenge, of course, came with more than $3 billion to fund it. Howard G. Buffett immediately put the money to use in an effort to help the most vulnerable people on Earth, nearly a billion individuals who lack basic food security. His new book, “40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World,” supplies what his father Warren describes as a “guidebook for intelligent philanthropy."
Inspired by the concept that we each have about 40 chances to accomplish our goals in life, the book is a collection of 40 stories detailing Howard’s travels around the world in pursuit of productive ways to effect sustainable, lasting change. The Omaha-based farmer applies this idea to his farming as well as to his philanthropic goals. "It's easy to slip into a rhythm in life and just plod forward,” he explains. “Whether you love or hate what you're doing, whether you're good at it or struggling, life is not a treadmill — it's a moving walkway. There are no do-overs. We get a limited number of chances to do what we do, whatever we do, right. I started asking myself, ‘Am I making the most of my chances? Am I trying to improve and perfect my methods every single year? Am I listening to people with new ideas? Am I learning the right lessons from my mistakes?’”
“40 Chances” offers a way of thinking that speaks to every person who wants to make a difference. It presents new approaches that are desperately needed, and gives us all inspiration to transform each of our limited chances into opportunities to change the world.
If someone told you that you that you could save the planet, but you were going to have to eat bugs, you’d do it, right? Well, get ready to chow down, because according to Daniela Martin, eating insects is our last great hope. Her forthcoming book, “Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet” (set to be released on Feb. 11, 2014), is an easy-to-read primer on entomophagy, including the history, science, and culture behind this fascinating tradition. It’s also a travelogue of Martin’s journey around the U.S. and to Europe and Asia to meet some of the biggest proponents — and consumers — of edible insects.
If you’re not totally bugged out by the idea, Martin also includes recipes, a how-to guide for raising insects and a thorough list of edible bugs. Bugs have long been an important part of indigenous diets and cuisines around the world, and Martin shows that insects are an efficient and sustainable food source. A certified entomophagist and host of the web-based cooking show “Girl Meets Bug,” Martin is passionate about teaching people that insects are fabulous food — in addition to being the most environmentally-efficient animal protein source on the planet. Her dream is to increase public awareness and acceptance of edible insects, with the ultimate goals of helping to solve world hunger, support indigenous people and reduce pesticide use with this inexpensive, eco-friendly source of protein. It will likely take time for Americans to warm up to the idea of eating insects, but Martin is confident that with a little bit of patience and a lot of publicity, bugs will someday enjoy the same kind of popularity as sushi, which was once considered just as gross.
"Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth"
By Judith D. Schwartz
From bugs to bovine beasts, Judith D. Schwartz looks at soil as a crucible for our many overlapping environmental, economic and social crises in her book “Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth.” Five years ago, Schwartz wrote an article on the then fledgling Transition movement, and the reporting led her to begin asking questions like, “What is money?” Each inquiry led to more reporting, and she found herself on a whirlwind journalistic tour of New Economics, which sees the purpose of the economy as serving people and the environment — as opposed to the other way around. Her research on New Economics led her to environmental economics, which ultimately led to soil.
“Cows Save the Planet” draws on the work of renegade scientists and institutional whistleblowers from around the world, challenging much of the conventional thinking about global warming and other problems. We hear from thinkers and doers including Allan Savory, Christine Jones and David Pimentel and learn about the root causes of desertification, species extinctions and global heating. As Gretel Ehrlich writes in the foreword to Schwartz’s comprehensive book, “You might ask what dirt has to do with global warming. In reading this astounding book, we will learn how to unmake deserts, rethink the causes of climate chaos, bring back biodiversity, and restore nutrients to our food. In other words, how to stanch and heal the great wound we have inflicted on our planet. It's possible, and it starts right under our feet."
"Uprisings: A Hands-On Guide to the Community Grain Revolution"
By Sarah Simpson and Heather McLeod
Home vegetable gardening has grown in popularity in recent years, and harvesting your own herbs and tomatoes is a no-brainer for many urban dwellers. It’s a great step toward self-sufficiency, but Canadian journalist Sarah Simpson and organic farmer Heather McLeod, an encourage readers to consider making the leap to growing their own grains in their new book, “Uprisings: A Hands-On Guide to the Community Grain Revolution.” Along with her husband Brock, McLeod is the founder of Island Grains, a resource and support network for those interested in backyard grain growing. Simpson became acquainted with McLeod when she wrote a series on Island Grains, during which she tended to her own grain plot and learned the important ways in which growing and sharing grain brings communities together.
The book shows how communities can take back their power by reviving local grain production to improve food security, local economies and the environment. Profiles of 10 unique community models demonstrating how local grain production is making a difference are rounded out by step-by-step instructions for small-scale grain production. Learn how locally grown wheat, barley and other grains can impact a community, how to start a community grain project from scratch, how to plant, grow, harvest, thresh, winnow and store your grain, and how to use whole and sprouted grains in your kitchen. “Uprisings” shows how communities across North America are confronting climate change, economic recession and food security challenges by reclaiming control over their daily bread.
Related stories on MNN:
- 5 books on our urban future
- 5 books about fear you should be reading
- 9 U.S. farmers markets every foodie should visit