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Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating by Jane Goodall

This entry is part 28 of 56 in the series 2022 Reads

As always, I’m posting this weeks and weeks after I read it. Well, weeks, anyway. 

This book was a present I received many years ago. I’ve felt more of a draw to nonfiction than fiction lately, and it was on the top of the nonfiction pile, so I dug in. 

My reaction was mixed: I have a great deal of respect for Goodall, and her advocacy was and is undoubtedly both good and noble. However, I felt a bit frustrated reading this book, mostly because… well, to be honest, not much of what it contains was news to me. (It was really only at the end of the book that anything was in fact news to me, and so I ended up skimming quite a bit.) I’m one of those people who knows better, who’s flirted with vegetarianism and tried it, but who hasn’t managed to make the transition so far. I’ve cut back on meat, I’ve made efforts to make choices that are better for me (and my family, and the environment), but I haven’t managed to hop the fence over into vegetarian-land. Maybe that’s okay? I don’t know. 

Perhaps the issue is that I wasn’t part of the core audience for the book. To simplify things in a slightly unfair way, I get the sense that Goodall and her coauthors kind of think, “Well, if people only knew the truth, they would change their behavior.”  The result is that this book is highly structured in a way that systematically provides a lot of basic facts, and spends a fair amount of time explaining things that were familiar to me, as well as being obvious implications of the facts presented. I admire the optimism  of believing that telling people the facts will change behavior, but I don’t really share it. Then again, I read Diet for a Small Planet many years ago, and I think it is nice to have what amounts to a more recent approach to the topic. Having a book to hand to (or recommend to) people who don’t know this stuff yet, but want to learn, is a good thing, and it’s well-organized, with some specific (i.e. actionable) tips in most chapters. 

But I don’t know anymore how much change in behavior a book can achieve. Personally—and this is a depressing admission to make—I find that reading about misery (like the misery of animals in our agricultural system today) doesn’t burn the circuit hard enough for the change to stick for most people, possibly myself included. Probably,  hoping any book might help with that was asking too much. I am not sorry that I read it, and there are some interesting bits along the way—Goodall’s personal reminiscences, some of her discussion about eating local and the ever-approaching global water crisis, were for me the most interesting parts. Then again, I also should add that I’ve cut back drastically on my meat consumption since reading the book… but that probably has more to do with the fact my wife has become a vegetarian in recent months, along with my mounting concern for how the kind of agriculture we have right now is just plain unsustainable, and some lingering discomfort with the mass suffering the system creates among animals.   

Also, funnily enough, some things in the book got me thinking about my novella “Winter Wheat” again—how I would build on the story moving forward in time. It’s ironic that I wrote the story in 2006— not long before this book was gifted to me—as there are some things covered in it the story connect with this book’s subject very well. 

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