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August Book Club: Rain

By Olivia Dorothy

Rain:  A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett dives deep into the history of our relationship with the ultimate life-giving force, rain.   Going back billions of years to when water first washed over the planet through today’s changing rain patterns over the globe due to human caused global warming.

Barnett takes readers on a journey through some of the rainiest places on the planet, including India and England where rain is an integral part of their cultural identities.  She tells the story of the American Dust Bowl and the myth that perpetuated that disaster, that rain followed the plow.

Like many books that deeply explore the history of a single thing, Barnett’s stories about deluges and droughts enrapture readers as unusual antidotes and facts are brought to light.  Like why fingers prune when wet (to improve grip!) and how the US military sought to weaponize weather.

Read the book and join the discussion on August 22 at 7PM at River Action.

June Book: Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of the Food We Love by Simran Sethi

By Olivia Dorothy

Bread, Wine, Chocolate is a sensual journey of food.  As you read Sethi’s passages on food tasting, you’ll start searching the cabinet for that candy bar you know you stashed away for emergencies, brewing yet another pot of coffee, or pouring a foamy beer just so you can follow along.

Sethi not only describes food in the most mouthwatering way, but explains where the food is from and how each food’s “terroir” – the unique place where ingredients are sourced – can impact flavor.  She dives into the foods that are critically woven into the fabric of our society – beer, coffee, chocolate, wine and bread – and discusses how these foods are under threat.

In today’s food culture, companies value ingredients that are consistent in flavor and have long shelf lives.  But, this drive towards monotony means that our food sources are less diverse.  And losing diversity has a lot of implications for our food and the environment.

Different varieties of wheat, yeast, cocoa, coffee, grape, etc have different strengths, like drought tolerance or sugar content.  This makes farms vulnerable to disease or disaster if only one or two varieties are planted on a landscape.  These monocultures have ecological impacts also, as land and forests might be cleared to produce a large amount of one crop.

While the environmental hazards of monoculture is documented in many other books and literature, Sethi’s real lesson for readers is that in the drive to simplify agriculture, we are also loosing flavor.  Sethi explains chocolate grown in Ecuador tastes different from Mexican chocolate thanks to the unique characteristics from the landscape (which is why single-source chocolate is special).  And this is true not just for chocolate, but for most of the foods we love.  Beer flavors can vary depending on the water source and the sugar content of grapes can change due to soil conditions.

Sethi argues that the loss of flavor and variety on our plates should be just as concerning to us as the plight of distant farmers and ecosystems.  And the key to helping protect ecosystem diversity might be as easy as what you buy at the grocery store.

Join us to discuss Simran Sethi’s book, Bread, Wine, Chocolate:  The Slow Loss of the Food We Love on Tuesday, June 27th at 7PM at River Action.