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.

April Book Club: The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman

By Emily Clever

I read The Big Thirst a few years ago, not long after it was published. I am glad that it was on the reading list this year because I needed a bit of a refresher (honestly no pun intended).  The only thing I remembered was some idea about taking water from the Great Lakes region and piping it to Las Vegas.  

Pat Mulroy, who proposed the idea, was angry that the Great Lakes states had an agreement among them that the water would remain in the region based on fear that states out West would try to purchase it.  When I first read this idea years ago the whole idea sounded incredibly absurd.  The amount of money it would cost to lay the pipes and then the energy needed to move the water along would be enormous.  Having read this book a 2nd time and having read This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein there may be a bigger issue with this idea than feasibility and perceptions of the Great Lakes being immature water hoarders. In This Changes Everything there is a discussion regarding solar radiation management (SRM) and it brought up three interesting questions which seem applicable here, just substitute SRM with reallocating water.

Question 1: Is the human that gave us the climate crisis capable of properly/safely regulating this reallocation of water?

Question 2:  In considering water reallocation regulation, are we not in danger of perpetuating the view that the earth can be manipulated in our interests?

Question 3:  Don’t we have to engage with these questions before we place ourselves in the triangle?”

It is also possible that the Great Lakes states not only acted to protect the water should other states come wanting to purchase but because they see the water crisis in other states and are trying to prevent that from happening in their region.  This region may have a history of providing more than enough water for its residents and their needs, but as other areas have shown that is not a long-term guarantee. As we read in last months book, actions that occurred decades before can have lasting impacts on the availability of water now and in the future.
Please join the discussion April 25 at 7pm at the River Action office, 822 E River Dr, Davenport.