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Sustainable Hope

by Betsy Hays, environmental writer, home gardener, farmer and cook

One thing in scant supply these days is optimism. But just in time for the holidays, here are three gift suggestions—Growing Roots: The New Generation of Sustainable Farmers, Cooks and Food Activists, a book by Katherine Leiner; Forks Over Knives, a documentary (DVD and companion book) and Local Flavors (Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmer’s Markets), a book by Deborah Madison—any of which will give you, or the lucky recipient, growing hope for the future.

Katherine Leiner, author of Growing Roots: The New Generation of Sustainable Farmers, Cooks and Food Activists (2010 Chelsea Green Publishing Company), has gathered a collection of over 50 profiles of the current, and mostly younger, generation doing their share for responsible stewardship of the good earth. The book, which includes dozens of mouth-watering recipes, introduces us to a remarkable diversity of pioneers, from pragmatic third-generation farmers to mystic beekeepers, from avid worm composters to med-student cooks. Somewhat surprisingly, at least to me, most of these professionals have advanced degrees and extensive training in their fields, upending the stereotype of the folksy farmer, but that doesn’t stop them from waxing poetic about the joys of sustainable living and working. The author’s evocative introductions to each profile, Andrew Lipton's vivid photos, and a smattering of delightful little illustrations, serve as the “condiments” that help make this a delicious book to savor, revisit and digest many times over.

Forks Over Knives (2011, Virgil Films & Entertainment) is a critically acclaimed documentary that engages the viewer in a dizzying, quantum leap over our cherished assumptions about eating, landing squarely in the realm of a whole-food, plant-based diet (yes, Virginia, this is a vegan manifesto). The movie connects the dots, supported by data and clinical studies performed separately over decades by two pioneering doctors, Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., and T.Colin Campbell, Ph.D., between America’s health epidemic and a way of eating with the power to heal chronic conditions.

Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? But it is! I not only watched this by myself with a huge grin on my face (despite, like many Americans, having a fondness for animal products, sweets and the cherished processed “foods” of my youth), but also recruited my husband to watch it again with me. We were astounded to discover indisputable evidence that heart disease, cancers and stroke, the country’s three leading causes of death, can be alleviated or even reversed through a plant-based diet and exercise.

Each of these doctors was destined to chart new territory in trying to get to the source of disease. Campbell, a nutritional scientist from Cornell University, and Esselstyn, a former top surgeon at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, conducted separate research that ultimately led them to the same conclusion, and to each other. This documentary is as much the story of two farm boys who bucked tradition and conventional wisdom to become proponents for healing through food, as it is a testament to their research.

But it’s the real life patients in Forks Over Knives whose stories of being freed from the tyranny of chronic illness and prescription drugs will grab at your heartstrings, giving hope for the many who suffer with these debilitating conditions. An informative website and links to many resources will keep all who want to be, connected to the advantages of a plant-based diet.

And for dessert, I suggest the delectable Local Flavors (Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmer’s Markets), by Deborah Madison (2002, Broadway Books), a book that is, as Michael Pollan (author of the groundbreaking, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”) says on the cover, “Indispensable for everyone trying to eat locally and seasonally.”

Published in 2002 but newly available in paperback, Local Flavors offers a roadmap for shopping and cooking with local ingredients, tempting the reader with sumptuous photos by Laurie Smith and detailed recipes for using food that’s in season, fresh and wholesome. There is a joyful empowerment in making the connection between the food we prepare and the sources of those nourishing ingredients. There’s a reason the farmers markets have gotten so popular. And so, if you want gifts that inspire, enlighten and delight, any or all of these will do the trick!

Betsy Hays:

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published December 07, 2011

Photos to enlarge

Growing Roots: The New Generation of Sustainable Farmers, Cooks and Food Activists, by Katherine Leiner

Forks Over Knives, documentary film and book, photo courtesy Virgil Films & Entertainment

Deborah Madison, author ofLocal Flavors (Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmer’s Markets), photo courtesy

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