blog post feed en-us <![CDATA[An Interview on]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2013 09:50:00 EST <![CDATA[Hotel Review: The Original Element Hotel]]> More than 30 new Element hotels are to be built. Here's a look inside the first.]]> Sun, 04 Nov 2012 07:10:00 EST <![CDATA[New Edition of 'Planet Earth' a Masterpiece]]> Don't be distracted by the globe-shaped package. The real magic is still on screen.]]> Fri, 28 Oct 2011 06:08:00 EST <![CDATA[Book Review: <i>But Will the Planet Notice?</i>]]> Lessons in economics and global environmental problems, from a guy you'd actually talk to at a party.]]> Thu, 22 Sep 2011 02:49:00 EST <![CDATA["Not This Pig," Says Our New Poet Laureate]]> Wed, 10 Aug 2011 08:21:00 EST <![CDATA[Book Review: <i>Tomatoland</i>]]>
tomatoland book

Tomatoes grow wild, in an impressive but dwindling variety, on the dry West coast of South America. You can still find ancestral tomatoes growing on the side of the road there, as the author Barry Estabrook did while researching Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. As the title suggests, a whimsical history of the tomato, this is not. He dispenses with the interesting anecdotes (we think of tomatoes as vegetables, not as the fruit they are, in great part because the Supreme Court deemed it thus, in an 1893 case that defended domestic tomato growers from competition from Cuba) in the first chapter, and then gets on to his real story, which is about how badly we treat the environment, and especially the workers, needed to grow off-season winter tomatoes in Florida.

Tomatoland is a very good title. The subtitle could have been better if it specified that the story is, for the most part, narrowly focused on Florida, where the winter tomato crop for the East Coast originates. There, the soil is poor and sandy, the weather often unforgiving and the pests prolific, so farmers have resorted to a variety of chemicals to make their crops flourish. These chemicals include some of the harshest still on the market, and they've often been used with too little regard for their effects on the workers asked to use them (or stand by, picking tomatoes, as sprayers pass them by). Accounts of heartbreaking birth defects ensue.

You can really stop at any point during the narrative and decide that you've bought your last supermarket tomato, but Estabrook is just warming up. Modern-day slavery and its nearly-as-bad derivatives make up the bulk of his tale, centered on Immokalee, Fla., where most winter tomatoes are grown. He describes workers who speak neither English nor, in many cases, Spanish, being trucked in illegally from Mexico, and held in a state of indentured servitude, as they rack up living expenses charged by farmers or their charges that exceed their wages. They're sprayed by pesticides, occasionally beaten and made to wait hours unpaid before being asked to pick tomatoes at super-human rates for less-than-human wages. As described, it's a shocking and shameful tragedy.

All this to grow tomatoes that have been bred to be picked green, trucked across the country and "ripen" to a reddish hue only after being gassed with ethylene. That is, not bred to taste good. Taste, as one grower tells the author, has never been a priority.

Thu, 04 Aug 2011 10:27:00 EST
<![CDATA[Book Review: <i>The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat</i>]]>
the butchers guide to well raised meat

Disclaimer: This book is about my local butcher shop, and the people who run it, and I'm big fans of both. Another disclaimer: It's co-authored by Alexandra Zissu, a friend and occasional colleague.

But even in the absence of those associations, don't think I could find anything bad to say about The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More. (OK, I thought of one: That's an awfully long title.)

The book does two things: It tells the story of Fleisher's Grass-Fed & Organic Meats, the butcher in Kingston, N.Y., founded by Joshua and Jessica Applestone; and it offers practical information and advice about understanding, preparing and cooking meats from animals that have been raised ethically.

The Applestones were not meat-eaters when they started Fleisher's, which takes its name from Joshua's family name (which means butcher), and his grandfather's butcher shop in Brooklyn. Joshua was a vegan, and Jessica a vegetarian with a weakness for bacon and a desire to eat meat; both shared a reversion to the industrialized system that produces meat in the U.S., and a disappointment in the options available for people seeking alternatives. So they opened Fleisher's, which buys only animals (usually organic) raised on pasture without the use hormones or antibiotics from local farms in New York's Hudson Valley.

Thu, 23 Jun 2011 02:41:00 EST
<![CDATA[Book Review: <i>The Ragged Edge of the World</i>]]>
the ragged edge of the world by eugene linden

In The Ragged Edge of the World ($17.80 at Eugene Linden aims to tell the untold stories of his globetrotting adventures as a journalist covering environmental and cultural loss and resilience at the intersection of the modern world and wilderness and the societies that live in the wilderness. His 40-year career as a book author and magazine writer for Time, National Geographic and others has given him the enviable opportunity to visit some of the world's most remote places, from Polynesia to Midway Island and Antarctica to the Alaska, where he's reported on environmental issues and the impact of modern encroachment on indigenous cultures. He's a writer of flawless sentences who can evoke scenes and dialog as well as he can explain complex science in simple ways.

The earlier chapters of Ragged Edge, though, came off as too anecdotal, with too little time spent on the substance of his reporting trips and too much on disconnected remembrances. I have a feeling they'd be more enjoyable to a reader of Linden's other works, but this is the first book I've read by him, so they came across as incomplete and fragmentary. (Which is to say that they deliver on what Linden promises he'll do in his introduction: "It is these vignettes that are freshest--my memory has inverted the priorities of my career," he writes.) The latter chapters didn't suffer from this problem, and each chapter told its story fully, with emphasis shared between the anecdotes of a traveler and journalist, and the substance of his report about the visit. In both cases, I'd have liked, as a writer, to hear more about the challenges of reporting exciting stories such as these, beyond the logistics of traveling in Africa, say, or the rules of weather-proofing one's body in Antarctica. But I think there's enough detail to satisfy most readers.

Mon, 16 May 2011 11:42:00 EST
<![CDATA[Book Review: <i>Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted</i>]]>
genius of place: the life of frederick law olmsted

Freddy Olmsted was a spoiled brat.

That's not the theme of Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted, Justin Martin's biography of the famed landscape architect and "proto-environmentalist," but I could not escape the conclusion as I read this straightforward and enjoyable book.

Before Freddy got around to designing Central Park (with the inspired but impotent Calvert Vaux) in New York, or Prospect Park in Brooklyn, or the Chicago World Fair site, or any of the other parks and estates in the U.S. that helped him establish the field of landscape architecture... before he helped preserve Yosemite or Niagara Falls, in the years before there was a notion of a National Parks system... Olmsted was a chronic failure and a mooch.

He couldn't hack it at school so he moved home with his father and stepmother. He gave up his first job as a surveyor to sail to China. Then he spent a summer on an upstate New York farm, and he became inspired in the way that a good vacation sometimes inspires, and he decided to become a farmer... so he asked his father to buy him a farm. Not just any farm, but a farm in Connecticut on Long Island Sound. What's more amazing: His father bought the farm... and the seed... and the tools and equipment, and everything else Freddy would need (no one really called him Freddy, and in fact he was born into the first generation of Americans to be given middle names, a convention that had previously been viewed as too Old World, too pretentious). Fred gave up after a year, but not before contemplating an expensive renovation to the farmhouse with the nation's premiere architect, Alexander Jackson Davis, even though the farm was a complete failure.

Fri, 29 Apr 2011 01:28:00 EST
<![CDATA[Book Review: <i>Me...Jane</i>]]> The childhood love affair with nature that inspired Jane Goodall to become the pioneering conservationist she is — simply told and charmingly illustrated.]]> Mon, 11 Apr 2011 03:15:00 EST <![CDATA[Book Review: <i>Biocidal: Confronting the Poisonous Legacy of PCBs</i>]]> An informative, but shallowly reported overview of an important environmental topic.]]> Fri, 08 Apr 2011 10:28:00 EST <![CDATA[Book Review: <i>The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival</i>]]> A heart-thumping action-adventure story, but much more.]]> Fri, 08 Apr 2011 10:11:00 EST <![CDATA[Book Review: <i>A Force for Nature</i>]]> A history of the modern environmental movement, through one lens, that leaves you feeling positive about our prospects of solving big problems.]]> Fri, 08 Apr 2011 07:43:00 EST <![CDATA[Book Review: <i>Eaarth</i>]]>
eaarth by bill mckibben

If you haven't already read Bill McKibben's Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, you should take author Barbara Kingsolver's advice: "Read it, please. Straight through to the end. Whatever else you were planning to do next, nothing could be more important."

Quite an endorsement, and the book deserves it. Fortunately for us stragglers, it's coming out in paperback April 1 ($10 at just in time for Earth Month, when McKibben's group, will no doubt be mobilizing another round of demonstrations in support of climate change action on scales both global and local.

As the senior editor of The Daily Green, I didn't find much new information in Eaarth. But I did find a lot of very good information in one persuasive place. And I know, because my Mom recently read it in her local book club, that it makes that case effectively not just to those who spend their days reading about the environment, but to a general audience as well.

Thu, 10 Mar 2011 11:44:00 EST
<![CDATA[Movie Review: <i>The Last Lions</i>]]> the last lions movie poster

The Last Lions, in movie theaters in February, is a thriller more than it is a eco-doc.

The human element, and the conservation imperative, is hardly mentioned. Framing the drama of Ma di Tau (Mother of Lions), our hero, as she tries to salvage the blood line of her fallen mate and save her cubs, are visions of the Earth being swallowed by the lights of cities. A voiceover – Jeremy Irons – tells us that the Earth will hold 7 billion humans by the end of 2011, while the population of wild lions has dropped from the nearly half a million to as few as 20,000 in just 50 years. Other than that, there's no story told about why lions numbers have dropped so precipitously or what we can do about it, short of trusting the National Geographic Society to take care of it with a $10 text of the word LIONS to #50555.

That said, the movie holds up as a thriller. The characters are so iconic it's almost unbelievable: A handsome couple split and run out of their home by a terrifying pride led by a one-eyed lioness named Silver Eye; Ma di Tau's squeaky cubs haplessly facing one threat after another; and the deeply scarred bull leading a herd of menacing buffalo against her.

Tue, 15 Feb 2011 07:59:00 EST