“Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer

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Subtitle: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Recommended to me by: Amy Bennett

A set of essays loosely tied together in chronological order, with themes of sweetgrass and braiding all the way through. Each essay braids together personal memoir, Native American (specifically Potawatomi) ways of living, and colonialist ways of living.

Potawatomi ways developed over generations as people saw what works to live in balance with nature, as a part of nature. Humans are considered the young ones, the newcomers, learning from their more experienced plant and animal family members.

Sweetgrass is harvested in specific ways. Not the first plant you find, because that might be the only one. Take only what you need, up to half of the plants there, either by cutting half of each bunch, or taking whole bunches. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a Professor of Botany, and one of her PhD students showed in a set of careful experiments that sweetgrass thrives when harvested this way, and fails to propagate if it is left completely unharvested. Humans and sweetgrass have a cooperative, collaborative partnership.

White colonialists disastrously interrupted Native American ways of living by stealing Native Americans’ lands and pushing them into entirely different ecosystems, and by taking their children to residential schools and forcibly preventing them from speaking their own languages or practicing their spirituality. The Potawatomi people and other tribes are gathering together the fragments of what remains, and braiding them together anew.

The book ends on a hopeful note, that perhaps enough of us will turn toward collaborative, cooperative ways of living that we will not entirely destroy the ecosystems of this green earth. Fitting right in with that hope, the current Great Pause of this pandemic gives us time to consider what we want to add back in to our lives, and what we want to leave behind to allow cleaner skies, safer streets, and more sustainable lives.

I read this as an ebook, because that’s what I can get from the library in this time of pandemic. It’s an odd way to read a book so rooted in physical experience, and I would have much preferred to have a physical book in my hands. This is a long book that wants to be appreciated slowly, essay by essay, section by section, exploring how all the parts fit together to support each other.

Highly recommended!

Robin Wall Kimmerer: ‘People can’t understand the world as a gift unless someone shows them how’ interview by James Yeh, May 23, 2020

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Gluten-Free Flavor Flours” by Alice Medrich with Maya Klein

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Subtitle: A New Way to Bake with Non-Wheat Flours

Recommended to me by: runpunkrun

A detailed investigation of gluten-free flours, with a chapter for each with a description plus well-suited recipes. It includes rice, oat, corn, chestnut, nut, coconut, teff, buckwheat, and sorghum flours. There’s a resource section at the end with places to order ingredients.

About half the recipes have beautifully composed photographs. The recipes look clear and easy to follow (although I haven’t tried any yet). Amounts are given in cup measures and grams.

Alice Medrich ran a bakery called Cocolat on Shattuck Ave in Berkeley. A lot of her desserts are far more fussy and elegant than the baking I tend to do. I looked through the book and marked a few simpler recipes I might try.

Recommended for the serious baker who wants (or needs) to branch out into gluten-free baking.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“mindful eating” by Jan Chozen Bays, MD

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Subtitle: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food

Recommended to me by: a client

Unlike the deep compassion and acceptance for how things are right now that I found in Cheri Huber’s books, this book is judgmental, directive, and critical. It recommends mindfulness as a method to restrict food and lose weight, even though it has been repeatedly scientifically shown that 95% of people regain weight lost through dieting no matter what the dieting method.

At the same time, mindfulness about eating is useful, as long as it is done with kindness. Eating is central to our existence, nourishing body and soul.

Jan Chozen Bays is both a Western medical doctor and a Zen teacher. She identifies 7 kinds of hunger: eye hunger, nose hunger, mouth hunger, stomach hunger, cell hunger, and heart hunger. We can check in with ourselves about what level of hunger we are experiencing in each channel, and what would nourish us via that channel.

We can pause before, during, and after meals to invite awareness of our physical sensations in the mouth and belly. We can experiment with chewing a bite thoroughly. We can pay attention to the first three bites. We can try stopping eating when we are no longer hungry, rather than full. We can bring awareness to emptiness.

We can do body scans and send kindness and gratitude to all our parts. Hakuin Zenji’s soft butter meditation: Imagine a lump of soft butter the size and shape of a duck egg on the crown of your head. As it melts and trickles down inside and outside you, it permeates you with warmth and good feelings. Feel it trickle through you all the way to your feet.

We can give ourselves boundless permission to eat exactly the way we eat right now.

This book is not recommended for anyone who is prone to self-judgment about weight and eating habits.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Yoga of Eating” by Charles Eisenstein

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Subtitle: Transcending Diets and Dogma to Nourish the Natural Self

Recommended to me by: a client

A compassionate, wise look at our food choices. What are we saying yes to? How can we bring more kind attention to the nurturance and nutrition our bodies need? How do our food needs relate to the rest of our lives? An invitation to allow rather than coerce.

Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook” by Mickey Trescott

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Subtitle: An Allergen-Free Approach to Managing Chronic Illness

Recommended to me by: a friend

This cookbook feels less scientifically authoritarian and more personally friendly. “This worked for me, see if it worked for you.” Also, the photographs are beautiful and enticing. Unfortunately, most of the recipes have garlic and/or onion, which don’t seem to work well for me.

I may eventually buy a copy, just to add a few more recipes to my repertoire. I’m still considering whether to try the whole bone broth and fermented vegetable routine.

Recommended for a friendly introduction to “Paleo” cooking.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Paleo Approach” by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD

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Subtitle: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body

Recommended to me by: a friend

This is a textbook sized book with science textbook’s density of information. It contains detailed information about the immune system, digestive system, and scientific studies about the effects of food on both systems. I will admit I skimmed a lot of the science, not having time to study each section in depth before the book was due back at the library.

At the same time, this book comes across as a marketing tool for this particular approach to eating, complete with testimonials and a disturbingly thin white woman doing an extreme yoga pose on a beach on the cover. On the positive side, a Black woman’s (sleeping) face is also included on the cover.

While the book repeatedly emphasizes that each body is different and each autoimmune response is different, it also repeats that strictly following the proposed protocol is necessary for healing. I’m wondering if restricting my diet even further would be helpful, while my gut (hm) says, “No more restrictions!” The book emphasizes nutrient-dense foods as well as restrictions, and I think I already do pretty well at that, although I don’t eat a lot of organ meats as it recommends.

It includes suggestions for improving sleep, reducing stress, and increasing moderate exercise. I’m relieved to read support for those aspects of my self-care.

My friend is following the approach strictly, and is seeing good results. I’m considering whether to make further changes to my diet, and how that might work logistically.

Recommended if you have ongoing digestive and/or immune issues and want to learn more about what scientists currently know about these systems. At the same time, note that scientists are constantly learning more and changing their conclusions, and what works marvelously for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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I also took a look at Sarah Ballantyne’s “The Paleo Approach Cookbook: A Detailed Guide to Heal Your Body and Nourish Your Soul”. Lots of varied, complex recipes. It seems more suited for cooking for a family than a single person.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Georgian Feast” by Darra Goldstein

Subtitle: The Vibrant Culture and Savory Food of the Republic of Georgia

In Georgian singing classes, we talked about the integral role of singing in Georgian feasts, or supras. However, this book only had a one-sentence aside about singing. The rest is a Georgian travelogue and recipe book. It seems that different travelers focus on different aspects of their experiences.

The book gave me a sense for Georgian geography and culture, and would be useful if I wanted to take up Georgian cooking.

Available at Powell’s Books.