First, I want to confess that I didn't finish this book. I couldn't. So there are about thirty pages at the end that I cannot account for, but I serio...moreFirst, I want to confess that I didn't finish this book. I couldn't. So there are about thirty pages at the end that I cannot account for, but I seriously doubt that they saved this book from where it had already been, and frankly I was too angered and frustrated to find out.
My two major complaints are these:
1. Kingsolver (and her husband and older daughter whose interludes are also included) are incredibly smug about the entire process. All the descriptions of what they are doing are terribly self-congratulatory, and never acknowledge that people do what they describe doing EVERY DAY. And not, as with Kingsolver's family, as a sort of "experiment" to see if they could "do without," but because it is necessary. They grow food and eat locally because doing so is necessary both for their income and as the direct source of food for their families. Kingsolver (who was almost certainly funded to some extent by her publisher) uses folksy language and lots of "we" talk to make it sound as if she struggles alongside farmers and shares a sort of moral high ground with them for "opting out." Guess what? It's not about options for most people. Most people who farm, even on a small scale, don't get to make an adventurous, fun choice to pick up, move across the country and farm just to see if they can do it. They don't have publishers who will pay for this, and the comfort of knowing that if their crops fail, they won't starve and the bills will still get paid. Most farmers are living where there families have lived for generations, and the success or failure of their growing seasons is everything. I'm not suggesting that there's anything wrong with engaging in this sort of experiment, or being supported by your publisher to do so and write about it. But it is wrong to pretend that it is the same reality as that faced by most who really do live off the land, or that it is a viable option for those who don't. This makes her awkward insertion of phrases like "plumb wasted" feel insulting and fake. It's hard to believe that she really speaks in that folksy sort of tone when her other books don't reflect that type of language anywhere, and when she is a noted and well-published writer.
She never acknowledges the role that poverty plays in poor nutrition in this country, or that for many people eating local fresh foods is simply not an option financially when they have whole families to feed, often on a single small income and have to fill stomachs as they can afford to. Fast food companies and other major food manufacturers and providers prey on these people by making the cheapest, most filling and widely available foods of a dreadful quality. She implies that anyone who doesn't eat a completely local, organic, and never prepackaged diet is morally lesser than she and her family, and/or has no idea where food comes from. She might suggest that those who cannot afford this type of food should grow it themselves, but these are not typically people who own or have access to acres of land or the starting capital to grow enough to feed their families.
In short: the whole book is rife with smugness and unacknowledged privilege.
2. She talks about the importance of eating more vegetables, more local vegetables, and more diverse vegetables, and almost in the same breath starts taking shots at vegetarians and vegans. Why? Because in her logic, cows and chickens and pigs would not exist at all if we didn't farm them. Excuse me? If they had never been domesticated as part of an agricultural strategy, they would simply have continued to exist in the wild as they had done before. Farms didn't invent farm animals, pulling them out of the ether. It's a statement that makes no sense whatsoever. She goes on to say that vegetarianism is actually worse than meat eating, since, as part of the process of harvesting plant crops, lots of insects and worms get killed. That's right. Vegetarians are actually even more morally culpable for food-related murder because more animals die when plants are cut down than just the one animal that dies for meat at a time. And that one is okay, because you see the plan was to eat THAT animal ALL ALONG. She further supports her positing that vegetarians and vegans are silly and naive by saying that they want to set all farm animals free, which would cause chaos and destruction everywhere. I don't know any vegetarians or vegans who actually want to do that or think it would be a realistic option even if they did. She portrays everyone who chooses not to eat meat or animal products as a sentimental moron who only thinks what they do because they just don't get it. She seems unaware than many vegetarians and vegans are such not only because they are living according to a principle of non-violent eating, but also often because they recognize that 99% of the meat and other animal products available for consumption are the result of operations that are inhumane, wasteful, polluting, and so on, and are choosing not to participate in that. They are saying, if this is what is required in order to consume meat or other animal foods, it's not worth it. And what if they have made that choice based on ethics. I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathan Safran Foer's argument on this subject, which is this:
Isn't ignoring all the facts of most modern animal production, the deep and lasting harm it causes to animals, laborers, consumers and the environment, and yes, the possible moral implications of killing another living thing when most of us no longer depend upon doing so to avoid starvation, all because "meat tastes good" and it affords a few minutes of pleasure in the eating a much MORE sentimental and LESS rational position than recognizing those facts and choosing to eat accordingly?
I realize that Kingsolver is supporting the eating of sustainably raised animals, which sidesteps the issue of CAFOs and factory farms somewhat, but these types of animals are NOT available to or affordable for everyone, or even to most.
She tells a story about her family sitting around the kitchen table one night all laughing together at a vegan actress they read about who wants to start a farm sanctuary. They laugh about how she must not know anything about farm animals, and how unhappy she'd be once she actually had to deal with them. There's no talk about the noble work that farm sanctuaries actually do. They rescue discarded animals from factory farms who have been effectively left for dead or so horribly abused that they are no longer considered fit even for consumption. They are rehabilitated and allowed to live out natural lives as well as possible on farm sanctuaries. If Kingsolver thinks this is funny, she is either clueless or heartless.
It's ill-informed, illogical, and ridiculous. It made me wish I still had the library's copy of Foer's book so I could vent my frustration by using it to beat Kingsolver's into a pulp. No such luck. Also I would have had to pay to replace it with another copy, which I would be loathe to do. Even my omnivorous boyfriend responded to the passage when I read it to him with an unguarded, "She's an idiot!"
Her absurd rationale for putting down conscious abstainers follows some stories about her own dealings with food animals and how she teaches her children to think about them, which she seems to think are cute and funny, but are more often disturbing. I'll summarize one that I think tells the whole story.
Her youngest daughter, Lily, keeps hens as a little girl, both in their Tucson home and their new Appalachian one. The first time she experiences the death of one of her hens, she weeps and mourns for quite some time, until Kingsolver says to her, "It's just a chicken." Lily responds by saying that she loves her chickens, and to illustrate the point, says she loves them as much as she loves her mother. Kingsolver talks about how much that hurt her feelings, when of course her little girl was looking for a way to demonstrate the depth of her devotion to her pets by comparing it to the biggest love she knew, that of her mother. Instead of realizing this, Kingsolver pouts until her daughter apologizes. Now who's acting like a child?
In a later episode, told by Kingsolver as a cute little "growing up" story, they get a new flock of hens at their new home, and Lily asks for a promise that they aren't going to eat her hens as part of this project. Kingsolver says that the hens are Lily's and if she doesn't want them eaten, then they won't be. Fine. Here's where the story takes a dark turn.
Lily is interested in horseback riding. She's taken lessons and loves horses, and now that they are living next to and around so many farms, she has lots of friends who own horses of their own, and, inevitably she starts to want one of her own. Kingsolver tells her they can get a horse if Lily can raise half the money for it, which she will then match. How much does a horse cost, Lily wants to know? Oh, about a thousand dollars says Kingsolver (knowing that she's overestimating). Lily sets about figuring out how long it will take her to make five-hundred dollars selling eggs (which she has been doing as a hobby). When Lily returns from her room, concerned about how long it will take to raise the money, Kingsolver suggests she sell something else. When Lily (a little child, desperate for the horse she wants so badly) reluctantly asks how much she could get if she sold the chickens for meat, Kingsolver answers that she could get a quite a bit more for the meat than for the eggs, all the while acting as if she was just neutrally giving information to her daughter. Of course there is nothing neutral about basically creating a situation in her daughter's mind in which the choice is between killing her chickens or not getting a horse. Her daughter hesitantly agrees, but, hinting at the trouble her conscience is still giving her, repeatedly says "we'll only kill the mean ones."
Kingsolver could have admitted she'd overestimated the cost of a horse. She could have offered alternative ways of raising the money. She could have even just acknowledged her daughters feelings by saying, "I know you really want a horse, but are you sure you really want to kill your chickens to get it?" Instead, she tacitly sends the message that killing them is Lily's only choice if she wants a horse, and that that's the choice she should make. The grown-up choice. What sort of message is that to raise a child with? You have to kill, harm or otherwise sacrifice what (or in this case who) you love to get the things you want. You should ignore, suppress, and otherwise avoid being guided by your values and your internal moral compass when it gets in the way.
She told the story with a knowing parental chuckle, but I found it chilling, and I shed a couple of tears in the reading. (less)
This book represents what Devi refers to as a more compassionate "heart" translation and commentary on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, with an eye towards ho...moreThis book represents what Devi refers to as a more compassionate "heart" translation and commentary on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, with an eye towards how the sutras can be viewed from a woman's perspective.
She offers practical explorations of the sutras and how they can enrich everyday life, which I like, and also provides experiential exercises at the end of each section of sutras.
I would emphasize, however, that while Devi says that she is exploring yoga philosophy from a "woman's perspective," it is certainly not a feminist perspective. At best, she points out ways in which the sutras have been interpreted in the past that villainize women and tried to justify their subjugation, while showing that the sutras themselves don't support this.
At her worst, though she subscribes to a number of thin and limiting ideas about what a woman's perspective is and what a man's perspective is, and it seems to me that her worldview cheats both genders.
She takes it to be a given, common-sense fact that women are "naturally" more nurturing, compassionate, emotional, soft, and so on in the tired tradition of all misogynist definitions of women that pretend to elevate when they really just weaken. She mentions an asana adaptation she makes for women in her classes as an example of "honoring" the female perspective, in which she turns the peacock posture into a less difficult "peahen" pose that she feels is better suited to the female body. She makes the implication that to try to do the male version of this pose would be out of balance with nature and would cause problems.
Men also suffer in this interpretation, because although she claims in the same matter-of-fact way that men are naturally more rational and logical (which is ridiculous and simultaneously insults women), she devalues logic and reason, and then lists other "innate" characteristics men share as violence, anger, dominance and so forth.
In short, I think her view of gender greatly damaged what could otherwise have been a useful and heartfelt guide to the sutras, and I hope that in future editions, she and her editors will consider ways to offer yoga to women in a way that allows them to expand into whatever roles fit them best, rather than telling them to stick to and relish traditional gender roles that many women find limiting and dismissive. It also sells men short, and I would hope that in yoga-the practice of unity-we would find ways to build women up without tearing men down to do it.(less)
Considering the subject matter, I was disappointed to find myself fairly bored while reading this book. It felt more like fiction than a memoir, and t...moreConsidering the subject matter, I was disappointed to find myself fairly bored while reading this book. It felt more like fiction than a memoir, and thin fiction at that. The way that dialect was used in Wilson's writing style felt forced, making the folksiness sort of unappealing. It felt like the author was trying to recall a way of communicating that she shared as a child, but had long since outgrown. I would rather have read this story in the author's genuine voice, as it is now.
Also, I was annoyed that there was so little reflection from the author about her own childhood religious and spiritual experience. She portrays herself as a blank, passive child that was simply shuttled about between the members of her family and their various agendas and personalities. At 10, it is hard to believe that she wasn't having any kind of personal reactions or thoughts about the events she describes. I would like to know what she was thinking and feeling, how her emerging personality impacted and was impacted by her environment, but there is precious little of that sort of information. She never does, in fact, address any particular moment in which she "quit loving a blue-eyed Jesus," as the title says, and when the book concludes, it does so at a moment in her childhood when she still embraced her family's overall belief system.
The book is primarily composed of character sketches of the members of her family, which do offer some humorous and entertaining moments, but they just weren't enough to make this book worthwhile for me.