Creating global prosperity without economic growth

What We’re Reading (and Watching!) – April 2012

by Janet Newbury, Ingrid Johnson and Jen Hinton on 21st April 2012

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This is part of an ongoing series highlighting what our members are currently reading in the Post Growth and sustainability realms.

The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram


When exploring alternatives to the status quo, I think many of us are guilty of looking for ‘new’ ideas, overlooking the diverse wisdoms that have sustained people and the earth thus far.  In this beautifully written book, David Abram effectively draws on multiple ways of knowing, including: phenomenology; indigenous knowledges; the ‘more-than-human’ world of the land, air, animals; our sensory experiences; and more.  He urges readers to acknowledge that any focus on the purely human world without recognizing its constitutive relationships with everything else is foolish and indeed, (mis)leading us down a disastrous path.  Instead, his explorations go to enough depth to open our minds to the potentials of more interconnected conceptualizations of ourselves with/in the world. – Janet

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver


Novelist and essayist Barbara Kingsolver and her family try their hands at a year of local and partly self-sufficient eating on a small once-and-future farmland acreage in southern Appalachia.  The story starts in March with the start of the growing season (resourcefulness required to fill a plate from one’s temperate-zone county is immense at this time of year, even in a community that is quite neighborly and agrarian relative to most of the U.S.) and concludes with a reflection on the mystery of life and the privilege of participating in the process of being sustained (though sometimes also thwarted) by the abundance and complexity of nature.  In between: rooster antics, homemade cheese, and ingenious coping mechanisms of humans faced with an oversupply of zucchini.  One chapter for each month.  Engaging and informative, the book reads like a well-produced documentary, seamlessly interspersing anecdotes, social analysis, personal reflection, political and nutritional information, and–recipes!

The writing itself is a family affair, with husband Steven Hopp contributing sidebars highlighting food policy and agriculture industry issues in more detail, and teenage daughter Camille covering nutritional and culinary aspects of the experiment.  10-year-old daughter Lily is responsible for the poultry and insightful, humorous 1-liners that color many of the stories.  Kingsolver’s comprehensive and articulate survey of the state of food culture in the United States is balanced by descriptions of the trials and triumphs of novice farmers, all delivered with her classic no-nonsense irreverence that make one feel that one is listening over the kitchen table or the back fence of a neighbor who is becoming a good friend. – Ingrid

Mindwalk (film) by Bernt Amadeus Capra


In February, I wrote here on What We’re Reading about the book The Web of Life.  For those who are keener on films and/or want a simpler introduction to systems thinking, check out the film Mindwalk.  Filmed in 1990, it was way ahead of its time, describing ecological literacy as part of a complex systems perspective of the world.

The film features three main characters: a physicist, a poet, and a politician.  They bump into each other while exploring the iconic island of Mont Saint Michel in northern France.  Each of them is there for a different reason, but they have one thing in common: they are all on a personal quest for a better understanding of the world and themselves.  And that’s exactly what they gain from the conversation that emerges between them.

Rich in deep, holistic thinking, the film offers the viewer a systems perspective of the problems that the modern world faces and, thus, a systems perspective for seeking and finding sustainable solutions.  No solutions are offered; just a refreshing perspective that acknowledges and explores the complexity and fluidity of human systems.  I appreciated it even more knowing that it was filmed in 1990.   – Jen

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