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DISCOVERIES

Manifestos on the Future of Food & Seed

Essays

Edited by Vandana Shiva

South End Press: 136 pp., $10 paper

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THESE essays, by Michael Pollan, Carlo Petrini (founder of the Slow Food movement) and others were inspired by the 2004 Slow Food conference called Terra Madre, a “magical gathering of food communities” in Turin, Italy. Five thousand people from 130 countries met to talk about growing and eating. “In Terra Madre’s world,” writes Vandana Shiva, “small farms produce more than industrial farms while using fewer resources; biodiversity protects the health of the soil and the health of people; and quality, taste, and nutrition are the criteria for production and processing, not toxic quantity and superprofits for agribusiness.” The essays are eloquent and inspiring. They have a grass-roots energy, an exuberance, a sense of hopefulness and possibility, of doability, that are too rarely apparent in essays on other critical issues (like climate change, for example). “This is our work,” writes Pollan, “to re-create and defend the food chains that link us -- soil, plant, animal and eater.”

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Slicing the Silence

Voyaging to Antarctica

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Tom Griffiths

Harvard University Press: 400 pp., $29.95

ARE you a closet Antarctica fanatic? Dreaming about all that airy distance and that strange light is my imagination’s screen saver. Tom Griffiths quotes Thoreau early in “Slicing the Silence”: “Is not our own interior white on the chart?” “Explore your own higher latitudes.” In 2002 Griffiths, an environmental historian, accompanied a team of researchers to Antarctica. He writes about the romance of ocean exploration, the expeditions of Scott and Shackleton, but also about how high winds make that continent an indicator of global climate health. Journal entries begin with the latitude and longitude. “You lurch against the muscle of the ocean and you realise that you are really moving, in spite of the way the pencil line on the captain’s chart inches imperceptibly away from the southern Tasmanian coast out into a great landless void.” “Ice and light haunt our dreams,” he writes as the ship sails toward the northeast horizon and into darkness. Griffiths also describes the perils of returning home from the Antarctic. “You’ve got quieter,” his friends tell him, not understanding his inability to convey the enormity of the place and the experience. “After all,” he explains, “you sailed off the planet for a year. And now, for a little while, you have brought the silence back.”

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Masako’s Story

Surviving the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima

Kikuko Otake

Ahadada Books: 96 pp., $15 paper

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KIKUKO OTAKE was 5 years old on Aug. 6, 1945. Her family lived in Uchikoshi, just 1.1 miles north of the hypocenter. Her mother and two brothers were wounded but survived. Her father, stationed with the Japanese Army in Hiroshima, was killed. For decades, her mother, Masako, refused to talk about that day. The family fled to Otake’s grandmother’s house in a nearby suburb, a journey that took many days and which Masako remembers in agonizing detail. Masako told her daughter that because she had three children and a wounded arm she was unable to gather them altogether and jump into the river. “And that’s the only reason / Why you are still alive today.” Otake came to the United States in 1968 to marry an American. “By a strange twist of fate,” she writes, “I ended up becoming a naturalized citizen of the country that had unleashed the atomic bomb on my family and the world.” Otake began working on this book after visiting her 78-year-old mother in Japan in 1991. She felt she did not know enough about the bomb, its effect on her family and the world. The notes she took while talking with her mother are transcribed here in the shape of poems: “I once saw a painting of hell. / But I swear this sight was more nightmarish than that.” This little memoir in verse has a beautiful sweetness, reverence and sorrow that gives its readers freedom to imagine the enormity, the horror of Hiroshima.

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susan.reynolds@latimes.com


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