Saturday, August 18, 2007

Summer reading

I have just finished reading two books. First was the thoroughly researched and thoroughly readable Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care, by Jennifer Block, a former editor at Ms. Magazine and Our Bodies, Ourselves. The second was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver, about her radical 12-month undertaking of eating only that which she grew herself or that grew nearby. What struck me about both of these books -- besides how well each was done -- is how much these seemingly disparate topics, how babies are born and how food gets to our table, overlap in modern life. In Pushed, Block writes how "there was a direct tie between the rise of the assembly line -- of mass production -- and the rise of standardized, mechanize birth." Pitocin, the labor inducing and augmenting drug that half of all American women receive in the hospital today during labor and delivery, "owed its commercial availability to the centralization of the meatpacking industry. One pound of dried extract became the profitable by-product of pituitary glands from twelve thousand young cattle."

Kingsolver, for her part, talks about how agribusiness has brought us the unlikely phenomenon of cheap bananas all year round in places where they don't grow, and farm subsidues that actually help companies like Monsanto put small-town farmers out of business. In the end, we are left with grocery stores full of foods that are less healthful and more damaging to the environment, given the fertilizers and pesticides involved, as well as the fuels used to transport the food.

The bottom line in Pushed is that the natural way of giving birth should be the default, not the exception today. And that we still don't fully understand how we are messing with our complex biological systems when we override them with drugs and tools and schedules in a room full of strangers.

Likewise, Kingsolver argues that we all need to be reeducated about the local seasonality of food, why it is important not just to eat organic but to buy local. She writes: "The drift away from our agricultural roots is a natural consequence of migration from the land to the factory...But we got ourselves uprooted entirely by a drastic reconfiguration of US farming, beginning just after World War II. Our munitions plants, challenged to beat their swords into plowshares, retooled to make amonium nitrate surpluses into chemical fertilizers instead of explosives. The next explosions were yields on midwestern corn and soybean fields." Which is why we are glugging down products sweetened with corn syrup and getting fat in the process. To say nothing of our 30-plus percent cesarean rate.


Petunia Rae said...

Wow! My summer reading consisted of your book, Barbara Kingsolvers, and now Pushed. I will keep reading with these connections in mind!

Tina Cassidy said...

Petunia, my next book is Cormack McCarthy's On The Road, an apocolyptic tale. Hopefully, the reading sequence is not some sort of progression!

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