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IN NATURE'S NAME
An Anthology of Women's Writing and Illustration, 1780-1930
Edited by Barbara T. Gates
University of Chicago Press, 699 pp., $27.50
uppose we asked you to take your environmental consciousness and use it to imagine life in Victorian and Edwardian times. Do you see tired horses pulling carriages through sooty London air? Great forests falling to make ties for the new railways crisscrossing the Empire? Ladies in hats beplumed with the feathers of rare exotic birds? Take another look at the ladies; find the ones without the fancy millinery. They'll be the heroines of this story.
In Nature's Name brings together speeches, drawings, essays, poems, and fiction of the women at the intellectual forefront of conservation, animal protection, adventure travel, science education, and natural history over more than a century. Most of the selections are interesting for their own sake -- Anne Brontë's Agnes Grey fights casual animal abuse, Dorothy Wordsworth offers a glimpse of sublime pastoral beauty, Frances Power Cobbe's vivisectionists get what's coming to them at the hands of scientifically curious angels -- but they also describe a particular politico-sexual moment. Here was a group of people who didn't get much respect, championing a group of causes that hardly got any respect at all. In the words of the female president of the plucky Society for the Protection of Birds (it had not yet received its royal charter), "Much liberal effort on the part of women suffers from the fact that they are suspected -- no doubt without a particle of reason -- never to mean quite what they say." But as Barbara T. Gates's scholarly anthology shows, environmentalist women were speaking out eloquently, compassionately, prophetically, and incisively on subjects ranging from window gardening (Elizabeth Twining) to West African fishing (Mary H. Kingsley), biophilia (Christina Rossetti) to taxidermy (Sarah Bowdich Lee), Darwinism (Alice Bodington) to hedgehogs (Beatrix Potter). We would still do well to listen.
-- Gillian Ashley
Essays and Stories About Urban Nature
Edited by Terrell F. Dixon
University of Georgia Press, 311 pp., $19.95
onsidering that just 2 percent of the United States is sanctioned wilderness, it's probably a fair guess that the 80 percent of Americans now living in cities imagine a daily relationship with nature as wholly impractical. Perhaps the problem, however, is one of perception. City Wilds revises our traditional views of what nature is, locating it in less obvious places. The majority of the works collected here, including pieces by talented writers such as bell hooks and Joy Williams, find in even the most heavily concretized environs the sort of beauty and peace normally associated with pristine natural habitats.
I confess that I was prepared to dismiss City Wilds as some sort of attempt to put a new, and extraneous, spin on the themes already explored by early American nature writers. Instead, the book opened my eyes to the urban nature around me. Since reading Lisa Couturier's "Reversing the Tides," I now take a deep breath on my morning runs over New York City's Williamsburg Bridge, and perceive the East River stretching below me as a privilege to behold, and not, as I habitually saw it, a polluted, unfortunate waterway.
Perhaps I was a victim of what Robert Michael Pyle describes, in "The Thunder Tree," as a "diminished regard for nature" and "the extinction of experience." In a plea for city denizens to recognize the life around them, one essay quotes James Hillman, the Jungian psychologist: "The Greek word for city, polis...locates city in the wet regions of the soul.... We need but remember that the city, the metro-polis, means at the root a streaming, flowing, thronging Mother. We are her children, and she can nourish our imaginations if we nourish hers."
-- Amy Hughes
The Next Diet for a Small Planet
By Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 448 pp., $26.95
itting in a Berkeley library in 1969, Frances Moore Lappé had an epiphany: The planet produced enough to nourish everybody. That moment propelled her to write Diet for a Small Planet, a watershed work that explored the deadly paradox of food shortages in a world of plenty.
Selling three million copies, Diet impassioned readers, prompting many to become vegetarians. But it had little impact on the forces that continue to skew the distribution of food. Industrial livestock farming, one culprit, is even more widespread now, and it still expends disproportionate amounts of grain, water, and energy to produce a single pound of beef.
Thirty years after Diet, Lappé reevaluates the twin problems of worsening hunger and environmental degradation in Hope's Edge. Researched and written with daughter Anna Lappé (but mostly presented in Frances's voice), Hope's Edge posits that a scarcity of democracy, not food, is at the root of world hunger.
The book is organized into three main parts: the Lappés' far-flung journeys to visit communities that have devised unique solutions to securing food; recipes, by chefs and whole-foods cookbook authors, for dishes such as parsnip patties and tofu mocha pudding; and resources for readers who want to take action or learn more.
The local tales of struggle and success do offer hope. In Brazil, landless workers practice civil disobedience to reclaim acres of untilled land that long ago were unfairly divided among the country's elite. But Lappé's proselytizing can be boggy and hard to take. Still, the stories about pioneers who have taken the matter of food into their own hands make Hope's Edge a worthwhile read.
-- Christina Melander
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OnEarth. Summer 2002
Copyright 2002 by the Natural Resources Defense Council