Friday, 19 August 2011

A Year of Plenty, by Craig L Goodwin: a book review. Of sorts.

A hobby of mine - I guess it's a hobby, as it takes up quite a bit of my free time - is following blogs. I especially like Faith Barista and join in with her Jam With Me Thursdays when I can. I also like reading: my latest book is A Year of Plenty, by Craig L Goodwin. I was just finishing this book when this week's topic on the Faith Jam came up: Small Acts of Faith. Reading a Year of Plenty, that's exactly what I was inspired to do. Make small acts of faith. This is why...

My primary emotion when I started off reading this book was intrigue. I was curious to see how a typical suburban US family could live, for a year, only by using what was homegrown, locally produced, homemade or recycled. At first glance, it didn't seem as if it would be too challenging. There would be adjustments, of course, but I considered that most of what my family consumed would fall into one of those four categories. How wrong I was. The book is a fascinating glimpse into a year of taking an alternative approach to consumerism.

I have been a devotee of recycling for many years - not just recycling rubbish, but buying used or second-hand goods, principally through charity shops. I make my own cards for every occasion; grow whatever vegetables the rabbits, which are prolific in my garden, allow; make do, mend and repair. My husband does the same, faithfully keeping our ancient vehicles roadworthy and fixing things around the house. Our lifestyle is generally not at all profligate, save for the odd winter holiday in sunnier climes and I figured that forgoing that just once might not be too hard. So I considered trying the experiment as well.

By the end of the first chapter, I was in despair. The enormity of consumerism threatened to overcome me; the ethical and philosophical questions raised by ONLY buying what is locally produced were completely overwhelming. Having lived in Kenya for many years, I was well aware of the value to local people there when I bought Kenyan green beans or roses. Were I, and others with me, not to do that, the livelihood of many would vanish. The book was, to my surprise, raising more questions and creating more problems in my mind than answers. I persevered.

By the end of the second chapter, when I read that locally produced squash was rotting while shoppers were buying squash produced in Mexico, I was in tears. The ugly question of food waste reared its head. I knew – from a paper my daughter wrote on the subject for her degree – that tackling the problem has no simple solutions. Nor, on the face of it, do other ‘green’ issues. How could one family change ANYTHING?

By the end of the book, I felt quite optimistic. Yes, the Goodwins’ experiment meant radical changes to their lifestyle, but it did seem possible. I realised that taking a similar approach helped to increase a sense of community as purchasing became much more personal. As I read about successful vegetable growing, rearing chickens or sourcing locally milled flour, I gained a renewed appreciation for the work farmers do.

I had some issues, which I suspect others reading this book might share. While I agree that consumerism is insidious in the fabric of Western society, it is a hard habit to break. Food has to be put on the table, journeys made, birthday presents found. Searching for a locally-produced birthday present for one of the children’s class-mates required a 30 minute drive which, concerned as I am to reduce my own carbon footprint, seemed excessive. Yet are the benefits of finding a beautiful, hand-crafted object, which was much appreciated by the recipient and resulted in an increased connection with its maker – increased community, which most of us long for - deemed less important?

A Year of Plenty raises significant questions about sustainability through consumer choice, about the role and identity of the church and about the global economics of consumption. But as Craig Goodwin says, this experiment was about ‘sorting out more meaningful rhythms of consumption in the small space of our lives.’ They learned to focus intentionally on the ‘little things’, having faith that what they did mattered.

And it does. We all have lives filled with ‘little things’. How we behave with those small things demonstrates our faith. As we seek to live responsibly in our world, we affirm that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it’ (Psalm 24:1) and that we are stewards of it. What we do IS important.

For more inspiration, go to the Year of Plenty blog!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for taking the time to read through and reflect on "Year of Plenty." Blessings to you on your journey of Plenty.

    Craig Goodwin