Nathanael Johnson is a child of serious hippies, and grew up eating dirt and berries in the Northern California mountains, not too far from where I live now. His dad didn't believe in diapers, and his mom didn't believe in sugar.* Then he grew up and married a woman of the modern world, and pretty soon they were wondering: what really is the best way to have a baby? Doula and water-birth, or epidural and hospital bed? Thus a book was born as Johnson explored our ideas about so many topics from birth to how to take care of the environment, not to mention 'toxins' in our food and vaccines.
I had quite a lot of fun reading all of this, and some of the topics he investigates are on the unusual side. One whole section was devoted to the arguments over raw milk; another was about vegetable toxins with a fascinating aside into diseases caused by long-term exposure to some foods (not processed foods, just certain plants). I learned a whole lot about modern pig farming, which has changed completely in the last 20 years, and some good information on modern medicine.
I particularly enjoyed a section on forest recovery in Northern California. In the 19th century, mining companies engaged in hydraulic mining, in which they simply washed entire mountainsides downstream through sluices to get gold or other metals out of the soil. It took concerted efforts to get the practice outlawed. Johnson writes about some areas that are recovering, and how interested people can best manage local lands. Not every place can recover, though; this is what one mountainside near a favorite hiking spot looks like today. You can see that the entire thing was just washed down to bedrock and there's no way for new soil to form:
|Photo credit: Kevin Knauss|
*Although my own hippie parents were a good deal more moderate, I completely understood Johnson's childhood longing for Twinkies and would like to invite him to the Facebook "Your Mom is So Berkeley" group, where he will feel right at home.