Read local, act global

READ IT by Bruce Mason

“World class” – a phrase that’s found its way back into Greater Vancouver’s vocabulary lately, as in “world class” spill response or mass transit. Happily, there’s no doubt we’re tip-top in other areas, including three recent books with strong regional ties: John Vaillant’s The Jaguar’s Children; Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs; and Laura Dakin’s Cookin’ Up a Storm; Sea Stories and Vegan Recipes from Sea Shepherd’s Anti-Whaling Campaigns.


Three books with very different themes – each one timely, illuminating some all-important topics. Written to make a difference and jam-packed with memorable characters. Classy and worthwhile reading.

Let’s start at the end. Even if the official Sea Shepherd cookbook weren’t fully rigged with 80 favourite, hearty, rigorously tested dishes, photographs and first hand accounts, purchasing it will help stem the silent collapse of ocean ecosystems. Join hundreds of thousands of supporters from 36 countries to help finance aggressive, effective, relentless direct action to halt the slaughter of endangered and threatened marine wildlife. You’ll also help stop bottom trawling – the equivalent of clear-cutting –which involves tossing what’s unwanted or dead back or grinding it up for cheap animal protein.

All vegan – and rightly so – Cookin’ Up a Storm will cast you off on navigating a new, necessary course of eating to save the planet. First, a few shockers from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (1977) founder, Captain Paul Watson: 40% of the catch taken from the sea is fed to livestock, pets and farm-raised fish. Pigs eat more fish than sharks; chickens consume more seafood than puffins and cats, even more than seals. In fact, domestic cats top the list of hogs of the sea and eating bacon buggers up biodiversity and the ocean’s food chain.

Watson, the son of a chef, contributes such fare as Captain’s Habitat Split Pea Soup, Favourite Carrot Cake and the Antarctic Tropical Canadian Delight. But Dakin is in the wheelhouse here.

“I was sick of feeling helpless about the alarming depletion of our oceans and signed on to the Sea Shepherd crew, in 2005, in Bermuda, at age 21,” recalls the former private chef for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who has studied and worked at restaurants around the world.

Keep in mind Dakin stores food for a ravenous crew of 50, for hundreds of days, offshore, 24-7, in the killing grounds of barbarous death ships. Galley conditions sometimes resemble a roller coaster or dicing an onion inside a clothes dryer. A genius at what she calls “veganizing,” she serves up delectable Signature Sea Shepherd’s Pie, tofu sausages, Tandoori potatoes, Can’t Beet It Chutney, fish-free cakes, fresh bread and to die-for-desserts.

Hello, folks; you know you need this book.

Vancouver-based, bestselling, award winning author John Vaillant (The Golden Spruce, The Tiger) has given us what most readers long for: an engrossing page-turner that turns everything else off. It’s head-shaking story-telling you can’t put down and can’t wait to finish while wishing it would go on.

His debut novel – The Jaguar’s Children (now in paperback) – more than justifies the international acclaim for his narrative power. Set on both sides of the US-Mexico border, it’s based on a true story and heart-breaking emails found on a phone inside a sealed, empty water truck in which a group of illegal migrants died of thirst and starvation.

Evil is ubiquitous and tangled, actively predatory on both sides of the great divide between Mexico and El Norte; in the unscrupulous actions of the “coyotes,” hired to facilitate the dangerous escape. And attention Common Ground readers: in the terror of genetically modified food.

People and lands – of which Vaillant has much respect and knowledge – are imperilled, as we all are, by genocidal, international agri-business. It’s scary, very scary and essential to know. The book includes fascinating glimpses of old Mexico and ancient myths, masterfully woven into the rapidly changing new, told through the power of impressive talent, truth, courage and hope. Global praise for The Jaguar’s Children is richly deserved.

Chasing the Scream, is the result of a three-and-a-half-year, 30,000-mile descent into the 100-year-old, tragically counterproductive, international “War on Drugs.”

Elton John opines, “Absolutely stunning, it will blow people away.” Noam Chomsky adds, “Wonderful, couldn’t put it down.” Glenn Greenwald reports, “The perfect antidote to one of the most under-discussed moral injustices.” And Russell Brand pipes up with, “As intoxicatingly thrilling as crack, without destroying your teeth. It will change the drug debate forever.”

Through riveting, superb journalism and deeply human story-telling, Johann Hari cuts through the crap of what we think drugs are, what addiction is and the real reasons and motivation for the too-long, so-sorry, hopeless, so-called War. He shares compelling true stories of the likes of Billie Holiday, a transsexual Brooklyn dealer who was conceived when his crack-addicted mother was raped by an NYPD officer, and a prisoner kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, who emerged to be elected President of Uruguay.

Central to the book are two brave, brilliant local citizens: Dr. Gabor Mate and SFU psychologist Bruce Alexander. Familiarity with their work and experience will change the way you think (hopefully) about drugs and our Downtown Eastside, forever, along with the rest of this remarkable book, which, as Elton promises, will blow you away!

Three books to pick up when you’re looking for a controversial, consequential keeper. World class. Really.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.


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