Books

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Jesus for Farmers and Fishers, Justice for All Those Marginalized by Our Food System, March 30, 2021

By: Gary Paul Nabhan

Climate disasters, tariff wars, extractive technologies, and deepening debts are plummeting American food producers into what is quickly becoming the most severe farm crisis of the last half-century. Yet we are largely unaware of the plight of those whose hands and hearts toil to sustain us.

Agrarian and ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan–the “father of the local food movement”–offers a fresh, imaginative look at the parables of Jesus to bring us into a heart of compassion for those in the food economy hit by this unprecedented crisis. Offering palpable scenes from the Sea of Galilee and the fields, orchards, and feasting tables that surrounded it, Nabhan contrasts the profound ways Jesus interacted with those who were the workers of the field and the fishers of the sea with the events currently occurring in American farm country and fishing harbors.

Tapping the work of Middle Eastern naturalists, environmental historians, archaeologists, and agro-ecologists, Jesus for Farmers and Fishers is sure to catalyze deeper conversations, moral appraisals, and faith-based social actions in each of our faith-land-water communities.

The Nature of Desert Nature, 2020

Editor: Gary Paul Nabhan

In this refreshing collection, one of our best writers on desert places, Gary Paul Nabhan, challenges traditional notions of the desert. Beautiful, reflective, and at times humorous, Nabhan’s extended essay also called “The Nature of Desert Nature” reveals the complexity of what a desert is and can be. He passionately writes about what it is like to visit a desert and what living in a desert looks like when viewed through a new frame, turning age-old notions of the desert on their heads.

Nabhan invites a prism of voices—friends, colleagues, and advisors from his more than four decades of study of deserts—to bring their own perspectives. Scientists, artists, desert contemplatives, poets, and writers bring the desert into view and investigate why these places compel us to walk through their sands and beneath their cacti and acacia. We observe the spines and spears, stings and songs of the desert anew. Unexpected. Surprising. Enchanting. Like the desert itself, each essay offers renewed vocabulary and thoughtful perceptions.

The desert inspires wonder. Attending to history, culture, science, and spirit, The Nature of Desert Nature celebrates the bounty and the significance of desert places.

Craig Childs
Virga & Bone: Essays from Dry Places

This book is a celebration, an exploration, an accumulation of voices swept up together in a circle of wind, a deployment of all the senses, including the ones you might have forgotten you had. It is magic, science, memory, miracle. If the desert had a seed, a genetic capsule of itself, it would be this book. And you, reader, are the rain that falls, bringing it to life.

Hal Cannon
Cowboy Poetry: A Gathering

It’s about time. Who better to tackle the nature of desert, in its fullness, than Gary Nabhan and these contributors. As a desert musician who loves music that credits landscape and place, this book is my textbook for understanding the nature of what moves me to music.

J. Baird Callicott
Greek Natural Philosophy

Mary Austin, Wallace Stegner, Edward Abbey, Gary Nabhan—the sonorous voices of Arid America. None more knowledgeable than Nabhan, who here leads a choir of voices in a desert chorale.

Ben A. Minteer
The Fall of the Wild: Extinction, De-Extinction, and the Ethics of Conservation

We’ve been slow to warm to deserts as places worth learning and caring about. This original and probing little book, led by one of the pioneers in our understanding of desert ecology and culture, should lay to rest the notion that there isn’t much to see (or feel) in these lands of little rain. A bracing and deeply thoughtful collection that should appeal to desert rationalists and romantics everywhere.

MesquiteAn Arboreal Love Affair, 2018

by Gary Nabhan

In his latest book, Mesquite, Gary Paul Nabhan employs humor and contemplative reflection to convince readers that they have never really glimpsed the essence of what he calls “arboreality.”

As a Franciscan brother and ethnobotanist who has often mixed mirth with earth, laughter with landscape, food with frolic, Nabhan now takes on a large, many-branched question: What does it means to be a tree, or, accordingly, to be in a deep and intimate relationship with one?

To answer this question, Nabhan does not disappear into a forest but exposes himself to some of the most austere hyper-arid terrain on the planet—the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts along the US/Mexico border—where even the most ancient perennial plants are not tall and thin, but stunted and squat.

There, in desert regions that cover more than a third of our continent, mesquite trees have become the staff of life, not just for indigenous cultures, but for myriad creatures, many of which respond to these “nurse plants” in wildly intelligent and symbiotic ways.

In this landscape, where Nabhan claims that nearly every surviving being either sticks, stinks, stings, or sings, he finds more lives thriving than you could ever shake a stick at. As he weaves his arid yarns, we suddenly realize that our normal view of the world has been turned on its head: where we once saw scarcity, there is abundance; where we once perceived severity, there is whimsy. Desert cultures that we once assumed lived in “food deserts” are secretly savoring a most delicious world.

Drawing on his half-century of immersion in desert ethnobotany, ecology, linguistics, agroforestry, and eco-gastronomy, Nabhan opens up for us a hidden world that we had never glimpsed before. Along the way, he explores the sensuous reality surrounding this most useful and generous tree.

Mesquite is a book that will delight mystics and foresters, naturalists and foodies. It combines cutting-edge science with a generous sprinkling of humor and folk wisdom, even including traditional recipes for cooking with mesquite.

Food from the Radical CenterHealing Our Land and Communities, 2018
by Gary Nabhan

 

America has never felt more divided. But in the midst of all the acrimony comes one of the most promising movements in our country’s history. People of all races, faiths, and political persuasions are coming together to restore America’s natural wealth: its ability to produce healthy foods.

In Food from the Radical Center, Gary Nabhan tells the stories of diverse communities who are getting their hands dirty and bringing back North America’s unique fare: bison, sturgeon, camas lilies, ancient grains, turkeys, and more. These efforts have united people from the left and right, rural and urban, faith-based and science-based, in game-changing collaborations. Their successes are extraordinary by any measure, whether economic, ecological, or social. In fact, the restoration of land and rare species has provided—dollar for dollar—one of the best returns on investment of any conservation initiative.

As a leading thinker and seasoned practitioner in biocultural conservation, Nabhan offers a truly unique perspective on the movement. He draws on fifty years of work with community-based projects around the nation, from the desert Southwest to the low country of the Southeast. Yet Nabhan’s most enduring legacy may be his message of hope: a vision of a new environmentalism that is just and inclusive, allowing former adversaries to commune over delicious foods.

Lauret Savoy
Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape

Food from the Radical Center connects how we eat with how we live through stories of true collaboration, of people coming together across borders to repair soils, habitats, and the health of species. This important book calls on each of us to help restore and re-story the nation’s capacity to feed and nourish–it also honors the geography of home.

Liz Carlisle
Lentil Underground and Lecturer, Stanford University

In this moving, essential collection of stories, Gary Paul Nabhan introduces us to the unsung heroes of biocultural restoration. Rallying to the fundamental human work of feeding their neighbors, these inspiring leaders demonstrate that we can restore our environment and our communities at the same time — and in the process, we might just restore our collective faith in the promise of democracy.

Bill McDonald
Rancher and Co-Founder of the Malpai Borderlands Group

Using remarkable insights and examples, Gary Nabhan brings together collaborative conservation and food in a way that will challenge, inspire, and motivate all of us to become better stewards, harvesters, and consumers.

Ethnobiology for the Future, 2016
by Gary Nabhan

 

Ethnobiology holds a special place in the hearts and minds of many because of its dedication to celebrating the knowledge and values of some of the most distinctive cultural practices in some of the most distinctive places on Earth. Yet we live in a world of diminishing natural and linguistic diversity. Whether due to climate change or capitalism, homogeneity is trumping the once-resplendent heterogeneity all around us.

In this important new collection, Gary Paul Nabhan puts forth a call for the future not only of ethnobiology but for the entire planet. He articulates and broadens the portfolio of ethnobiological principles and amplifies the tool kit for anyone engaged in the ethnobiosphere, those vital spaces of intense interaction among cultures, habitats, and creatures.

The essays are grouped into a trio of themes. The first group presents the big questions facing humanity, the second profiles tools and methodologies that may help to answer those questions, and the third ponders how to best communicate these issues not merely to other scholars, but to society at large. The essays attest to the ways humans establish and circumscribe their identities not only through their thoughts and actions, but also with their physical, emotional, and spiritual attachments to place, flora, fauna, fungi, and feasts.

Cumin, Camels, and Caravans: A Spice Odyssey, 2014
by Gary Nabhan

 

Gary Paul Nabhan takes the reader on a vivid and far-ranging journey across time and space in this fascinating look at the relationship between the spice trade and culinary imperialism. Drawing on his own family’s history as spice traders, as well as travel narratives, historical accounts, and an ethnobotanical exploration of spices and their uses, Nabhan describes the critically important roles that Semitic peoples and desert floras had in setting the stages for globalized spice trade.

Traveling along four prominent trade routes—the Silk Road, the Frankincense Trail, the Spice Route, and the Camino Real for chiles and chocolate—Nabhan follows the caravans of itinerant spice merchants from the frankincense-gathering grounds and ancient harbors of the Arabian Peninsula, to the port of Zayton on the China Sea, to Santa Fe in the desert Southwest. His stories, recipes, and linguistic analyses of cultural diffusion routes reveal the extent to which aromatics like cumin, cinnamon, saffron, and peppers became adopted worldwide as signature ingredients of diverse cuisines. Cumin, Camels, and Caravans demonstrates that two particular desert cultures often depicted in constant conflict—Arabs and Jews—have spent more of their history collaborating in the spice trade and suggests how a more virtuous multicultural but globalized society may be achieved in the future.