Make or break: Five books to help you live more sustainably

The new year always starts off with the best of intentions. The problem is, those resolutions sometimes aren't as easy to keep as they are to make.

All this month, CBC Books is here to help with Make or Break, our series to help you live up to those good intentions. This week, we take a look at living a more sustainable life. And even though it might seem a little counter-intuitive to buy a book to get yourself on a more environmentally conscious track, it's often the best place to start. Here are some great books to get you inspired to change your life.


The Story of Stuff
by Annie Leonard

First, it was a video that went viral and inspired millions to rethink their relationship with their "stuff." Now, it's a book, and a sweeping one at that. Leonard tracks the life of everyday things like t-shirts, cell phones and pop cans through the five stages of our economy --: from extraction to production, distribution, consumption and disposal. But while the journey that $3 t-shirt takes on its way to the shelf might be complex, Leonard's message is clear: we have too much stuff and the true environmental, health and cultural cost of it is too high. This book will change the way you think about the things in your life and how you treat them.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollan

What should I make for dinner? When this book was released in 2006, it changed the way a lot of people answered that question. Michael Pollan's method in The Ominvore's Dilemma is similar to Annie Leonard's in The Story of Stuff: he traces the path that food takes on its way to the dinner plate. What might have been a simple question, then, becomes a minefield of political, environmental and moral consequences. Pollan focuses on the three food chains available to us -- industrial food, organic food and food we forage for ourselves -- in this intriguing account of the North American way of eating. It might not be a fun read, but thanks to Pollan's elegant prose, it's definitely captivating.

Locavore: From Farmer's Fields to Rooftop Gardens -- How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat
by Sarah Elton

After you finish The Omnivore's Dilemma, you might want to turn to Sarah Elton's book for a bit of hope. In Locavore, Elton takes a look at the burgeoning local food movement, and how it has the potential to fight climate change change, improve our health and give us all better tasting meals. Elton takes us across the country, from city office workers to New Brunswick farmers to Quebec artisanal cheese makers and an urban farmer in British Columbia, introducing the reader to food activists and ordinary people along the way. It's not just a map of our country's culinary present, it's a guide for creating a truly Canadian food industry in the future.

Traditional Kitchen Wisdom: Techniques and Recipes for Living a Simpler, More Sustainable Life
Edited by Andrea Chesman

How can you grow your own vegetables in a small space? What's the best way to preserve food in the freezer? Many of us never learned those simple skills, thanks to the abundance of supermarkets and ready-made meals. There was a time, though, when such kitchen basics were not only commonplace, but necessary. This collection of tips and tricks will help you learn them once again. With instructions on everything from canning fruits and vegetables and making simple jams and jellies to raising chickens and bees and even making your own cheese, it might even have you impressing your grandmother with some hearty homesteading skills.

The Legacy
by David Suzuki

Of course, no list of books on sustainable living would be complete without something from David Suzuki. In 2009, Suzuki delivered a lecture based on the question "If I had one last lecture to give, what would I say?" This book is an extended version of that lecture, where Suzuki explains how the world got to where it is today and how we can work to build a better future. At the centre of it all is our increased dependence on technology and its unavoidably immense ecological footprint. Unfortunately, Suzuki argues, we're not just hurting the planet, we're also hurting ourselves. In order to preserve our existence as a species, we must abandon the idea of unfettered growth and adopt a more holistic view of our life on Earth.

This is just the beginning, and we know we've probably missed a lot of big ones. Tell us which books you think should be on the list in the comments below.
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