By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Stock up, author urges

Keeping plenty of food on hand in the pantry to be ready for all sorts of emergencies, large and small, is the focus of “Independence Days,” by peak oil and climate writer Sharon Astyk.

Since I follow her blog, I was already familiar with a great deal of what she had to say on the subject, but still found the book interesting and useful. Astyk is an engaging writer.

I’d have liked more recipes – for example, at one point she says she discovered that she could make a vegetable stock indistinguishable from chicken stock with roasted onions and miso – but never provides directions for how to do so.

In each section, she spends a good bit of time explaining what she thinks is good practice – for gardening, canning, preserving, shopping and so forth – and then gives a handful of sample recipes. They looked good enough that I want to try them and regretted having to give the book back to the library.

I thought the section on jams was a little too fancy, featuring ingredients like liqueurs and white chocolate chips, instead of simple fruits. For a book focused on simple living, that seemed a little over the top – fine for one or two recipes, but I’d have liked to see some more basic offerings, as well, and perhaps more discussion of techniques for saving money, such as making jam without pectin. Also, I’m not at all sure that the white chocolate chip strawberry whatever-it-was jam is safe to can, which concerns me. I’d have liked some assurance that someone, at some point, spoke with food safety experts about that.

On the other hand, there’s no shortage of basic jam recipes available in the world, and Astyk wasn’t trying to write a cookbook so much as a how-to-live-simply-and-well book.

The title is from a quote from Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living, in which Emery talks about trying to plant or preserve some type of food nearly every day. Independence, in this context, refers to self-reliance: producing as much as possible of one’s own needs to free one from dependence on corporations.

The book is one of several that Astyk wrote over the course of three or four years focusing on different aspects of the same basic message: that Americans need to grow more of their own food and modify their standard of living to cope with, and try to combat, rising oil prices, climate change and widespread (global) poverty.

I liked this one better than its predecessor, “Depletion and Abundance,” although I found both interesting.

And although Astyk focuses heavily on trying to grow as much food as possible, the book spends quite a lot of time discussing bulk food purchases, and simple recipes from commercially canned and dried foods for low-income budgets.

She discusses how to budget and how to build up a pantry of stored foods to rely on – arguing that this can actually be much easier on a strained budget – and tide you over rough periods, such as a job loss. There are discussions about tailoring your pantry to your family’s tastes and working to get other family members on board with the various projects – all useful. There are discussions about the difficulties of trying to do all of this while working, caring for a family and dealing with all the other distractions life offers. It’s inevitable, Astyk points out, that sometimes things that ideally you ought to do aren’t going to get done.

Those are some of my favorite parts of the book, given how often I fall short of my own goals. It was comforting to read that she, too, was planting onions two months late, or failing to get transplants into the ground, or having produce go bad before she could get it processed. These things happen.

Read it, and enjoy; this book made me want to get to work.

Contact Nicole Montesano at

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