Sleeping Naked Is Green
by Vanessa Farquharson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sleeping Naked is Green / 978-0-547-07328-6
Vanessa is an average woman in a big city - having recently seen "An Inconvenient Truth", she feels compelled to do *something* to help the environment, but she has no idea where to start. She decides that she will make one "green" change a day, for a whole year, and then decide which changes she can keep and which she can't. And, to keep her motivated, she'll keep a daily online blog so that she won't be able to drop out of the challenge without disappointing her readers. Over the course of her year, her changes run the gamut from the small (changing to recycled paper towels), the slightly silly (sleeping naked to reduce laundry loads), and the extreme (turning off her refrigerator and oven - entirely).
"Sleeping Naked is Green" isn't a compilation of Vanessa's blog posts (which is what I'd expected), but rather a sort of running diary on Vanessa's life during her challenge, as she struggles to green her life, keep a daily blog, keep her job, and maintain her relationships with her friends and family. Each chapter opens with the breakdown of her changes for the entire month (i.e. February 1st, Switch to recycled paper towels; February 2nd, Push back the thermostat; etc.), which is then followed by little diary-like entries for interesting/pertinent days of that month (each chapter usually deals with approximately 10 days of that month). Along the way, we read about Vanessa's green changes, their impact on her life, her musings on the green movement, and a great deal about the inner workings of her personal and professional life.
Even without the "educational" aspect, "Sleeping Naked is Green" is worth a second look simply because it is such an interesting read. Vanessa is a skilled writer, and readers will laugh at her green woes as her sister sets her apartment on fire (she hadn't realized the kettle was electric), as her cat accidentally dives into a 'fermenting' toilet bowl and proceeds to redecorate the apartment, and as her homemade worm compost bin accidentally falls apart on the living room carpet. Vanessa notes wryly how often she exchanges congratulations from other "greenies" on 'lack of body odor', and she marvels at the internal changes to her own body when she adjusts to life without (much) heating and air conditioner and subsequently notices "hot flashes" in other people's homes. As such, the book is an interesting and humorous read from start to finish, even without such green information as the fact that many non-organic beekeepers kill their bees at the end of each season, whereas most organic beekeepers do not because getting a hive certified as organic is an expensive investment. I, for one, did not know that and I found the information to be very interesting. I was also interested by Vanessa's approval of the Diva Cup - it's certainly nice to here a testimonial from someone who has tried the product in question. Not that Vanessa name drops - in fact, most of her changes don't provide a brand name at all which is somewhat reassuring as she doesn't come off like a commercial.
This isn't, though, the perfect book for everyone. Vanessa is a somewhat self-described cynic and while her self-deprecating tone maintains a careful lightheartedness necessary for such a serious and contentious topic (she frets that Al Gore will not approve of her recycled paper towels, preferring free-trade organic wool towels, hand-woven by workers who are both fairly paid and local, and delivered to the store via bicycle courier), she can also be extremely critical of the green movement, in ways that can be extremely insightful and pointed (she notes with disdain the overabundance of plastic water bottles and free pens and armbands at green trade shows and recycling initiatives) but also sometimes in ways that seem rather shallow and childish. In fact, Vanessa can sometimes, despite her good intentions at cheerful snark, come off pretty sneeringly with regards to people she deems too idealistic ('eager beavers'), too serious ('serious activists'), and too fashion-impaired (she hates Teva, Birkenstock, and Gore-Tex). There's a lot of overtones a la "Sex and the City", with Vanessa spending entire paychecks on a single pair of pants, with her hoping for a "signature blue Tiffany" canvas bag, and with her bemoaning, a little too frequently at times, her lack of a boyfriend.
Vanessa's light-hearted approach to her challenge can also sometimes undermine her message - pledging to drink local alcohol, organic produce, and "happy meat" only goes so far when she also admits to eating out more frequently on purpose because restaurants are an exception to her rules. Offsetting her flights with carbon credits is a good move, but most of her flights aren't business flights that are necessary for her job, but are rather vacations - Vanessa does a *lot* of flying to Europe, Israel, and other destinations, largely to visit friends and relatives. She does, however, go to the bathroom *before* she gets on the plane, so that the extra gasoline required to carry her full bladder cross-country isn't expended. It's difficult to gauge how I feel about this: on the one hand, I applaud Vanessa's attempt to be more conscious of how her choices affect the environment; on the other hand, I feel that flying to Spain so she can kiss her new boyfriend (who is himself flying in from Israel) is a bit much. One thing is clear - Vanessa is equally unsure how *she* feels about all this, and I definitely believe her heart is in the right place. And if I can't give up my oven and fridge, who am I to criticize her flight choices?
In terms of environmental impact, some of Vanessa's choices are questionable. She switches to a cash-only, exact-change policy over credit cards, but I personally suspect that the environmental impact of cash is greater than that of credit cards. She continues to eat meat (which raises a lot of ire on her blog from vegetarians) and signs up for a butchering class to raise her own awareness of where her food comes from, but she shuns any rennet-based cheese because she finds the process "horrifying" when she finally learns where her cheese comes from. She drives and flies to multiple locations for various "awareness tours", when it seems like staying home and reading a book might be a better choice. For that matter, which is worse: reading this book in paper format or reading it in electronic format and consuming electricity? The fact that there are no easy answers to these dilemmas is something Vanessa emphasizes and I agree with her assessment that, really, the important thing is to at least try.
"Sleeping Naked is Green" isn't for everyone. Vanessa can be endearingly shallow, a little too metropolitan, and a bit too willing to bend or break her rules when it suits her. On the other hand, she is willing to make a massive amount of serious and brave changes, including giving up her fridge and living with butter bells, warm soy milk, and water vases filled with carrots. She is earnest, witty, amusing, and more than willing to make digs at herself and to laugh at her own mistakes and foibles. Despite my expectation that there would be nothing new here (how many green books can a person read before they know it all?), many of her changes are thought-provoking things I had not previously considered. Bio-degradable pens, kitchen scrubs made from recycled plastic, organic honey to save the bee population, Diva Cups, and corn-based cat litter are just a few of the wonders that await the reader in this clever, provocative, and amusing read.
However, be aware: I don't think this book was printed on recycled, unbleached paper.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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