By Shridula Singh and Emma Wallace
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of the anthology Literary Lunch and Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change and Consumerism by Aja Barber.
Literary Lunch by Various Authors
The book starts with “A great book is like a feast. We love to concoct stories from food but what about making food from some of our favourite stories?”
First and foremost, who doesn't enjoy good food? Food is the element that brings people from many cultures together. This book celebrates various cultures through different authors and their love for one dish they have loved since childhood, as well as the history of the dish and the recipe, which appears to be a great add-on for the audience, who can try making the food to co-relate with their favourite author through food.
If I had to choose two recipes from the book to prepare and eat, I would choose Salman Rushdie's Mango Pickle of Guilt from Midnight Children and Deborah Moggach Fernandez's classic English Trifle in India from the finest exotic Marigold Hotel. The book appears to appeal to foodies who can spend entire days reading about cuisine, but it's also pretty easy to read. The book can leave you feeling hungry for the most part, which, speaking from personal experience, appears to be an issue, but believe me when I say you won't regret picking up this book.
It's half literary, part cookbook and part collection of great recipes from classic writers. A fantastic book for breaking out of a reading rut; not too big, not too small; the ideal number of chapters to start your first book of the year. And remember to always buy your books from your local bookshops!!
Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change & Consumerism by Aja Barber
Like many people I know, the last few years have seen me reconsider a lot of the ways in which I live my life. Buoyed on by a social system that continually prizes hyper-individualism, I saw myself as my own island, parroting – as many of my peers did – a concept of future success that was entirely bound up with monetary gain and social clout. I had essentially internalised the oft-touted idea that happiness was synonymous with the accumulation of mass wealth and constant consumption. Although I was a student heavily immersed in the university social justice scene, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realise how shallow and superficial many of my social ideas were – how each one of my solutions to the oppressions we faced depended more on paying lip service to the problem than any kind of systemic change.
Since that point, I have begun to interrogate more deeply how my individual actions relate to those around me and how I connect to a wider, global community – given the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have probably not been alone in reflecting on the fragile, if keenly felt, bonds which link us all together.
It is this idea of global connectivity that is at the heart of Aja Barber’s electrifying Consumed. A blazing polemic-cum-memoir about the injustices of the fashion industry and the cynical exploitation of consumer culture as a whole, Aja’s book is an exacting analysis of how our individual consumer choices connect to a wider social system, which elevates some at the behest of others. Although I was already aware of the inhumane practices of the fast fashion giants, Aja’s interrogation of the fast fashion business model and its processes was undeniably enlightening in how it showed the ways in which many of these fast fashion principles have been diluted and repackaged by supposedly eco-conscious brands. Indeed, the whole process of learning, or rather unlearning, is a crucial aspect of Aja’s book; structured into a "learning" and "unlearning" half, Aja first considers the origins of the textile industry and its links to colonialism and current climate change issues, before then thinking about how this culture is fuelled by an individual sense of inadequacy or lack.
It is this two-fold outlook that is undeniably Aja’s greatest strength as a writer and thinker; she is able to consider an enormous topic at its most macrocosmic level, before then deconstructing said topic to think about the individual, granular choices we make which props up said system. In a time where we sorely need to think in these more globalised and community-focused terms, Consumed feels not only timely but like a long-awaited clarion call for change.