Sara Gilbert—The Talk co-host and executive producer, and, yes, the actor behind the teenage lesbian-dream Darlene Conner—can now add “author” to her cv with the publication of The Imperfect Environmentalist: A Practical Guide to Clearing Your Body, Detoxing Your Home, and Saving the Earth.
Gilbert’s intention is to present digestible bits of information to an audience who may be ignorant or skeptical of living a green, environmentally-friendly lifestyle. An avowed environmentalist herself, Gilbert realizes that it is an identity with an increasingly negative connotation; it’s almost like the new “F-word.” Employing a deliberate pragmatic approach, she knows the most effective way to make her case is not by inundating a skeptical reader with statistics, but rather to provide her with a one page synopsis on green/clean topics, from juicing to acupuncture, solar power to geotourism. The emphasis is on practicality—there aren’t many of us who have the time and resources to live fully perfect, pristine, green lives. Even Al Gore uses electricity. This is why the type of environmentalist she aims to fashion through this book is the “imperfect” one.
In each section Gilbert demonstrates the connection between a green personal ethics and a green community-oriented politics. This connection is particularly apparent in section one, on “Clean Eating and Drinking,” when she describes the effects of a vegan lifestyle on the earth’s carbon footprint (“the livestock industry produces 18 percent of greenhouse gases”). Eating vegan is more environmentally friendly. Making this connection is critical for more people to understand that taking care of their body is synonymous with taking care of the earth; making this connection explicit is Gilbert’s strong suit.
That said, the analytical nerd and just curious-person in me would love more figures, and more footnotes. Formally, a practical guide without footnotes is reasonable, even more visually appealing to some readers, but I think the book could have benefited from a dozen or two footnotes, or a page of endnotes for those of us who crave more information, or more explanation or more evidence to undergird the author’s words. The editor in me agrees that the single-page sections are indeed palatable for quick reference, but a simple list of bullet-points would arguably be just as effective. So in terms of form and structure regarding Gilbert’s desired audience, the simplicity of the prose sometimes is too simple, as in too vague.
A part of this problem, for me, is due to establishing an authorial voice that is not distinct from the audience. To demonstrate empathy and an equal understanding, to speak with her reader instead of speaking (down) to her reader, Gilbert sometimes positions herself alongside her budding imperfect environmentalist, but this undercuts her authority of the subject matter, producing at times an unreliable narrator.
Take her opening to her section on macrobiotics: “Macrobiotics is a philosophy and way of life that requires study and practice—even though I am one, I don’t understand it all….” In the margins of the text I wrote, “What do you mean, you don’t understand it at all?! You’re writing this book!” This unreliable-POV coincides with moments in the text that leave me with a slew of How and Why questions; for example, her explanation of two eastern practices, “Tai Chi and Qigong are said to balance the body’s energy meridians, and I don’t know about your meridians, but mine could sure use some balance.” Why do these balance the energy meridians? What are meridians? What is the translation of Tai Chi and QiGong? What is the difference between the two?
As a quick reference guide to green living, imagined as a text that will be glossed by the busy individual who thinks of the environment as a secondary or tertiary concern to her everyday living practices, Gilbert’s Imperfect Environmentalist succeeds. Its succinct prose gives the trepidatious environmentalist manageable ways to make green changes to her life, as well as offering her points of inquiry if she so desires to become a more “perfect” environmentalist.
Huffington Post Live spoke with Gilbert about her new book earlier in the week; watch the interview in full, below: