Raising Elijah, by Sandra Steingraber

Reviewed by Marie Lorenzo

RaisingElijahLargeI now think of Raising Elijah as the ultimate parenting book. Taking a parenting perspective, in her latest book, Sandra Steingraber takes us through another engrossing account of environmental challenges to our children’s, and ultimately our own, health. With her beautiful prose, she steadfastly and skillfully uncovers the ugly underside of so much of modern consumerism, and challenges us to come up with better alternatives. And that has to start with parents, mothers and also fathers, the gatekeepers of consumption in the average North American family.

But interestingly, to the relief of many, she manages to take a completely supportive role of parents’ growing hopelessness and despair in the face of these modern-day threats. What is a parent to do when offered a more lucrative and prestigious job in another city when that will mean more polluted air for an asthmatic child to contend with? How is a parent on a tight budget to choose between saving money and buying the fresh fruits and vegetables with pesticides vs the organic ones? What is a parent to do when financially desperate neighbour sells their land to a fracking company, with all the poisoning of underground waterways that will entail?

These are questions which take us to where Steingraber really wants to go: why are these terrible choices even options? How, as a society, did we let this happen?

So in the end, this is not a parenting book about what you are personally going to do about protecting your family, that is, do your own research, tread carefully through drugstore aisles, or even, sell your home and pack up your bags to find a better place to live. No, this is about the fact that we cannot do this alone. We need those government bodies that we elected, and we pay taxes to, to actually do their job – we don’t want to have to choose between poison and no poison in a so-called “free” market. Parents don’t want the poisons as an option at all. And government regulators, work for us, not for the developers or the corporations profiting from these ventures. And that means that they need to hear from us, from communities coming together, from parents organizing around their children’s health. And this is the ultimate, hopeful message of this book, that is, yes, this is what parenting is really about: getting out there and joining in community action, taking back our communities so that they are healthy places to bring up our kids.