FIrst off, I’m totally sad about the sudden death of Tim Russert. The guy was the gold standard of American journalism, in a class of his own. My dad and I watched Meet the Press every Sunday. And I loved Tim Russert’s work during the primaries. Manny and I watched MSNBC coverage for every single primary. Does anyone remember when he declared Obama as the democratic nominee before anyone else? Did anyone else get to see that moment live? How sad that he didn’t live to see the outcome of this election. I’m sure he’ll be watching everything unfold from a better place. I will miss him.
On to books, I finished reading The Giver and had my first book club meeting about it. There’s only three of us in the book club, but we had a really good discussion about the book. The Giver is sort of a post-apocalyptic book for children. Jonas, the main character, lives in a world everything is decided for you – your job, your parents, your spouse, your clothes, your food, your house, etc. Everyone in the community looks the same. There are no feelings, no free will, no love. Except Jonas possesses characteristics that makes him different from the rest of his community. I read The Giver in elementary school, but I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t grasp the concept that this book takes place in the future. I still don’t like reading sci-fi books that take place in other worlds or in the future, I am too realistic and pratical to enjoy fantasy books. But I am glad I read this book again, for a young adult book it has a lot of adult concepts. Our book club had a really good discussion about dystopian novels and movies. Manny is a fan of the dystopian genre of film. What’s the point of making these films and writing these books? I always viewed them as warnings; they show us that if we don’t stop waging war all over the world and don’t start doing something about global warming, we are going fuck everything up and have a huge nuclear disaster that destroys everything. And after that, the only way people will able to live is in these communities where every aspect of your life is decided for you and planned out. Next up for BOSS, Guns Germs and Steel.
After The Giver, I read Michael Pollan’s latest book In Defense of Food. I am a huge Michael Pollan fan. The Omnivore’s Dilemma completely changed how I eat and how I think about food. In Defense of Food summarizes the arguments made in Dilemma. The first half of this book just a big essay about how the American way of eating, or the “western diet” is the most unhealthy eating culture in the world. The western diet is about convenience and instant gratification. The western diet reduces food into individual nutrients. Instead of eating a carrot, according to the western diet you’re only eating beta carotene. According the western diet, a food is only equal to the sum of all its parts. But Pollan asks, maybe what makes a carrot healthy is not just its nutrients, but the entire carrot as a whole. For example, nutritionists noticed that people who ate a lot of carrots had a decreased risk of colon cancer. Researchers isolated the nutrient beta carotene from the carrot and decided this must be what was protecting people from cancer. Researchers gave people beta carotene supplements to test this theory, but found beta carotene actually increased the risk of cancer in the group that took supplements compared with the group who did not.
This western obsession with nutrients instead of food leads to unhealthy eating fads. Pollan gives the example of the low fat diet. In the 1970s it was decided that saturated fat was bad for you. Instead of encouraging people to eat less high-fat food, the food-industry-controlled USDA encouraged people to eat more low-saturated fat food. Enter margarine, the perfect healthy substitute to the evil saturated fat butter. In an effort to reduce saturated fat intake, people ate more margarine and vegetable oil-based substitutes. But now, years later, turns out that the trans fat in margarine and many vegetable oil based foods is actually worse for you than the saturated fat it was supposed to replace. Oops. Pollan’s message is this: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. The second half the book gives you tips on how to do this. In summary, don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food, and don’t buy low fat food-like substitutes and use this money to buy locally grown whole foods from local farmers markets. This Sunday am I am hauling ass to the farmer’s market first thing in the morning and buying a freezer full of grass fed beef and poultry. No more joking around. Because really, after reading three of Pollan’s books I am disgusted with the entire industrial food chain that values money and profits over public health. It is really outrageous. Read his books, but read Omnivore’s Dilemma first. If you’re in New York state, find your local farmer’s market now.
Last but definitely not least, I read Drown, a collection of short stories by Dominican author Junot Diaz. His stories are intense and show the realities of immigrant life and of people who life in transnational communities. His characters live in both the slums of Santo Domingo and the streets of central New Jersey. Despite the extreme hardships they go through, Diaz never asks for pity from his readers. He demands respect for his characters and for their experiences because most people cannot imagine what an immigrant goes through in trying to live in this country. Right now I’m reading his novel, The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, which recently won the Pulitzer Prize, so I’ll definitely be writing more about Diaz. This quote is on the first page of Drown:
The fact that I
am writing to you
already falsifies what I
wanted to tell you.
how to explain to you that I
don’t belong to English
though I belong nowhere else
– Gustavo Perez Firmat