Saturday, March 30, 2013

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Author: Michael Pollan
Pages: 201
Rating:  G

What to eat, what not to eat, and how to think about health: a manifesto for our times

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." These simple words go to the heart of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, the well-considered answers he provides to the questions posed in the bestselling The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Humans used to know how to eat well, Pollan argues. But the balanced dietary lessons that were once passed down through generations have been confused, complicated, and distorted by food industry marketers, nutritional scientists, and journalists-all of whom have much to gain from our dietary confusion. As a result, we face today a complex culinary landscape dense with bad advice and foods that are not "real." These "edible foodlike substances" are often packaged with labels bearing health claims that are typically false or misleading. Indeed, real food is fast disappearing from the marketplace, to be replaced by "nutrients," and plain old eating by an obsession with nutrition that is, paradoxically, ruining our health, not to mention our meals. Michael Pollan's sensible and decidedly counterintuitive advice is: "Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food."

Writing In Defense of Food, and affirming the joy of eating, Pollan suggests that if we would pay more for better, well-grown food, but buy less of it, we'll benefit ourselves, our communities, and the environment at large. Taking a clear-eyed look at what science does and does not know about the links between diet and health, he proposes a new way to think about the question of what to eat that is informed by ecology and tradition rather than by the prevailing nutrient-by-nutrient approach.

In Defense of Food reminds us that, despite the daunting dietary landscape Americans confront in the modern supermarket, the solutions to the current omnivore's dilemma can be found all around us.

In looking toward traditional diets the world over, as well as the foods our families-and regions-historically enjoyed, we can recover a more balanced, reasonable, and pleasurable approach to food. Michael Pollan's bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we might start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives and enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy.

My Thoughts: This book was a real eye-opener. Basically, the author argues that we are so obsessed with nutrients, and so focused on the one magical thing that will make us healthier (less fat, lower carbs, more omega 3's) that we have forgotten the fact that we're not eating nutrients, we're eating food. And a whole food is more than just the sum of its parts. Pollan basically tells us that the entire Western diet is flawed. Diets from other cultures, as diverse as they may be, inevitably create healthier human beings than our diet does.

And it's more complicated than just buying more healthy foods. Since we are part of a food chain, what our food sources eat is important too. The soils our food comes from are starting to become less nutritious, which is bad for our cows, which then results in meat that isn't as nutritionally healthy.

There are definitely some really good points in this book. I'm not sure that I'm convinced that I need to go buy everything organic, as the author suggests, but I will say that I am more wary of how many weird ingredients crop up in my food, and that I am more determined to eat more fruits, veggies, and stuff made from scratch at home, where I know what exactly is in it.

I guarantee that if you read this, the way you look at food and the way you eat will change significantly. It's a fascinating, and very easy read. Some of the nutrient science was a bit over my head, but I still got the main idea. He ends the book with a series of tips of how to be a better eater, so don't think that the book is just condemning your current eating style. Some of his tips include:

-Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food
- Avoid anything with a health claim
- Avoid anything with more than five ingredients, or with ingredients you don't recognize.
- Eat mostly plants, especially leaves

Those are just a taste. You'll have to read the book. It was really a good one!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cheyenne in New York

Author: Jack Weyland
Pages: 279
Rating: G

Ben Morelli is a brash, up-and-coming New York City ad agency executive. He's just landed a huge account, and his future looks bright. The last thing he needs is to share the spotlight with some hick from Idaho.
Bright, outspokenly moral, and unfailingly honest, Cheyenne is everything Ben thinks he dislikes in a woman. She's also a Mormon, whatever that is. It doesn't help, either, that his most important client thinks Cheyenne is terrific. And so does Ben's family.
In Cheyenne in New York, Jack Weyland introduces us to an intriguing pair of strong-willed, seemingly mismatched characters whose family backgrounds, interests, and ambitions are worlds apart.
A contemporary love story played out in the aftermath of a horrific national disaster, this latest Jack Weyland novel reaffirms in an unforgettable way the power of love, faith, and family ties.

My Thoughts: Honestly, I wasn't that impressed. The book was pretty cheesy, and everything moved much too quickly. Ben doesn't struggle for very long about the whole Mormon thing before he all of a sudden believes it. The whole first half of the book was just straight cheese. The writing did get a lot better in the second half of the book. Basically, what happens is 9/11 and Ben has family that is directly effected by the terrorist attacks. Suddenly, the storyline is interesting and no longer quite so cheesy. It becomes a lot more real at that point. I still felt that the development of the relationship between Ben and Cheyenne left something to be desired. They're so pure together, and then they get upset over dumb stuff. I don't know, it was a nice little read, and uplifting for sure, because the gospel is so prominent, but I wasn't all that wowed by it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Trilogy: Divergent

Book One: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Rating: PG-13

Pages: 487

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

My Thoughts:
First of all, I have to say, I like this better than "The Hunger Games" which I hated. I felt like Hunger Games was really sadistic and morbid and I just couldn't come to terms with the idea of putting a bunch of teenagers in an arena to kill each other for everyone's entertainment. Divergent is different. I like my share of dystopian novels, and this one I really liked. It's not as sadistic really.

Divergent is extremely well written. I finished the book very quickly because it was impossible to put down. There are no good stopping places. And even when the first book ends, the next book picks up right where it left off. I can't wait to get the second one from the library. The way that Erudite blames everything on Abnegation and tries to exterminate them for no reason reminded me quite a bit of the Holocaust, so I'm sure that's part of where the author got her ideas from. It's a little bit scary to realize that it's a dystopian futuristic society novel, but with a touch of reality. Stuff similar to this actually happened in the past, and can happen again.  

It is pretty violent. It's war. People die, and there's some level of psychological torture as well. But like I said, I didn't feel the violence was as bad as in the Hunger Games. Divergent violence is more warlike and people are getting hurt out of self-defense type stuff. Hunger Games was throwing a bunch of people together and forcing them to kill each other. So I guess it depends on whether that bothers you or not. But I'm just saying I was wary of Divergent because of the fact that I hated Hunger Games so much, but I didn't find myself disliking Divergent. I'm just realy intrigued and can't wait to find out what happens next.

Book Two: Insurgent
Pages: 525
Rating: PG-13+

One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.
Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

My Thoughts: This book was a LOT more intense and scary than the first one. I found myself putting it down a lot because I would just get too freaked out and knew I would probably not sleep well if I kept reading. Sometimes the only thing that kept me going is knowing there was no possible way Tris could die, because the story is ABOUT her, so she has to survive. I would definitely not recommend this series to anyone younger than high school just because of it's high-intensity level. And I don't think I could actually handle watching a movie version of these books. They are full of heart-pounding suspense and scariness.

That being said, I liked this book, but probably not as much as the first one. For example, Tris spends most of this book being such a suicidal idiot that I really wanted to smack her. She is so full of grief from the tragedies she experiences in Book 1 that she turns into a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and throws herself into several extremely dangerous situations without really thinking about it. Also in this book, several people die, and there's torture, and it's difficult to read about. However, you eventually find out that all of this war has something to do with what is outside of the city fence that keeps them all in. (But we don't actually find out specifically what is out there.) Tobias and Tris also have some relationship issues that are hard to deal with.

All in all, I cannot wait for the third book to come out! Not till October, yeesh! Haven't had to wait like this since Harry Potter!

Book 3: Allegiant
Pages: 526
Rating: PG-13

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered- fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she's known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories. 
But Tris's new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature- and of herself- while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love. 

My Thoughts: First of all, SO happy I finally got to read this. I actually really enjoyed this series as a whole. I felt like it was a very realistic portrayal of a futuristic society, some of the attitudes and ideas portrayed in this final book seem like they could really happen in our lifetime. This book was really sad at the end, but I still really loved it and was very satisfied with the ending. I would definitely recommend this trilogy. I feel like I really can't review this without giving out what happens, so....for the first time ever, I am including spoilers! 

Spoiler Alert! Do not read beyond this point if you don't want to know what happens!

So let me start at the beginning...Tris lives in a city where everyone is divided into "factions" based on their internal traits and characteristics. Tris, however, is Divergent, meaning that she doesn't fit exactly into just one faction. Divergent is a dangerous thing to be. No one really knows why, but one of the city's leaders is killing all the Divergent she can get her hands on. To make a long story short, there's a war, and Tris manages to get her hands on a video where one of the city's earliest members explains that the city was put together because those on the outside need help, and when there is a high population of Divergent, they should send them outside the fence to help those on the outside. 

Here's where book 3 comes in. Tris, Tobias, and several others decide to journey to the outside of the fence, find out what is out there, and what they can do to help. What they find is not what they were expecting. They learn that centuries ago, the United States discovered that the undesirable qualities in human nature could be traced to genetics. So the government decided to start altering people's genes to get rid of these problematic qualities. However, they found that the alterations actually caused more problems than they solved. There was a huge war between those who had been modified and those who hadn't, and the result was that the government took large numbers of genetically altered humans, wiped their memories, and placed them in controlled environments like Tris's city. The city Tris has lived in is basically an experiment, and they are constantly be watched. The Divergent are those whose genes are the most healed, and the point of the experiment is to wait for enough Divergent to evolve that they can then reproduce and create more genetically pure people. 

Unfortunately, the government is only concerned about creating a new population of genetically pure people, who will supposedly be perfect, and nothing bad will ever happen again. They don't care how many "damaged" people die in the process. So, Tris and her band of friends set out to change this prejudice. In the end, Tris actually dies while fighting for this new cause. It's really sad, but I felt the ending was still really satisfying and good, and I wasn't too torn apart by it. I really like the last line of the book, hopefully me putting it here doesn't ruin it for you. "Life damages everyone. We can't escape that damage. But now, I am also learning this:  We can be mended. We mend each other." I thought that was a great final message. 

The whole storyline of putting people into an experiment to strengthen the human race reminded me of a book I've read several times and absolutely love, called "Running out of Time" by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I would recommend giving that one a read if you loved the Divergent series. 

In all, I loved this trilogy, thought it had some great messages and it was an imaginative and captivating storyline. Enjoy!