60 books: february

Hello, there!  Here is my little reading list for February and I hope you enjoy it. This month I have a living room to renovate, Sela and Norah's birthdays to plan and prepare for, and lots of garden and yard prep for the upcoming season; I'll be lucky if I manage to squeeze in even one book in March. :)

Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health by Marion Nestle

I dedicate many, many hours to reading and researching the topic of our current food system, and more often than not I am left feeling endlessly frustrated and angry. Did you know that food companies spend upwards of $10 billion annually just on advertising processed food to children?  Ugh. Can anyone else think of a better way to spend $10 billion to benefit children every single year? Education? Healthcare? Making sure every child in America has enough to eat AND access to whole foods?

The section that I found the most fascinating and heartbreaking was about the marketing of formula to impoverished women in developing countries. One of my favorite books, The Politics of Breastfeeding, goes into much more detail and allows you to see how corporations use advertising to directly hurt individuals (mothers and babies) to turn a profit.

"That suggestions to change the social environment of food choices are threatening to industry is evident from the vehemence with which trade associations and the business press attack advice to restrict intake of one or another food group, to get "junk" food out of schools, to label foods more explicitly, or to tax sales of foods to generate funds for nutrition education. Business commentators equate such approaches with nothing less than fascism" "if [President] Bill Clinton really wants ideas for a healthy eating crusade, he must surely look to the only political regime that thoroughly made them part of national policy: Nazi Germany." They could not be more sarcastic about societal approaches to dietary change: "This being America, of course, ordering Biggie Fries instead of the salad bar can't possibly be our own fault...If all this sounds a bit preposterous, it only means you have an underdeveloped sense of victimhood. The parallels between Big Tobacco and Big Fat are too striking to be overlooked...Come on, America. Get off that couch and sue.

Sarcasm aside, if the business press finds parallels between the tobacco and food industries it is because the parallels are impossible to avoid. Cigarette companies famously argue that smoking is a matter of individual choice and that it is wrong for government to interfere unduly in the private lives of citizens.  They use science to sow confusion about the harm that cigarettes can cause. They set the standard in use of public relations, advertising, philanthropy, experts, political funding, alliances, lobbying intimidation, and lawsuits to protect their sales. In exports to expand markets, they promote cigarette smoking to children and adolescents; to minorities, women, and the poor; and to people in countries throughout the world, developing as well as industrialized. The similarities between the actions of cigarette companies and food companies are no coincidence."

"Given the environment in which food corporations operate, it is worth considering how companies might continue to please stockholders yet market their products more ethically. As a starting point, companies could stop attacking and undermining regulatory agencies. They could stop marketing directly to children. They could stop touting misleading health benefits for their products, invoking individual and free will, and complaining about Big Brother Government. They could bring reality in line with their rhetoric ; if food companies really do have the public interest at heart, they could act accordingly."

New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Oh, I loved this book so much. I read it in about 3 hours and had to go back and reread a few favorite passages, and I still thought about it for days. So good. I will give you this warning though: I have a strange fascination/obsession with the Vietnam War and this particular style of writing. Part memoir, novel, and short story makes for an intense, graphic, and deeply personal portrayal of his characters.

"They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing - these were the intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture. They carried their reputations. They carried the soldier's greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment."

Lose Your Mummy Tummy by Julie Tupler

Because I had three kids in five years and my abdominal muscles are nonexistent. And yes, I'm totally counting this as one of my 60 books. :)

The George Orwell Reader

George Orwell is a remarkable storyteller and an absolute genius. He has a way of revealing some sort of soul-shaking, mind-blowing truth without ever telling you outright, if that makes any sense at all. His stories show how much he loves his characters, their stories, and language, and it is thrilling to read his work. My favorite was "Down and Out In Paris and London," but I thoroughly enjoyed the ones about Burma too.

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker

About Alice by Calvin Trillin

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

This is supposed to be a book about becoming a better writer, and it definitely does just that, but I feel like it had even more to do with becoming a better person. I'd be reading along and suddenly there would be a line or paragraph like this one : "Write instead about freedom, freedoms worth fighting for. Human rights begin with and extend to your characters, no matter how horrible they are. You have to respect the qualities that make them who they are.  A moral position is not a slogan, or wishful thinking. It doesn't come from outside or above. it begins inside the heart of a character and grows from there. Tell the truth and write about freedom and fight for it, however you can, and you will be richly rewarded. As Molly Ivins put it, freedom fighters don't always win, but they are always right."

Alright, what are you guys reading? I am always eager for recommendations!


Sherry said...

Can't remember if I already recommended him, but William Trevor's short stories are lovely. Trevor and I would read them together. He just captures moments so well, how happiness and sadness are all there, and it makes it so beautiful.

How was the The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance? I listened to her NPR story on working at FAO Schwartz and it had me cracking up. And weirdly sad for a doll at the end.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Rachel, for your insight and wisdom! *hugs* Edie

Rachel Swan said...

Sherry, Elna Baker is hilarious and I loved her book. It offers a really interesting, human perspective of LDS life for young people today who grapple with their faith. I have listened to most of her stories on This American Life and other radio shows, and her book does repeat many of them, but it was still fun to read them.

Also, thanks for the short story recommendation. Short stories are actually my secret to reading so many books; I can finish one quickly while my kids are eating lunch or playing on the floor and never lose my place!

Haley and Lance (but probably just Haley) said...

Oh my gosh, don't get me started on the food industry!! I know I can't read that book you read - it will make me too mad. It sucks to feel so helpless about the situation. The only thing you can do is resign yourself to a lifestyle of only eating fresh, healthy stuff. Oh, but that doesn't work either, because they even do terrible things to the fresh, "healthy" stuff. Ugh!!! I need a massive garden like yours so I can feel a tiny bit better about the situation. I would love to read that Vietnam War one, and Lance will read it with me, which is always a bonus. One of our (mine and Lance's) favorite books is To Destroy You Is No Loss, which is written by a Cambodian woman who escaped from the Khmer Rouge as a child. It's non-fiction, but reads like a captivating story that you won't be able to put down. Remember not to wear makeup while you're reading it though. :) I just finished Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill, and it was another one that I couldn't put down. Now I'm reading Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer. It's about polygamy, and although I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about polygamy, I am newly disgusted with each chapter. Okay, my next book will not be about cults! Good luck with all the house/garden stuff!