Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fascinated by the Food Industry?

I frequently find myself picking up books about the food industry. I am fascinated by the social, cultural, economic, and political implications of food production. Fortunately for me there is a wealth of literature available on the subject. Here are a few of my recent reads…

The Dorito Effect: the surprising new truth about food and flavor by Mark Schatzker

In The Dorito Effect, Mark Schatzker explores the connection between nutrition and flavour, specifically the idea that industrial food production has led to flavourless, nutritionally substandard food that must be made marketable by the addition of artificial flavours, and that these artificial flavours confuse our bodies and are the root cause of the recent global increase in health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. It’s an idea I hadn’t heard before and Schatzker presents a good case.

Salt, Sugar, Fat: how the food giants hooked us by Michael Moss

Meanwhile Michael Moss blames the usual culprits: salt, sugar, and fat. He pulls no punches over how the food industry has used our biologically hardwired desire for these three ingredients to boost sales of food products by increasing consumption with little regard for the health or wellbeing of consumers. The relationship between government policy and food production is particularly compelling. Moss illustrates this very clearly with the example of how cheese went from being a food that was consumed in small servings off a cheese board to a dominant ingredient in most fast food and freezer meals due to subsidies that the dairy industry receives from the American government.

Bet the Farm: how food stopped being food by Frederick Kaufman

If you have no idea what commodity indexes, speculation, and derivatives have to do with the food on your plate, this book is worth a read. In Bet the Farm, Kaufman explores the relationship between food and finance. The first part looks at the impact that demand has on the food chain. Using the franchise pizza chain Dominos as an example, Kaufman shows how the demand for a consistent sauce has led to the decimation of tomato varieties and small farms on a global scale. The second part of the book focuses on GMOs, intellectual property, and the implications for society when a corporation becomes the owner of the right to grow grain. The final chapters bring everything together, documenting a global trend towards food being treated like currency, and cautioning that the same forces that led to the 2008 financial meltdown are now at work on the food chain. The author does an excellent job of explaining complex concepts from the world of finance in a manner that is both clear and enjoyable.

Pandora’s Lunchbox: how processed food took over the American meal by Melanie Warner

Melanie Warner has an easy, engaging style that is a pleasure to read. In Pandora’s Lunchbox, she dives into artificial ingredients, why they are there, what they do, and what that means in terms of texture, shelf life, production cost, and health. A great deal of research went into this book, but Warner has the gift of presenting information in a way that is as easy to follow as an interesting conversation with a friend.

Stuffed: an insider’s look at who’s (really) making America fat by Hank Cardello

The author worked in the industry as a marketing executive for many years so, while his book covers similar ground to Salt, Sugar, Fat, there is greater focus on how advertising and marketing campaigns influence our food choices. This book was clearly written by someone who is entrenched in the food and advertising industries; the marketing side of it is quite interesting; however, I was frustrated by the underlying assumption that North Americans are nothing but passive consumers with no conscious choice in the matter of what goes in their mouths.

The Tastemakers: why we’re crazy for cupcakes but fed up with fondue by David Sax

For those who are looking for something a little lighter in tone, this book about food trends is just the thing. Instead of lamenting about the unhealthy side of the food industry, the author shares stories about optimistic young hipsters who just want to share their goats’ milk caramels with the world, nice Dutch farmers who have married their hopes and dreams to the success of the Red Prince apple, and scientists who are attempting to resurrect our lost heirloom varieties of rice. It was a nice change to read about a side of the food industry that is not controlled by greedy profit driven corporations with no concern for the health and wellbeing of others and food trends are fun because you can witness them playing out all around you.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Costa Book Awards Shortlists 2015

The Costa Book Awards is one of the UK's most prestigious and popular literary prizes and recognises some of the most enjoyable books of the year, written by authors based in the UK and Ireland.

Here are but a few of the nominated titles for your reading consideration. Please check out the Costa Awards website for the full list of nominated titles.

Best Novel
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

The Green Road by Anne Enright

At Hawthorne Time by Melissa Harrison

First Novel Award
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume
The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

Biography Award
The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the secret history of Wonderland by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding (available in 2016)
The Invention of Nature: the adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt, the lost hero of science by Andrea Wulf

Monday, November 23, 2015

Staff Pick: In a Dark, Dark, Wood

syndetics-lcMaybe you left high school and never looked back. But do you have that one friend that you wish you hadn't lost touch with? Or do you still wince when certain memories of those teenage years surface without warning? Our formative years can be our most emotional, and the protagonist of In a Dark, Dark Wood has spent years trying to forget about her high school days. Leonora (a.k.a Lee, a.k.a Nora) is a solitary crime writer living a unobtrusive life in London, England. Upon returning from a jog one autumn day she checks her email and finds an invitation to a hen party (a stagette for us Canucks). The party is in celebration of Clare Cavendish's upcoming nuptials - Leonora's best friend from high school, who she hasn't seen or spoken to in ten years. Leonora is hesitant to attend, but her curiosity wins over and she makes a pact with a mutual friend that they will both go.

The story flashes back and forth between the after effects of the gathering and the events themselves. Leonora wakes up in the hospital with only scattered memories of the hen party weekend. It takes her time to put the pieces together of what has happened. As she does so, we get to see how the weekend gathering played out and led to tragic consequences. Ware's description of the architecturally striking house Leonora and the others are staying in and the snowy, wooded environment surrounding them also adds to the chilly atmosphere. To say it's a gathering of friends would be stretching the truth - most of them don't know each other and it turns out, they don't really like each other either. This is understandable as the characters are certainly flawed - nonetheless, I was sucked in to the mystery and did not figure out the whodunnit before the end. I would have liked more elucidation about the other characters and their motivations, but it was nonetheless a very enjoyable read. I devoured the book over two evenings, so I hope that Ruth Ware continues to write more books after this bestselling debut. If you like this tale you might also like Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, Precious Thing by Colette McBeth, and Abroad by Katie Crouch.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Knit Your Way Through Winter

We are well into November now and the weather is getting colder. I am not someone who does well with Canadian winters and I sometimes wish I could hibernate until the spring. One of my favourite ways to avoid the cold is to stay indoors and knit or crochet. If you are a knitter, you probably know your local library is the best place to find great patterns and project ideas. Today, I’ve compiled some recent titles that offer unique projects to inspire you this winter. Have fun and stay warm!

Yarn, Yarn, Yarn: 50 fun crochet and knitting projects to color your world, by Sania Hedengren and Susanna Zacke.

This is a great book to read when looking for crafting inspiration. Yarn, Yarn, Yarn, offers a great variety of projects, including clothing and home décor.

Knitting Rugs: 39 traditional contemporary,innovative designs by Nola Heidbreder and Linda Pietz.

Personally, I’ve never considered knitting a rug until I saw this book. Knitting Rugs is filled with beautiful patterns that play with colour and texture. Also includes an entire chapter on making rugs from re-purposed materials, including old t-shirts.

Happy Feet: unique knits to knock your socks off, by Cathy Carron.

Knitting socks or slippers is the perfect winter activity and Happy Feet has over 40 different patterns to keep your feet warm.

Faux Taxidermy Knits: 15 wild animal knitting patterns, by Louise Walker.

Because you were looking for a way to knit a giant moose head for your living room. Also includes patterns for a knitted fox stole and hedgehog slippers.

Knit It!: learn the basics and knit 22 beautiful projects, by Melissa Leapman.

Don't know how to knit? No problem. This book teaches all of the knitting basics, while also offering some fun projects to try. Start with a scarf or cowl and work your way up to a jacket or pullover sweater.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Staff Pick: Our Endless Numbered Days

All of civilization has been annihilated. Or so eight-year-old Peggy Hillcoat believes after her father, James, takes her from her North London home deep into the German woods to start a new life as the "only survivors."

So begins Peggy's captivity in Claire Fuller's compelling work of literary fiction, Our Endless Numbered Days. After nine years in the wilderness, Peggy is found wandering around a small German town--injured, malnourished, delirious, and alone--looking for a man named Reuben. As she adjusts to a world she believed had disappeared, the mysteries surrounding her time in the woods are gradually unveiled, bringing to light some disturbing realities.

I was first drawn to this novel because it was described as a coming-of-age story, which always piques my interest. As I read through it, I was struck by the author's vivid and lyrical descriptions of natural settings. The beauty of these moments provides an interesting contrast to the oftentimes unsettling content, which intensifies as the story progresses. Told from Peggy's perspective, the chapters switch back-and-forth between her life before, during, and after her captivity. Fuller scatters clues throughout to help readers piece together what exactly happened to Peggy during her time in the woods, ultimately creating a moving account of one girl's attempts to cope with and comprehend traumatic experiences and to find ways to survive.

Interested in reading other compelling and disturbing fictional tales of abduction, but with a stronger element of suspense? Emma Donoghue's Room follows five-year-old Jack, who narrates his experiences growing up in captivity with his mother, their dramatic escape, and adjustments to life on the outside. Similar to Our Endless Numbered Days, Isla Morley's Isla Morley's Above is an intricately plotted tale of a female protagonist abducted by a survivalist, but Morley's story of captivity contains a post-apocalyptic turn.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Love in the library

Last week a good friend told me that she was heading to the library to meet someone for a blind date. It seemed like a great idea to me - libraries are generally brightly lit public spaces that offer opportunities to sit and chat as well as stroll through the stacks, and we also have a great coffee shop. Plus it's never too early to determine if you share the same taste in books, right? (Although if having a similar taste in books is a compatibility marker, then my non-reading husband and I are in trouble!)|library/m/halifax-horizon|1496258The Romance of Libraries by Madeleine Lefebvre is a lovely anthology of true-life stories about relationships that began (or ended) within libraries, and although many of the stories vary a great deal, the physical setting of the library as a public space always plays a role. "While most accounts are about romances that developed in a library setting, some are about romances with libraries themselves. Loosely arranged by context, the stories―happy, sad, or bittersweet―share an over-arching theme of the transformative and emotive power of libraries in our lives. Lefebvre's underlying message is that the physical library can play a role in our affections that the virtual library never can." Publisher.|library/m/halifax-horizon|1854558Some other books for the literary-minded romantic:
The Jane Austen rules : a classic guide to modern love by Sinéad Murphy gleans dating advice from everyone's favourite Regency Era author, Jane Austen. "What's a strong, independent-minded woman supposed to do in a world of insipid dating guides? Sinéad Murphy responds by asking: Who has more time-tested secrets than Jane Austen, whose novels continue to captivate us almost two hundred years later? Whether you can recite paragraphs from Pride and Prejudice or just admired Colin Firth in his wet t-shirt, the romance of Jane Austen's world is one you'll never forget. Does love like that even exist today? Yes, it does. If you look closely at the women of Jane Austen's books, as the witty scholar Sinéad Murphy has, you'll discover Austen's countless tips for finding the right leading man, navigating the ups and downs of courtship, and building a happy, independent life for yourself." Publisher.|library/m/halifax-horizon|1775142Much Ado about Loving : What our Favorite Novels can Teach You About Date Expectations, Not-so-Great Gatsbys, and Love in the Time of Internet Personals  by Jack Murnighan and Maura Kelly takes a critical look at romances in literature. Rather than providing dating advice, this book is a fun look at our favourite classic books from two authors with different perspectives. The books is set up in a "he said - she-said" format, with the two authors taking alternate chapters debating the romantic feasibility of literary couples while sharing personal anecdotes. This book is a fun read, whether or not you're actively looking for love!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Happy World Philosophy Day!

In 2002, the United Nations declared that every 3rd Thursday in November would be celebrated as World Philosophy Day. Hooray! Philosophy can expand your mind and make you question just about anything. If you've ever wondered about the world - from truth, knowledge, and ethics to beauty, politics, and the nature of reality - then you'll find something in philosophy for you. Philosophy is divided into numerous fields, but if you're just starting to test the waters, here are four recommended reads for a newbie. first book on the list is Simon Blackburn's Think: A compelling introduction to philosophy. Simon Blackburn wrote the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, but don't let that intimidate you. This book was written as a primer for anyone wanting to learn more about philosophy. In each chapter, the author discusses a major philosophical idea such as free will, and brings up different arguments, while using quotes and examples from famous philosophers. 

syndetics-lcThe second book is ideal for people who tend to prefer fiction over non-fiction: Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. This bestselling novel begins when a teenager comes home and finds some mysterious notes in her mailbox. This sets off Sophie's journey through the history of Western philosophy. The book is entertaining as a philosophical mystery, but the story serves to to sketch the outlines of the basic philosophical arguments that have appeared through throughout time. Perfect for a questioning beginner of any age!

My third recommendation is syndetics-lcThe Deepest Human Life: An introduction to philosophy for everyone by Scott Samuelson. Recently awarded the 2015 Hiett Prize in the Humanities, Samuelson is also known for his pro-humanities essay  called Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers, written for the Atlantic in 2014. This engaging book was written, like Simon Blackburn's, to be an introduction to philosophy for anyone interested in the human condition. Divided into four parts, the Samuelson goes over classic philosophical problems and relates them to everyday life.

syndetics-lc  Last but not least is The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley. Okay, this one won't be as useful as the others - it's not a discussion of basic philosophy but a list of how famous philosophers have died. Nonetheless, it's entertaining to skim through the pages of this tome. Critchley lists numerous philosophers and gives tidbits of each one before announcing how they met their untimely (or timely) ends. You may discover an interesting philosopher that you didn't come across in the other books. Happy reading (and philosophizing)!