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[25 Feb 2007|11:37pm]

Hm. So I haven't posted in a long time. I started Emma but I seem to have stalled. I don't think I have time to finish it because I have to read The Fountainhead and write the essay for the contest.

In the meantime I've been listening to Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hopeon audiobook. What a smart man. I'm too tired to elaborate right now but he's amazing, albeit imperfect.

SO. Things I have to do:
-Update Bibliophil
-Write in inmirkwoodmore often
-Finish more of the books on my list!
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regarding Ines of my Soul. [28 Jan 2007|03:26pm]

I really like Isabel Allende because her books always feature really strong and multifaceted female characters. I was amazed by her book Daughter of Fortune; definitely an unconventional romance, and an unconventional journey. It shattered all preconceptions about 'chick lit', about Hispanic literature, about everything, and I really enjoyed it. Ines of my Soul had a lot to live up to; predictably, it fell short.

Apparently the novel was based on the real-life founding of Chile; reading the amazing things Ines Suarez went through truly astonished me. But I feel like there was too much emphasis on the history and not enough focus on Ines. The fun part about writing historical fiction is that one gets to have some fun with the characters within the bigger picture. Allende didn't really take advantage of that. Instead she spent a lot of time narrating tedious battle scenes, and the personal histories of Ines's equally tedious spouses.
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*fuzzies* [28 Jan 2007|02:59pm]

I set myself the goal of finishing Pride and Prejudice in 3 days. I really wanted to finish at least ONE of the books for AP English on time. Of course this meant neglecting Atlas Shrugged to the extreme.

But I did it! I finished it and it made me feel all romantic WHILE expanding my mind. Bridget Jones has NOTHING on this. [Bridget Jones, btw, was based off of Pride and Prejudice. Hence why the main character's name is Darcy.] The vocabulary in this book is amazing. It's a great way to learn SAT words.

All of that aside, though, I think that Elizabeth Bennet is a heroine who was definitely ahead of her time. I find it really sad that because women had no economic independence in those days, they were so dependent on finding a man to marry. They didn't have the luxury of doing it for love, they had to do it out of necessity. Throughout the book I definitely gave thanks for the significant advances in women's rights that have occurred since then. It makes me angry that some women think that it would be better to regress to the 1850s.

Elizabeth is an awesome chick because she's so well-spoken. Unlike many of the other female characters in the book, she is not frail or intimidated by men - even those who are in positions of power over her. She isn't afraid to speak her mind. Anyone who's dumb enough to cross her will leave feeling royally pwned.

I'd like to possess as much grace and wit as Elizabeth....without having to wear a corset or be badgered by my cousin's snooty patroness. =]

A lot of the guys in AP English definitely aren't going to appreciate this one...as befits a story taking place among the English nobility, there's a lot of talking and not a lot of stuff blowing up. It's kind of sad that some parents raise their sons to have the emotional IQ of rocks. Nevertheless, Pride and Prejudice was amazing and I'd definitely like to reread it in the future.
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Finishing Black like Me [21 Jan 2007|08:43pm]

So yeah. A sad and poignant book that dragged at the end. Screw that. >_<

I think the book got better as I went along, and had a lot of insight, but even at the end I felt like he was being condescending. Something in the tone of his voice just seemed soo self-righteous. "OMG LOOK EVERYONE I HELPED THE NEGROES."

Um....I need to read Pride and Prejudice, but I also want to get through Atlas Shrugged and Ines of my Soul. I won't get any significant reading done until the late part of this week, because Silver Knights and a bunch of other crap is all due at the same time. Arrrrrgh.

So far, though, Atlas Shrugged is crazy gritty industrialism, and I dislike all the characters for being so freakin cold.
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[17 Jan 2007|01:07am]

I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.
-Ayn Rand

I'm going to try really hard to not be so critical of Ayn Rand and to see what I can make of her ideas. Really really hard. That means lots and lots of annotating.

"She tries to instill in her readers the feeling of "I haven't been treated right by the world, the way I should have been, so I'm going to pay all of you back." And: "I'm better than you."

Rand is tapping into something quite primitive, indeed archetypal. It puzzled me. I'm sure a lot of her readers have mixed feelings: a satisfaction at getting back at a world that didn't appreciate them and wasn't treating them as it should, yet an unease in seeing the world gleefully rubbed out. How could a normal person not feel something was very dark, and very sinister, about this book?

I know now she taps not into people's "self-esteem" but their narcissism, grandiosity, and scapegoating. Into their desire for revenge. What she considers "self-esteem" is just fragile narcissistic grandiosity, which I will explain.

The aforementioned is not good. In fact, it is doubleplus ungood. Rand pitched a superficial philosophy of freedom, love and self-sufficiency to get you inside her tent. Inside there is the hate, vengeance and genocide.

Rand is not a philosopher but a philodoxer, and pure Objectivism is hazardous to anyone or any society that tries to follow it.

Objectivism isn't a very good defense of the free-market, either. Instead, it's a narcissistic, scapegoating, and leftist expression of Rand's Narcissistic Personality Disorder. That makes it a cousin of Nazism and Marxism.

Rand took her distortions of the rightist free market and political liberty and pasted them on top of a base of scapegoating and leftism. It's is no surprise that Objectivism only works in Rand's fiction. In reality it will never work.<"
[from http://home.att.net/~bob.wallace/rand1.html]

"Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual)."

"The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws."

So which viewpoint is correct? We shall see. I start right now, with "Who is John Galt?"
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On This is All [16 Jan 2007|08:51pm]

Wow. It's finally finished..and boy did it take a long time. I'm kind of relieved, and I'm not let down like I often am with other stories. I would like to know more about Cordelia Kenn, but I felt like it was a natural ending point for the story. And I'm satisfied knowing what I know, and that is all.

I wasn't expecting more than the typical young adult novel..full of silly cliches about girls and boys and love. But I definitely got a lot more. And the book helped me examine my relationships with my family, friends and with myself. It also helped me to think about my impending adulthood [which is amazingly scary, but it'll happen whether I want it to or not.]

What does being a woman mean? It's about a lot more than periods and boobs, that's for sure. Being a woman today, in particular, involves a lot of struggles, and often a lot of sacrifice. Women are assaulted with so many ideals today, and society generally forces them to choose.

What does first love mean? How do we know it's honest? Does love help people grow or does it more often hold them down? Should we be easily forgiving, or no-nonsense? What's the difference between the different types of love, and what makes some kinds more highly regarded than others?

This is All certainly didn't provide answers to all of these questions, but it made me think, certainly.
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[13 Jan 2007|04:23pm]


So I've continued to read <i>This is All</i>...finals are over and Cordelia wants to do something for herself. So she gets her nose pierced.

Her boyfriend gets mad at her for doing it without consulting him and begins to scream at her. She's reduced to tears and then writes a letter about how in love, you have to consult your partner for everything, and how some women say that your body is your own, but it's not.


What a load of bollocks.

Your body, in this life, is the ONLY thing that is entirely your own. No one else has a body that's identical to yours, and no one ever will.
In a relationship, you have to maintain parts of yourself that are wholly your own. One of those parts is your body. You choose to share your body with your partner, but he doesn't own it.

The idea that a high school boyfriend should get to dictate what her girlfriend gets pierced is ridiculous. She's not harming him or directly affecting him in any way. A nose stud is not a huge deal. And that kind of getting pissed is a sign of someone who wants too much control over someone in a relationship.

I can see a boyfriend preferring your hair a certain color, or liking it when you wear certain clothing. And if it makes him happy, all very well and good. if it makes you unhappy, but it makes you feel unfulfilled, then maybe he needs to learn to accept it.

I don't know. This book just seems more and more like a super-duper emotionally dependent girl. She's neglecting to grow because she's too busy worshipping her boyfriend like a god, and letting him control what she does and doesn't do. This is more like a tale of emotional abuse than coming of age.
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argh. [12 Jan 2007|12:39am]

I have so much stuff to read, and so little time in which to do it in! yargh.

So far I've made some progress in This is All, by Aidan Chambers. It's basically the magnum opus of coming-of-age books; it's 800 pages [in hardcover!] detailing the life of a girl named Cordelia Kenn. I really like her because she really isn't like most teen novel protagonists..she's super duper smart and literate and thoughtful, and she's comfortable with herself in a way that I can only aspire to, but also incredibly insecure. If I knew her, I'd totally befriend her.

I'm really not one for the whole sappy relationship thing, but her stories of her relationship with her boyfriend, Will Blacklin, make me all fuzzy inside. =] Will wears glasses, loves Thoreau and the oboe, and has an inordinate affection for trees. Their first kiss resulted in them tumbling into a gigantic pile of wet ferns. If you tell me that that doesn't make you all wistful and kissy, then you have a heart of stone.

In conclusion: This is All makes me excited about college. haha. Just about everything does nowadays. But I really think that the book could be shorter. {after incredible amounts of toil, i'm only on page 280.] And Cordelia's poetry [she calls them 'mopes'] really really sucks. I also hate book formats that require flipping back and forth between pages. I tolerated it in House of Leaves only because the book was otherwise completely brilliant. But I'm not dealing with it well in this book.

I bring Black like Me to school and read it in AP Psychology when I'm supposed to be paying attention [!]..as it's a lot more portblae than This is All. So far I find the book interesting, but deeply flawed. If the author honestly thinks that his experience so far is anything like the black experience, he definitely was in need of a rude awakening.

My future book plans: The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, and Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman. I figure I can have a denser and a fluffier book to balance things out. I've actually read The Fountainhead before.....sophomore year. But I need to reread it again for the scholarship contest. Now I can fit in with all my junior friends in AP English. =]
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bbc's 200 best books. [10 Jan 2007|01:05am]


books read: 71
books on my to-read list: 22
etc.: 107

i definitely appreciate the diversity of the books. War and Peace and the Very Hungry Caterpillar both occupy the list. haha.

i'm not doing too bad, i suppose.

school started today. i have a nasty feeling that it's going to cut into my reading time.

what i'm reading now:
This is All by Aidan Chambers- basically a crazy bookish girl growing up and falling in love, nothing heavy.
Black like Me by John Howard Griffin - about a white guy who takes medication to disguise himself as a black man and then goes travelling in the South. Frightening, but I knew most of that stuff all along.
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The Omnivore's Dilemma, Conclusion! [08 Jan 2007|02:41am]

[ mood | touched ]

I feel satisfied. Deeply satisfied. Despite the fact that I have no solution to the Omnivore's Dilemma, despite the fact that my solutions are limited while my food is being paid for by my mother..I do feel satisfied by the ending. The perfect meal. Yum. :]

Eating is a deeply personal thing, something that requires a humongous act of trust in the food you're eating..not to be full of poison, not to slowly kill you, or to revolt you..but to be tasty and nourishing. I guess we don't really think of it that way. We're all middle-class citizens in the richest country in the world. We take clean food for granted. We can eat pretty much anything we want..and we do. [I mean, who would have guessed that Jelly Belly sells Juicy Pear jelly beans in seperate bags? There is enough of a demand for gourmet jelly beans that a company can not only specialize in making them, but make different packaging for different people's purposes, and create recipes for them. That is incredible.]

I think it takes a great deal of courage to do what Michael Pollan did, and scrutinize the stuff he was eating instead of blindly shoving it down our throat like the rest of us do. He said that most of us either turn a blind eye, or can't take the strain and switch to a diet that is ethically [but not environmentally, economically or nutritionally] fulfilling...that assuages our guilt. I turn a blind eye to a lot of it. I need to have some kind of basic trust in the material that satisfies one of my most basic needs.

Michael Pollan is a stronger person than I am. He doesn't require that trust. But I wonder...now that HE's finished his book, will he ever trust his food again? Will he enjoy his food again? Is it even worth knowing so much about what's going into our bellies?

Maybe I seem like an ostrich sticking my head in the sand. But it seems to me that the biggest problem here isn't how we eat. It's how many babies we make. The more our population expands, the more desperate our food sources will become. Maybe our answer to the food question doesn't really involve food at all.

I guess we'll see.

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The Omnivore's Dilemma Part IV [07 Jan 2007|02:21pm]

So. A note on animal rights.

Pollan brought up some interesting notes on PETA and the like, namely their disregard for nature.

"A deep current of Puritanism runs through the writing of the animal philosophers, an abiding discomfort not only with our animality, but with the animals' animality, too."

He has an excellent point. At this point, domestication has become a biological thing, not a sociopolitical thing. The animals who live on farms could not live any other way, at this point in time. They don't have the mental or physical capacity to handle it.

This is one of the reasons why anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, etc. [anti-peoplist?] advocates don't like PETA. Comparing the animal rights movement to the civil rights movement is, indirectly, comparing black people to animals; it insinuates that animals have the same capacity to comprehend and suffer as black people did and do. I, as well as many others, find that personally offensive. It is as though the suffering of humanity has taken a back seat to the pain of animals. Maybe this is because Natalie Portman and Pamela Anderson don't find starving African childen covered in flies to be as cute as 8-week old kittens.

Don't get me wrong. I do support the struggle for a certain level of animal dignity. I do believe that what is going on in CAFOs and slaughterhouses reflects sadly on us. I do support putting an end to [UNNECESSARY] animal testing...we shouldn't be torturing rabbits so we can have long-wear lipstick that works.

BUT. We have prided ourselves on being 'better' than the animals. The flipside to being more advanced than other animals is that we can now flagrantly disregard what nature tells us. This can be great...the normal ecological constraints don't apply to us anymore. We don't have to worry about things like famine and pestilence, at least not in developed countries. But we can also ignore the warning signs that tell us that we're not living in a sustainable manner.

Is vegetarianism sustainable? We hear the basic statistics, like the rule of 10. But what about the normal patterns of the biosphere? Are ecologically self-contained 'systems' like Polyface Farms unethical? In Salatin's desire to replicate the patterns of the natural world, he must inevitably involve the use and slaughter of animals. Would a vegetarian world, made up of 'big organic' or 'industrial' farms, be ethical, if it was inevitably leading to the degredation of the environment, and thus to species extinction, drought, disease, and ecological apocalypse?

Well I guess statistics lie 75% of the time.

Until I get some better answers to my questions, I think I'm going to stay an omnivore. But I'm going to cut down on my meat eating [which is hard to do, as I really don't eat very much.]. Although the jury is out on whether going completely veg is practical, let alone sustainable, I don't think it takes a genius to know that eating less meat is better for us and for the world.
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a review [from amazon.com] of the omnivore's dilemma...and my commentary [03 Jan 2007|03:27am]

Read more...Collapse )


To be fair to Michael Pollan, talking about potential sustainable strategies for farming wasn't really the point of the book. The point was to see where our food comes from, in a multitude of ways. Pollan is a food historian, not an agronomist; he does what he does best, which is writing about food. Any detailed agricultural reforms would be a book in itself, and would need to be written by someone who knows a lot about plants.

But I see this trend in a lot of 'muckraking' books and movies...An Inconvenient Truth comes to mind, as does Supersize Me, Fast Food Nation, etc....as well as all those sad articles about conflicts in Darfur/the Congo/Colombia in the news. They all leave us to make up our own mind on what to do. But they don't give us any options. They tell us about some crippling problem in our society and leave us with a feeling of abject futility.

How about giving the public a clue as to what they can do to help? The media feels as though it has a responsibility to notify us of the wrongs in our society [and it does.] But shouldn't that responsibility also come with an obligation to help engineer social change, instead of leaving its viewers dehumanized?

concreteclam posted an excerpt in his LJ about the apathy of the world today. Maybe this is part of the problem. It's not that we don't know what's going on in the world..even the more harebrained idiot knows about calamities like the War in Iraq and the effects of Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Southeast Asia. But the news bombards us with misery and emphasizes that the depths of human suffering is too deep for us to even make a mark in it. Maybe that's why people don't care anymore. It's a mechanism for us to survive, while we're constantly being bombarded with images of starving children. We're told that people are suffering horribly, and the implicit message is that we can't do anything about it. So we ignore it, as a means of keeping ourselves emotionally whole, and getting on with our lives, and finding pleasure in trivial, material things, instead of attempting to tackle anything better.

.....I can't believe I'm up at 4 am thinking about agricultural reform. o_0
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The Omnivore's Dilemma, Part III [03 Jan 2007|02:38am]

[ mood | hungry ]

Part III: Super Pastoral

So, I was right. I struggled through the organic section of The Omnivore's Dilemma, because it was just so sickening. I really really want to believe in his utopian vision of a small farm. But I kept getting infuriated by the super-preachy tone of the book.

Newsflash: although you may be willing to spend $4 a pound on chicken, not everyone is willing, or even able to do that. Most of America does just fine on industrial food. They shop at Wal-Mart and they eat their processed chicken and they like it. If you truly want to convert people, there's a better way to do it besides squawking "OMGAH LYKE MAH FOOD IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN URS N AH HATE DA GOVERNMENT."

That being said, I'd like to get my hands on some Polyface Farm eggs.

I'd also like to go to a farmer's market...we used to shop at farmers' markets all the time when we lived up north, but South Florida is too concerned with fake tits and cocaine to worry about where its food comes from. Or so I thought. Apparently there's a farmer's market in Davie. I'm not sure what I'll find...possibly some crazy rednecks trying to sell me battered tomatoes for their weight in gold. But I think it's worth a shot.

I found it really admirable that the author was able to come to terms with his place in the great food chain..the part where he slaughtered the chickens was really poignant. And I do agree that anyone who is an omnivore should be able to handle killing their food. [That doesn't mean I support hunting, though. Because when you do it habitually, you become immune to the animals' suffering. Also, hunting is being done for fun, not for food.]

But altogether I'm really glad that section is done. It really got under my skin, and kind of reminded me of a lot of what is wrong with the liberal movement in America - obnoxious yuppies. Seriously. So you can afford to spend $34 on one meal from an organic collective farm. That's great. Don't knock people who can't. And no, it doesn't reflect the 'true cost of eating'. But America doesn't give a shit about 'the true cost of eating'. It cares about the bottom line. One has to reconcile economics with environmentalism. It's no skin off of the backs of the economists, so it's the environmentalists' job to make sustainability profitable.

ALSO: okay, great, a quaint little farm that feeds a couple hundred people, with enormous expenditures of time and money. How does that translate into feeding the world? Or does it only translate into feeding a few upper-middle-class people? NEWSFLASH: Polyface Farm won't work in the West. It's driven by water, and rich land - two resources that the Western United States lacks. So are cowboys in Wyoming supposed to adopt the Polyface model? I thought we were talking about sustainability here. One size doesn't fit all....the Polyface model fits few.

So yeah. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that hippies get under my skin, but that grass-fed beef is very very good.

.....*goes off to eat a bowl of discount cereal made with industrial wheat.* :[

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Household Gods [02 Jan 2007|01:05am]

I am Charlotte Simmons went out with a whimper, instead of a bang. Although it was absorbing, I'm def glad it's over, I think it killed a couple million brain cells.

I first read Household Gods when I was in 7th grade...I haven't been able to find a copy in bookstores since then, so I thought that it had gone out of print. Interestingly enough, it hasn't...I bought a brand new copy from Amazon.com. My local Barnes and Noble just happens to suck.

Household Gods is the story of a stressed out single mom, stuck in a dead end job, who prays to be resurrected in the Roman Empire. She's really really clueless about what living in the ancient world is really like, and she finds that out the hard way.

I, initially, wasn't crazy about the main character, as she seemed to spend a crap-load of time whining. But now I'm really getting to admire her. Despite her occasional shortsightedness and cluelessness, she definitely exhibits some inner strength. She's not a damsel in distress..she's taking care of herself just fine.

This book totally underlined one of the bad points of a lot of fiction: NO BODILY WASTE.
I'm not even joking. I mean, I'm sure that Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler did the number 2, but you never hear about it. And all those fantastical wizardly people in books like Abarat and Lord of the Rings...did they have magical toilets? And why is it that the people at Hogwarts can do crazy things like Apparate and they still rely on old-fashioned Muggle indoor plumbing?

I want to hear more about FANTASY TOILETS, yo.
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This is Charlotte Simmons [01 Jan 2007|12:04pm]

So The Omnivore's Dilemma was depressing me, so I decided this morning that A LIGHTHEARTED TALE OF COLLEGE DEBAUCHERY would cheer me up!

Except it didn't...especially since the story was based on 'research' done at UF and UPenn, both colleges I applied to. :/

Basically, there's this girl named Charlotte Simmons, and she's a poor ol' redneck from North Carolina who goes to DuPont University [which is supposed to be on the same level as Harvard and Yale.}

The first half of the book is spent by her going "oh woe iz me, ah only have one pair of jeans, but ah am CHARLOTTE SIMMONS, and ah am a perfect picture of ANGLO lust, and all the boys want ta date me!" There's also some miscellaneous complaining about how scary black people are and how they all listen to that 'jungle music' [cue horribly unrealistic rap music] and how drunk everyone is and how she's so much better than them because she's been instilled with Christian values.

And then of course in part 2 she becomes a dumb, submissive skank like all the other girls at Dupont, and plays this fratboy Hoyt against this wimpy emasculated guy named Adam.

If I ever met a girl like her I'd smash her in the face, srsly.
Every character in the book reminds me of someone unpleasant that I normally avoid in real life.

There are so many things that just instinctively seem inaccurate to me, though. For one - if this school is the equivalent of Harvard or Yale, no way will people be getting mad drunk on a Monday night. They have stuff to do. Secondly - student-athletes are super smart there too. Although HYPSM cuts them some leeway, they aren't going to be getting in with 900s on their SATs.

I'm trying to hope that that is an incredibly unrealistic narration of college life, told through a bitter puritanical man's eyes. Because if everyone is as unlikable as the characters in the book, I'm going to get a single dorm and hole up in it for 4 years. There's no hint that anyone in the book has any intelligence whatsoever..they're too busy trying to get laid. It's like the college version of American Pie.
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The Omnivore's Dilemma Part II [31 Dec 2006|04:35pm]

Part II: Pastoral
Well NOW I'm cynical.

Part II was a 'Big Organic' meal from Whole Foods....a roast chicken, veggies, a salad and ice cream which cost the author $34 [which is as much as my family spends on conventional food in a week.]

So the big question is..is industrialized organic food any better than conventional food?

Yes and no.

Yes in that the reductionist NPK approach isn't working. That is....

Sure fertilizers help the richness of the soil. But what's in fertilizers?
3 things, Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potassium. [NPK.]

Although those chemicals help with plant growth, they don't provide many of the trace elements that plants need to produce certain nutrients [like vitamins and polyphenols.] So organic PRODUCE is indeed more nutritious.

Organic animals, however, are a different story. The chickens and cows from Whole Foods aren't treated any differently from the livestock at regular old factory farms. You're just paying out the ass for them. They don't seem to be more nutritious, since they are fed with almost the same stuff as regular livestock - that is, corn. [ORGANIC corn. heh.]

A lot of the appeal of Whole Foods is that it makes people feel like they're doing something good for themselves and for the environment. In some cases they are, but they generally aren't.

In order for a national organic supermarket to exist and be profitable, it has to get its produce from gigantic collective farms, and then ship stuff all over the US. The fossil fuels needed to fly things all over the world, to your neighborhood Whole Foods, are comparable to the amount one would use in conventional crops.

The term organic is meaningless, because farmers have created all kinds of loopholes to get around DA OFFICIAL RULES. For instance, instead of using herbicides, organic farmers till the soil repeatedly...this ruins the productivity of the soil. Although organic farmers aren't allowed to use official fertilizers, they can use mineral nitrogen..which kind of defeats the whole getting away from the NPK mentality. Although the lovely white American employees get paid well, the migrant workers, as usual, get treated like crap.

So, basically, Whole Foods is an overpriced yuppie-mart.

but then WHAT THE FUCK ARE WE SUPPOSED TO EAT? and for that matter, what is the WORLD supposed to eat? Conventional sucks, organic sucks.

The author's answer..judging by the title of the next chapter..is small-scale pre-industrial farms. Which is nice, if you want to deal in agricultural masturbation. But how can we stay big while respecting our health, animals' health, and the environment?

Industrial isn't going anywhere. But how do we make it better?

-No-till agriculture?
-Polyculture without polyculture...3 different varieties of the same crop..in alternating rows, or in a patchwork format?
-Compost as fertilizer [regional composting initiatives?]
-Growing more locally. Dealing with seasonal foods, to an extent.

I just wish I knew more about feeding people.
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The Omnivore's Dilemma Part I [31 Dec 2006|12:49pm]

I'm not finished with this book yet, but I just finished reading the 'industrial' section, and now i'm starting on the 'pastoral' section.

Part I: Industrial

The Omnivore's Dilemma follows the author as he tries to figure out what 4 different meals are made of. He follows his food all the way from its beginnings in the soil to the ending in his belly.

The first [and only] meal I've read all the way to its conclusion is the McDonald's hamburger, which has its beginnings in the lowly corn plant. I'm glad I took AP Bio, or else I probably wouldn't have understood the first chapter of the book.

C-4 photosynthesis? Whoozeewhatsit?

Apparently a phenomena that I thought had no importance outside of my 3rd period with Mr. Friedman.

But apparently biology is everything. C-4 photosynthesis allows corn to be extremely productive, even in hot, dry areas. It allows corn to store up gigantic stockpiles of starch. And we take advantage of this...corn powers everything! Well, not everything. it doesn't run our cars [yet. But if ethanol and biodiesel become popular...]

Corn is in 1/4 of the items in our supermarket. Utilizing the power of enzymes, we can break down the materials in it and rearrange it into lots of crazy food additives...high fructose corn syrup, high dextrose corn syrup, lecithin, lactic acid, cornstarch, etc. It's pretty admirable that the food industry has found out a way to utilize corn in so many ways. But in some ways it's kind of scary, esp. looking at the economics of it.

We keep on producing more and more corn, thanks to a crazy system of price subsidies and increasing economic efficiency [our system, unfortunately, is not ecologically efficient. But capitalism is a crazy system that doesn't answer to natural laws.]. But where does it go? People can only eat so much. Or can they? One of the reasons for the new prevalence of processed food is that we have to shove more calories into a smaller space, in order to get rid of all the extra food. That's where Corn Flakes, Cheez Wiz and Pop Tarts all come in.

Another problem is what we're doing to our animals. Surprise: eating meat isn't bad for us! It's eating corn-fed meat that's bad for us. Not even chicken and pigs, per se..both have evolved to eat corn happily. It's eating corn-fed BEEF. [Boy, do Americans eat a lot of it.]

Feeding cows corn is a cheap and quick way of producing lots of steaks. But it produces really fatty meat, which causes all sorts of problems in us. In addition, the cow's rumen wasn't evolved to deal with eating grains....so when cows eat corn, they produce a lot of farts. Sounds funny, until you consider how all that cow farting contributes to global warming. [no lie.]

The ingestion of corn also makes a cow's stomach unnaturally acidic. [normally the cow's rumen is neutral.] This new similarity between cow stomaches and our stomaches mean that the nasties living inside cows become resistant to acid [E. coli O157-H7, anyone?]..and are thus more easily passed on to us.

Craazy, eh?

I realized that a lot of the statistics that PETA, etc often spouts to support veganism are a bit misleading. For one, it is true that grazing cattle takes up a lot of land. But grass evolved because it needs animals to graze on it and help it reproduce. Also, grasslands often occur in places that are too arid to support intensive agriculture. [The farms of the Great Plains survive through amazingly engineered, but unsustainable, systems of irrigation.] It is also true that cows contribute to global warming. but they don't, normally.

If we contribute to sustainable agriculture, then we can solve a lot of the problems associated with our diet. And that doesn't mean not using pesticides. It does, however, mean less waste. Dumping 200 pounds of fertilizer when 100 would do is ridiculous. It also means that we need to eat less meat. Our system of cheap and abundant meat is built on corn. If we want to salvage our health and our environment, the sad truth of the matter is that we're going to have to eat fewer burgers.

My thoughts:
How about buffalo?
Buffalo are perfectly adapted for grazing the great plains. After all, they've been there for thousands of years. And they're very tasty, and leaner than beef.
Also: we just need to eat less red meat, period.
The subsidies on corn need to be ceased. The price of corn needs to rise naturally, on its own.
Excitement about NAFTA! That'll basically wipe out the high fructose corn syrup industry, and Big Sugar, all at once.
Ethanol is a great way to get rid of all the corn. But is it really as emissions-free as people claim it is? Or efficient?

I'm bracing myself for a lot of neo-Luddite nonsense in the organic chapter. :]
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Beasts of No Nation [31 Dec 2006|12:23pm]

This book caught my eye in the "Discover New Authors" section of BN...it was kind of expensive, considering that it was such a short read, but I guess this helped me to stop thinking of buying books as a transaction and more like..A WONDERFUL UNEXPECTED PRESENT THAT I HAVE TO PAY FOR! yeah.

Beasts of No Nation was about a little kid named Agu, in some unnamed West African nation [presumably Nigeria, which is the author's home country], who is recruited to be a child soldier in the midst of a civil war. He commits horrible rapes and murders, while being sexually molested by the commandant and starved. Eventually his entire ragtag platoon rebels...all his friends die of starvation, but he, luckily, is rescued by a humanitarian league.

At least that's the plot. You def have to read it to get the full effect of it.

The entire book is written in this weird pidgin voice, apparently to help us better identify with a barely-literate child. The constant present-tense and neglect of articles took some getting used to, but in the end it did flow. My aggravation came with the fact that the author kept throwing all sorts of SAT words into the mix. I really doubt that most 10-year old children , especially 10-year olds without a grasp of proper grammar, can properly use the words "reconnaissance". [Or maybe I'm just jealous because I defintely just spelled that word wrong.]

While it was a poignant book, I can't help thinking that that's the way I would have written a book about Jamaica. That is, from the comfortable distance of a middle-class life in a western country. That is the way we read the book, and that is the way he wrote it, from the comforts of Hahhvahd. I can't help thinking that for a book about child soldiers..this is just not the way it was meant to be written. Although I praise him for giving a voice to the previously silent, I think that he's projecting his interpretations of Africa's voice into a book, so he can be like every other award-grubbing Ivy League student who is praised for their symbolic gestures.

Or maybe I'm just being too cynical and self-deprecating, heh.

Anyways, it was a good read.
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books i plan to read in 2007: [31 Dec 2006|12:12pm]

1. Household Gods - Judith Tarr/Harry Turtledove
2. Dragonflight - Anne McCaffrey
3. Black Like Me - John Howard Griffin
4. This is All - Aidan Chambers

5. I Am Charlotte Simmons - Tom Wolfe
6. Salt: A History - Mark Kurlansky
7. Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace
8. Naked - David Sedaris
9. Only Revolutions - Mark Z. Danielewski
10. Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
11. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
12. The Known World - Edward P. Jones
13. 100 Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
14. Ines of my Soul - Isabel Allende
15. Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
16. Beasts of No Nation - Uzodinma Iweala
17. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
18. No god but God - Reza Aslan
19. The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky [a new year's resolution!]
20. Clarissa - Samuel Richardson [through clarissa_novel]cancelled :(
21. The Gulag Archipelago - Alexander Solzhenitsyn
22. The Once and Future King - T.H. White
23. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
24. Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco
25. The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan
26. The World is Flat - Thomas Friedman
27. Don Quixote - Miguel Cervantes
28. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky
29. Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid - Douglas Hofstadter
30. The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand [for a scholarship contest.]
31. Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond
32. Emma - Jane Austen
33. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen [for AP English.]
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