August 10th, 2008

smirking half-hawk


13.In Defense of Food by Micahel Pollen

Interesting, and a quick read. Pollen's sugegstion is that one should "eat food, not too much, mostly plants". "Food" is differentiated from "food products" (i.e., bread, carrots, etc. are food, while things with 40 ingredients, most of which can't be prononced by our puny HU-MAN tongues are food products). His research sugegsts that nutritionism doesn't really know what it's doing, leading to unhealthy fads (low fat, low carb, etc.) and corresponding food products to match. The so-called "Western Diseases" (heart disease, stroke, cancer, etc.) that are so much more prevanent in places with a modern western diet don't seem to be slowed by the various diet trends. Pollen suggests that traditional diets seem to work better, and the science is just nowhere close to figuring out why - it's not about anti-oxidants or omega-3, but possibly how all the foods in a "traditional" diet work together. For example, mixing protein and carbohydrates apparently makes a big difference in how the carbs are metabolized (far less up and down of insulin levels), and the sugars in fruit are dealt with better due to the water and fibre.

He also gives some number on the effects of modern agriculture's breeding for size and quantity on the nutritional value of modern produce - in some cases, you'd have to eat 3-4 times as much of the same kind of food to get some of the same nutrients, when compared to 1940 (apples for examples, have far less zinc). He presents the theory that the modern obesity epidemic may be related - if we're not getting all we need, we keep on eating, trying to find enough nutrients, vitamin, minerals, etc., and thus end up consuming far more calories than we need.

Where the book falls apart, IMHO, is in the last part, where Pollen tries to provide suggestions for how to "eat food, not too much, mostly plants". He's a journalist and university professor in Berkeley, California. So, for him, maintaining a garden, eating food mostly from local farmer's markets, and having your own fruit tree are all perfectly reasonable suggestions. The further you are from being a journalist and university professor in California, the more difficult it seems. If Pollen's right, then the poor, the busy, and those living in places that get winters may be doomed to die of heart attacks and cancer.

14.Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb

I kept waiting for this novel to "get it". It seems to be roughly a regency military coming of age story set in a fantasy world with magic. The racism, classism, sexism and various social conventions are more or less what you'd expect. The ruling society with guns has been expanding eastwards and conquering the savage nomads or the plains, etc. There's a crude environemental awareness sort of glued on top, which just made the other blind spots more grating.

Also, I wanted to leap into the book and throttle the kid. If I had to listen to his inner voice whining about "Striving to be worthy of the [respect|love] of his [father|teacher|true love that he is betrothed to and only met once since puberty]", then I think I may have puked.

I made it as far as the kid getting to the acedemy, but gave up before the predictable "good kid in the academy" story arc played out.

15.Halting State by Charles Stross

Ah, much better. A healthy dose of Strossbabble! A near future story where cell phones are even more ubiquitous, and used for all sorts of neat stuff.

The book is written in second person, which a number of people have found off-putting. It didn't bother me at all. I actually found it helped me get inside the skin of the three POV characters.