Tag Archives: Barbara Kingsolver

Weekend Cooking: Small Bites

For this week’s contribution to Weekend Cooking, I thought I would offer you what I’m calling “small bites” – a few fun-sized book reviews that are shorter than regular posts but ones that you might enjoy sampling nonetheless.

Grain BrainGrain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent KIllers
by David Perlmutter, MD with Kristin Loberg 
Little, Brown, 336 pages, 2013

As a child, I remember my dad having frequent headaches (they run on that side of the family). When I got my first headache in first grade, I knew that I inherited this trait.  One of the reasons I decided to go gluten-free two years ago was to see if dietary changes would help with my migraines – and they absolutely have. They’re not completely gone (I doubt they ever will be) but they’re much better than they ever have been…so much so that I was able to discontinue the daily migraine prevention medication I took for several years.

Neurologist David Perlmutter’s belief is that we have the power to change our genetic destiny. Inflammation – particularly in the brain –  is a major culprit for many chronic diseases and he offers a 4 week plan for potentially reversing the course of Alzheimers and other conditions by addressing our consumption of wheat, carbs, and sugar.

“How often do we hear people say things like, ‘I’ll probably get [insert disease here] because it runs in my family.’ No doubt our genetic heritage does play a role in determining our risk for various health conditions. But what leading-edge medical research now understands is that we have the power to change our genetic destiny….We now know that the food we get or avoid, the quality of our sleep, and even the relationships we choose actually choreograph to a significant degree which of our genes are active and which remain suppressed. Here’s what is most compelling: We can change the expression of more than 70 percent of the genes that have a direct bearing on our health and longevity.” (pg. 126-127)

Salt Sugar FatSalt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
by Michael Moss
Random House, 446 pages, 2013

It’s fitting that the cover of Salt, Sugar, Fat looks like a ransom note because in a sense, the food giants that Michael Moss calls out by name in his Pulitzer Prize winning look at the industry are holding the health of millions of Americans hostage with obesity, high blood pressure, skyrocketing cholesterol counts, diabetes, and much more.

What makes Salt, Sugar, Fat especially eye-opening is how deliberate and strategic these efforts have been on the part of nearly everyone involved in getting food on our plate. This is a very well-researched book, with countless examples of how the food manufacturers, chemists, and marketers have exchanged one crappy ingredient for another (reducing fat but increasing the sugar, for example) and how government incentives (who remembers free government cheese?) exacerbate what is an epidemic and major health concern.

Pandoras LunchboxPandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal
by Melanie Warner
Scribner, 267 pages, 2013 

Pandora’s Lunchbox is similar to Salt, Sugar, Fat, but with a little more of a “just-a-regular-mom-like-you” kind of tone. Inspired by Ms. Warner’s quest to discover how long a slice of processed cheese really does last and other similar experiments. Like Michael Moss’ book, Pandora’s Lunchbox also is incredibly well-written and well-researched (Ms. Warner has a background as a reporter writing about the food industry) while shedding a light on the marketing of processed food and the chemicals in some of the most common things we (and our kids) are eating.

Animal Vegetable MiracleAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver
Harper Perennial, 2008 (audio)

My first reaction was that this didn’t seem any different from other books and blogs promoting eating locally-grown, in-season food  – and then I remembered that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was published in 2008, before concepts like farm-to-table and eating what’s currently available were household words.  Seven years later, it’s still relevant and worth reading because there are still people who don’t understand this – although, chances are, if you’re reading this, you probably do.

The Kingsolver family decided to eat locally for a year, either by growing their own food or purchasing very locally, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle chronicles their efforts by the seasons. While this tends to get a little preachy and repetitive at times (you kind of feel bad if establishing a vegetable garden that’s the equivalent of a small farm operation isn’t for you) but it’s well-written and includes brief sections by Ms. Kingsolver’s husband and daughter.

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

The Sunday Salon: Food for Thought

The Sunday Salon

I’ve been awake since 3:50 a.m., and all I have to show for the past six hours is: a) a few sentences written on an essay I may or may not submit for possible publication (it’s due today); b) several perusals of Facebook; c) reading The Boy’s latest evaluation from school in preparation for a new IEP; and d) this post.

Yay, me.

Planning to do a few de-cluttering/re-organizing/cleaning projects around the house today. It’s looking like we’re in for a rainy day, perhaps even with some thunderstorms, making it the perfect day for such chores. My approach to housework is that I ignore things up to a certain point and then deal with them when I can’t handle the mess any longer.

On the agenda today is the pantry, which could use a bit of re-organization because things have just been thrown in there half-assed, I’m buying duplicates of stuff, I’m spending too much time looking for basic ingredients … the whole thing is out of control. And the family room/den/office area is way overdue for some attention, bigtime.

Animal Vegetable Miracle

Speaking of food, my current audio book is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver. My first reaction was that this didn’t seem any different from other books and blogs promoting eating locally-grown, in-season food  – and then I remembered that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was published in 2007, before concepts like farm-to-table and eating what’s currently available were household words.  Seven years later, it’s still relevant and worth reading because there are still people who don’t understand this.

Case in point: yesterday at ALDI, I was in the checkout line and the ever-so-pleasant cashier asked the customer ahead of me if she found everything she needed.

“Yes, but you don’t have any strawberries,” she stated.

The ALDI cashier replied, “Right. They’re all done for the summer.”

The customer looked dumbfounded at this. First of all, if you want strawberries at the end of September, you shouldn’t be shopping at ALDI. Go a few miles up the road to the chain supermarket and spend $6 for eight ounces of strawberries that were trucked in from 3,000 miles away.

(I’ll give the customer the benefit of the doubt: maybe she was making a special dessert or something. But, still. If that’s the case, that’s not the week to go to ALDI.)

What’s interesting is reading this not far removed from finishing Flight Behavior. I knew much of that novel was borne from Kingsolver’s own experience on her family’s farm, but Animal, Vegetable, Miracle really shows the genesis of that story.

The Sparrow

I’m still making progress with The Sparrow and am almost to the halfway pointI’m participating in The Sparrow Readalong and summed up most of my thoughts thus far in the mid-point post. It’s still keeping my interest, but at page 160 I’m getting a bit antsy to find out what the hell happens. I have a sense of what’s to come, but enough foreshadowing and whatnot already: let’s get on with it.

Same with this Sunday. On with it already.

Flight Behavior Completes the Big Book Summer Challenge

Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

With tomorrow being the first day of school for my kids, this is the unofficial last day of summer in our house. It’s also a good time to give a wrap up report on my progress with the Big Book Summer Challenge, hosted by my friend Sue at Book by Book.

I like this challenge because it’s low-key and fairly easy, making it perfect for the summertime. Sue keeps things simple: read one book of 400 pages or more. Even if I only read one book – my average for this challenge – it gives me a nice sense of accomplishment.

(If you think you’ve got what it takes to tackle a chunkster or two this week, you still have time to join the challenge, as it doesn’t end until September 1.)

Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver was my choice this year. Originally I had selected The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, but I couldn’t get into that one.

At the beginning of this story, Dellarobia Turnbow is a unhappily married wife and mother living in Appalachia – and contemplating cheating on her husband. While en route to meeting her lover, she turns back upon noticing that an entire field of her family’s mountain is aflame. It’s a sign of something bigger, she thinks, and indeed it is: rather than fire, the vision is thousands of monarch butterflies that have migrated north from their native habitat to rural Tennessee because of the effects of climate change.

The butterflies’ flight from the only home they’ve known serves as a symbol for much larger issues and themes in the novel, all of which Ms. Kingsolver handles with the skill of a writer that knows the science behind her facts and knows how to craft a gorgeous sentence to draw her reader into the drama.

I listened to Flight Behavior on audio (it’s 17 hours long) and while I enjoyed the novel, I think I would have liked it more had I read it exclusively in print.  (I also have a copy on my Kindle, and that’s 610 pages.). Barbara Kingsolver’s narration was fine, but one of my pet peeves as an audio book listener is female narrators “doing” male voices, especially those with an accent. That irks me to no end and that’s fairly prevalent throughout the audio version.

Recommended. 3.5 stars out of 5