Rain: A Natural and Cultural History is a great piece of research about the past, present, and future of the relationship between humans and this unprRain: A Natural and Cultural History is a great piece of research about the past, present, and future of the relationship between humans and this unpredictable part of the weather sphere. Barnett introduces the known scientific facts and popular (and sometimes unpopular) opinions about the notorious precipitation stretching from millions of years ago to the near future. A good blend of the personal and cultural with scientific and historical gives the book a well rounded feel; there is something for everyone in these pages. I especially enjoyed the chapters about rain prediction and weather forecasting and the Scent of Rain chapter (due to my personal interest in perfume). The chapter about rain in literature was also highly interesting, and I am now able to understand my urge to write more as the winter sets in!
Recommended for those who like perfume, history of quackery, Captain Fitzroy, and history of religion.
Thanks to the publisher and LibraryThing for an ARC in exchange of my honest review....more
The Third Plate is a great read, especially if you, like me, want an accessible, non-preachy, and well rounded look at the food industry and culture.The Third Plate is a great read, especially if you, like me, want an accessible, non-preachy, and well rounded look at the food industry and culture. When I say non-preachy or well rounded, I don't mean the book doesn't have leanings towards certain viewpoints, but that within the genre of non-fiction writing about food and how we eat food or how we related to the environment, Dan Barber does a good job of trying to cover more angles than most other writers with a singular goal (in his case, him being a chef, the goal really is taste).
I believe that if we eat better tasting foods and learn to pay attention to the tastes and smells as we eat, we can live better. We can eat less with more satisfaction, we can connect better, we can appreciate all the effort that goes into growing the food, and we can use food's potential to stimulate the brain in its full force (as awareness really triggers a lot in the brain, and so does taste and smell). Dan Barber is interested mainly in the taste of foods, and in trying to search how to make food taste better, he takes a journey that crystallizes several important points:
For better tasting food, we need to grow nature (meaning, everything from the "unwanted" birds that freeload on fish in a fish farm to microorganisms that work the soil to weeds that nourish soil).
To grow nature, we need to farm differently (not necessarily the way the Sumerians or Mayans or Dutch settlers farmed, but in a way that combines our modern knowledge of science and genetics with forgotten and useful agricultural practices, focusing on the middle-sized and small farming efforts).
To farm differently, we need to create demand (so that middle-sized farmers and small farmers have places to sell their products).
To create demand, chefs, bakers, and home cooks have to create a food culture that raises the demand for the products that are currently not a part of the food culture, but would be useful for growing nature in farms.
Very interesting stuff. Most of the conclusions are circular, where A needs B needs C which goes back to A. This, perhaps, is a reflection of how our eating and food growing is, or must be, a part of the general whole.
What I find interesting, and Dan Barber talks circumstantially about this, but never really addresses it openly, is the role the changing population of the US is having and will continue to have on the food culture. Immigrants, like myself, demanding and searching for the foods that they like that come from strong food cultures. I think Americans are learning a lot from immigrants, some intentionally and some without noticing. I also think that immigrants have more money and power to look for things they want and miss, things most of which used to be available, in one form or another, on this continent.
I just made chicha morada. For this, I had to get blue corn. This being a Peruvian drink (though versions exist in many Latin American countries), I got some Peruvian blue corn. The drink turned out to be delicious. But the corn! Awesome! Now, I have been trying to find corn that is NOT sweet in this country forever. Where I come from, we do not eat sweet corn. Our corn is similar to what Americans call field corn, but even that, I believe, is sweeter than the corn we eat at home. If you want a sweeter corn, you get the "young" or "milky" corn. Otherwise, our corn is yellow, almost orange, not sweet, and starchy. When I was a kid and we went out to shop, let's say, I would get a choice of a snack, the only two my mom would allow me to have from the street: ice cream or corn on the cob. This sounds like a very strange thing for most Americans, but this is the food culture that exists and is very deeply rooted in my country. So I would usually beg to have both. No way! So I would, 9 out of 10 times, choose corn on the cob, which you could get boiled and salted or roasted (my mom would want me to choose the roasted corn, because she thought it was cleaner, not knowing that the street vendors would put in the water to boil the corn, and some vendors would add bleach to make the corn look whiter, the "milky" young corn that people prefer for its somewhat sweeter taste). I liked the really mature, starchy orange corn, of course. So back to the blue corn, which I boiled with spices for almost 2 hours (corn was dried when I got it): tasted very similar to the corn we eat back home, despite the color (which, as most know, is only on the outside, as the kernels are all white inside...) and the slight clove and cinnamon aroma.
And I wondered: with all the non-sweet craze in the US, at least in NYC, how come there isn't more non-sweet corn and peas? How come it is so difficult for me to find regular peas (something like what Americans call English peas) and non-sweet corn?
Dan Barber answers my question well in his book. Food culture is lacking for the things I am looking for. If there is no culture, there is no demand, if there is no demand, farmers won't grow it, because they can't sell it to anyone.
Which is why, I think, to the list of people who will and can change the food culture in the USA, I would add future immigrants. After all, whatever food culture exists in the USA today is what was started by those first immigrants (and enhanced significantly by slaves later on).
As for the search for better tasting food, I think Dan Barber is on the right track. And as insignificant as taste seems to many, I think it is one of the most important things about our food. But as with anything refined, taste requires a palate, a culture, and demand.
Recommended for those who like jamon iberico, mullet, graham crackers, rice, and tuna. Goes well with Missing Microbes by Blaser and Windfall by Funk....more
I had started Farewell, Fred Voodoo before the trip, so it was the only book I took with me in physical book format.
I finished it shortly after we laI had started Farewell, Fred Voodoo before the trip, so it was the only book I took with me in physical book format.
I finished it shortly after we landed, despite having watched a stupid Hollywood film on the plane, a long-standing flight policy of mine that goes something like this: I will never pay to watch this horrendous film that has nothing to do with reality and has molded some "true" story under the iron hammer of Hollywood formula into a hollow nothing, unless I am on a plane and it is right there and it's free. Clearly, it is a policy that I need to quit, but, alas, not this time.
The flight, being a February flight taking off in the middle of a snow storm at JFK to the Caribbean, was full of well-to-do white people, except, of course, one of the flight attendants, who had an accent that placed her somewhere in the Caribbean, but not exactly our destination. So there we were, on an almost-all-white flight with a super-large carbon footprint (the de-icing took an hour, and I do not even want to try to calculate the amount of environment we murdered during that time, let alone the flight, the stay, and the flight back) headed for a tropical paradise with a poor, mostly black population, of whom over 80% depend on tourism for their livelihood... A very good time to read Amy Wilentz's masochistic farewell to Fred Voodoo.
Incidentally, the film I chose to watch on our way to the islands was Captain Philips, whose commercial ship gets taken hostage by Somalian pirates, and who is eventually rescued by the brave US Navy. But, Captain Philips is a conscientious man, and he lets us understand some things during his painful stay with the Somalian criminals. (I will paraphrase the dialog based on notes I took on the plane, on the cardboard box of the Beef Up meal JetBlue was offering at a price equal to what a villager would earn in a month in the islands, I wager):
Philips: We're taking food to starving people in Africa... including some Somalians. (an "Ah!" moment)
Inevitably, I am thinking of the Crisis Caravan and the foreign aid groups and religious missions...
Later, we learn something about why the pirates might be doing what they are doing: Somalian pirate: I'm a fisherman. They came and took all our fish. What is left for us to fish? (an "Aha!" moment)
Inevitably, I am thinking of Miami rice that flooded the Haitian market, and inadvertently took away the income of rice farmers in Haiti.
The crew of the captured vessel lay out a trap for one of the pirates, who cuts his foot on the glass shards they had hoped he would step on. Later, good Captain Philips bandages the pirate's foot. A bandaid solution, but a well intentioned one nevertheless, for a wound caused by the ship's crew, though one can easily argue the pirate brought it upon himself.
Meanwhile, the Somalian Pirate keep reassuring Captain Philips: "Everything will be OK." He smiles. I think, this would make a good shot for the photojournalists.
And he reveals his dream, of going to America, to New York.
Inevitably, I am thinking of Amy Wilentz's acquaintances, the Aristide boys, who now and then describe their dreams for the future, of which the most incredulous one is going to America.
And the semi-naive Captain Philips, like the missionaries and do-gooders in Wilentz's book, eventually realizes, and allows himself to pass a judgement on his captors: "You're not just a fisherman." He repeats this twice, unable to process, perhaps, how he had missed this fact in the beginning. He understands, truly understands, that he was their "white man." And the Captain seems to arrive at the conclusion that there is something wrong with the Somali pirate, something wrong beyond the fact that the is a jobless fisherman, rendered impotent by the colonial powers that be.
Inevitably, I am thinking of the foreign aid that is promised to Haiti, none of which is directly trusted in the hands of the Haitian government or Haitians, because, well, there is something wrong with them, isn't there? We want to help them, but all they want is to take take take and waste and never improve. This is, I presume, is how Captain Philips must be feeling.
Before Philips is rescued, he tries to understand and reason: "There's gotta be a better way than being a fisherman or kidnapping people." Somalian pirate: "Maybe in America."
And the Somalian pirate does, in the end, go to America. He is told he will go to jail in America. And we now understand that the only way for him to really have gone to America was like this. What other way could there be for this unskilled ex-fisherman, who wasn't really a well-trained fisherman to begin with? We are left shaking our heads and feeling sorry for Captain Philips, and maybe, a little for the pirate, though rationally, we do not think he deserves much of our sympathy.
When we landed in our tropical paradise, we are very white. And everyone who is servicing us, cabbies, restaurant people, policemen... are black locals. The hotel owners are white, though they grew up on the islands, we are told. And we hire local businessmen for our excursions, all of whom were born and grew up on the very island we are vacationing away from the annoying crowds on the main island. For the most part, the locals we deal with are well educated. Some have worked in the US before. We do not feel out of place much, because we know, as racial as the divide seems, it is very much a class divide, the same class divide that we find vacationing in Turkey, where everyone is Caucasian to some degree, but those who serve and those who vacation clearly belong to different socioeconomic classes.
There is one incident that puts me right back into Amy Wilentz's book: I usually over-tip when on vacation in places like this, aware that this is very much appreciated by the people who work there. I tip the local guide who takes us around the caves more than 50%. I know, he is also getting 66% of the tour price to himself, the remaining portion goes to the island, presumably, for the maintenance of the protected area. But this is not enough; he asks me to pay the cab driver, too. Our hotel owners are very detailed in their directions and they have never mentioned this fee, and I know, I just know because I have been in similar situations before, that I am now officially the tour guide's "white man." I pay and smile. I sincerely hope he enjoys his earnings. But I can easily see how this can become a source of resentment very quickly.
When we are flying back, I count the number of non-white people in the airport (not just our flight, but a good 8 flights!): Four. We are at the airport for over 4 hours, and a total of four black people are among the ocean of white people with pink children are flying today.
In Farewell, Fred Voodoo Amy Wilentz reports not only the state of Haiti and its people, but on the complicated and often contradictory state of foreignness in this seemingly cursed, yet beautiful land. Wilentz's observations and experiences, which she dissects with relentless self-criticism and journalistic vigor, are very much the blueprint of the experiences of the privileged and lucky in the world, who may intend to help struggling nations and peoples, who may vacation in places that suffer from chronic poverty, who may do business in such developing countries.
Wilentz sets out to answer many questions, but one is very difficult to pin down an answer for: Why does she keep coming to Haiti? Why is she still there? What is she doing there? And the answer seems to be: to be useful. But even this is unsatisfactory, as she questions just how useful she is, or her book is, or how selfless, as she will put it on her resume, and earn something from the book sales, just like the doctors who rush to disaster areas and become celebrities based on their sacrifices, and the religious missions, who are, undoubtedly, doing good to be good in their God's eyes.
We met a couple during vacation. I told them about the book. The woman said she had been to Haiti several years ago. On a mission trip. I recommended she read Farewell, Fred Voodoo. I tried not to smile too widely.
Thank you GoodReads First Reads for a free copy of Windfall in exchange of my honest review.
I was a bit hesitant about starting Windfall, as I do notThank you GoodReads First Reads for a free copy of Windfall in exchange of my honest review.
I was a bit hesitant about starting Windfall, as I do not need to read a book about "the truth" of global warming or climate change. I was delightedly surprised to find that McKenzie Funk wrote, instead, a book that is truly as advertised: a book about the economics of climate change. As such, Funk reports expertly on the efforts of sovereign states, tiny islands, giant oil companies, think tanks, and various businesses who are/have been aiming to profit from the climate changes that are happening and are continuing to happen.
Funk travels to many places and meets with many influential men (all men, hmm...), who are all possibly small and large players in the next world war to come, whenever it may be. The book connects many dots with thin, invisible, tangible strings that bind the whole of Earth in a very tight and uncomfortable network; from the independence movement of Greenland to the wall of trees being built in Senegal to the wire fence India is building around Bangladesh to the snow machines that were inspired by the Russian gulags, Windfall witnesses the silent decisions that are shaping the future of humans and the Earth now.
Funk took six years to investigate and write this book, and a great job he has done. His writing is precise and crisp, with a good balance between every-day personal experiences and an account of his findings from his travels and interviews as well as his research.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in the politics of immigration, poverty, water rights, and international relations. Also recommended for anyone who has children or plans on having children. Expect a page-turner, albeit a rather bleak one (if you are socialist leaning, that is; otherwise a happy read, if you live and earn in the rich, Northern countries of the world.)...more