This might be the most relevant book for my day-to-day life that I've read in years (up there with Omnivore's Dilemma). There is a lot to digest here...moreThis might be the most relevant book for my day-to-day life that I've read in years (up there with Omnivore's Dilemma). There is a lot to digest here (while reading, I kept posting stickies on one page, then the next page, then the next page...), but briefly... This book is about all the chemicals that we're exposed to (unwittingly) daily. This includes especially babies and children. Everyone is polluted. Pollution used to be this localized, visible, acute issue (cholera outbreaks). Now it's widespread, invisible, internalized, and more chronic (contributing to increased cancer, asthma, attention deficit disorder, endocrine disruption, type 2 diabetes etc. etc.). As the authors bluntly say, we're marinating in chemicals (mmm, a veritable kalbi of chemicals).
To make their point, the two authors (one of whom is the Director of Environmental Defence Canada) deliberately expose themselves to seven chemicals (such as BPA) for a few days and then have their blood/urine levels tested. However, to increase their levels, they do only what a typical American/Canadian might do (unwittingly) to expose themselves to these chemicals. For example, they eat canned foods, eat a lot of seafood, hang out on Stainmaster-treated carpet/couches, drink coffee made with a polycarbonate French press, use regular shaving gel/shampoo, etc.
The authors find that generally levels of these chemicals are not only measurable but increased by their tuna eating and such. The good news is that some of the chemicals they focused on (e.g., phthalates, BPA) have short half-lives, which means that our body metabolizes them quickly, so reducing sources of these chemicals would quickly reduce their level in our bodies. The bad news is that these two guys were generally already well-informed, yet had baseline (pre-experiment) detectable levels of these chemicals in their bodies. Yep, we're marinating, even if we don't want to be.
So what to do about this? Lest you slip into what the authors term "pollution nihilism," the last chapter does give concrete ways of reducing your chemical "body burden" in your household. However, legislation/regulation are probably the only ways to eliminate (rather than simply reduce somewhat) our body burden. We can do our best at home to use less toxic lotions and cleaning detergents (and dust away the brominated flame retardants that leach out of our electronics and couches), but most of us probably don't want to give up sitting in a cafe in a comfy upholstered chair (which has probably been treated with some flame retardant, unless you're at Ikea, evidently) and sipping coffee that is made out of beans that have been sitting in a polycarbonate tank. Or going over to a friend's or neighbor's house where air freshener is being used. Or flying in an airplane with seats that have almost definitely been treated with flame retardants. And so forth.
This book is ultimately hopeful, pointing out, for example, that when a chemical (DDT - the only one banned in U.S. history) is banned (or just stops being used because of PR problems), yes, that chemical does persist for a while, and yes, it's still in everyone, but levels are lower in our babies than they are in our grandparents.
I'd highly recommend this to anyone. It is pretty readable and even humorous at times, with some interesting back stories on some of the chemicals. (The authors are also very savvy - they know that just writing an angry book won't get the message across to as many people.) Parents, if you aren't already superinformed about what's possibly in your kid's pajamas (and mattress and rubber duck and teething ring and baby shampoo etc.), then this will probably distress you somewhat but also give you some tools (and further resources) for reducing chemicals in yourselves and your children.
An amazing, unforgettable book about North Korea. Barbara Demick explores the most closed-off society in the world through the stories of six "ordinar...moreAn amazing, unforgettable book about North Korea. Barbara Demick explores the most closed-off society in the world through the stories of six "ordinary" North Koreans who defect to South Korea beginning in the late 1990s. Through their stories, Demick covers a bit of everything (the pathological weirdness that was/is Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il and the cult of worship - and fear of reprisal - that made people cry harder at the former's death than they ever had in their lives, the role of a totalitarian government in the everyday lives of people, the deterioration of North Korea into blackouts/famine/starvation, South Korea's/China's reception of North Korean defectors) very skillfully without sensationalizing; the subject matter speaks for itself.
Here are both moments of beauty (the reminiscences of two of the profiled North Koreans about how the blackouts at night allowed them to chastely walk and talk outside their village for hours at a time) and, more frequently, moments of horror (families deliberately winnowing down their members, i.e., starving everyone else to spare the children, who as the only surviving members of their families then became homeless begging kotjebi - 꽃제비 - literally swallows). As a new mother, I could not imagine being in a position where I could not provide enough food for my young toddler - thinking about all the orphaned kotjebi made me have to put down the book, pause, and collect myself before I could proceed. Not the only such moment.
Demick also discusses the guilt and shame that many defectors have. One woman who left her children and ex-husband in North Korea mourns, "I sacrified my babies for myself." A mother who defects with one daughter is never able to forgive herself because, following their defections, her other two daughters who were still in North Korea were arrested and presumably sent to a labor camp. Another woman, now in South Korea with its plenties and excesses, is haunted by her husband's last words before he died during the famine, "Let's go to a good restaurant and order a nice bottle of wine."
I was especially moved by this book. It is completely heartbreaking in many places. I, already a sentimental reader (in case you, dear Goodreads readers, haven't already ascertained as much), tend to get even more sentimental when I read about Korea. Moreover, and more relevantly, my dad is from North Korea, and I can't help but wonder about the fates of relatives I don't even know about. This book should have great appeal beyond my myopically sentimental lens, fortunately, as it is extremely well-written and compulsively readable and deserves to be widely read and discussed.