Penguin Group sent me this book to review as a member of the Blogger Book Network. Although it was originally published in 1991, it was released again this year with a new introduction by BBC correspondent Fergal Keane.
Aung San Suu Kyi has lived a remarkable life as a political leader fighting for democracy in Burma. She has been relentless in her struggle for freedom and human rights, even though her values and beliefs have caused her to be imprisoned for nearly a third of her lifetime.
Letters from Burma is a collection of short, 3-5 page chapters depicting daily Burmese life within an explanation of politics and discussions on human rights. Suu Kyi writes poetically about drinking tea, Burmese hospitality, and the artistry of ceramic bowls, contrasting these miniature narratives beautifully with other chapters stating factual information about Burmese political history. She effectively uses analogies of everyday life to relate details of the importance of democracy and human rights.
Because each chapter is so short, it allows for the reader to read a chapter or two at a time and then set the book down to muse over each carefully-chosen word and phrase that Suu Kyi has used. Even a reader with no background knowledge of the issues in Burma will be able to understand the situation; Suu Kyi gives plenty of information on the political struggles in her home country without overwhelming the reader with too many facts and figures.
The narrative writing style contributes to the pleasure of reading Letters from Burma. Some of the politics can become a little confusing, but Aung San Suu Kyi revisits the issues that the Burmese people and the political leaders have had to face so that the reader can have a well-rounded understanding.
Suu Kyi captures the reader's emotion with her honesty of self. One chapter entitled "Young Birds Outside of Cages", which deals with the hardships of political figures being separated from their family and children, is enough to send shivers down the spine as it focuses on the traumatic effects on young children.
Anecdotes fill the pages, drawing out the reality of the situation. It also makes the reader realize just how far removed we are from the sort of life that Suu Kyi describes:
"...our young people these days, although they are rich and have never known what it is like not to have enough to eat, do not look up toward the heavens, nor do they care whether there are clouds or whether there is a sun behind them." (37).
Throughout this poetic account of history, politics, national pride, and humanity is an underlying strength which reminds the reader to always fight for freedom, to never give up, and to appreciate even the smallest of everyday things that we take for granted. Aung San Suu Kyi proves herself as an exquisite writer in addition to being an international hero.
Last week I was having fun exploring Eat It online (an organic, Winnipeg-based health food store). They have wonderful products, and one product that jumped out at me was a blueberry hemp muffin. The company claimed that the muffin is "dairy, sugar and egg free"*. I clicked over to check out their ingredients list.
Lo and behold, the third ingredient in the list is honey.
Newsflash: honey is a form of sugar!
It's irritating when a company claims that their product is sugar-free (or "sugar free"), and then it turns out that there is simply some kind of sugar in it other than granulated sugar (or, worse, artificial sweeteners). I fully understand that honey is considerably less processed and has far more nutrients than refined white sugar, but that does not detract from the fact that honey is still a form of sugar.
If a baker wants their muffin to really be healthy or free of added sugars, they should substitute fruit (pureed works well) for the sugar. At any rate, a muffin with honey in it should be advertised as a muffin with sugar rather than without any sugar.
The funny part about all of this is that if the claim on the website had instead said, "sweetened with honey", I would have been far more impressed with the nutritional stats. Rhetoric is powerful. By altering just a word or two, the producer can completely change the attitude of the consumer.
*The lack of punctuation on their website made me cringe.
I seem to be hearing this kind of conversation between two people everywhere, both in real life and in the blogging world:
"The KFC Double Down looks disgusting."
"Ew, why would they have made it?"
"I almost want to get it just to see what it's like."
"Yeah, me too."
We wonder why we're getting larger. We wonder why the food manufacturers keep making more and more twisted, crazy concoctions which they claim are edible. We wonder why there are entire aisles in the grocery store devoted to candy or chips or soft drinks, and then just one section devoted to fresh produce.
The above dialogue is the reason why. If, as consumers, we continue to buy these things, then the food manufacturers will be led to believe that we want them.
We have to struggle through the dizzying world of advertising that uses strategic rhetoric to try to trick us into buying these items, it's true. But ultimately, we are the ones who can control the big corporations, if we choose to. If we don't want the Double Down to exist, it doesn't have to be created in the first place. But if we continue to buy it under the facade of curiosity, then the Double Down is only the beginning.
And that is something we should all be afraid of.
And for the record, yes, I think the Double Down is disgusting and a great example of just how crappy fast food is; and no, I do not have any desire to go within ten feet of one of those things, let alone put the "sandwich" in my mouth.
Moving on to page 1,252 of my Canadian Oxford English Dictionary, we have here two words (bonus!), because I simply couldn't choose between them. They are both new to me, although the meanings of the words are simple enough. Incorporate them into your vocabulary today!
1. Anglo-Indian Genuine.
2. Of good quality; perfect (did a pukka job). [Hindi pakka cooked, ripe, substantial].
Also puk-kah, pucka.
It turns out there are all kinds of fascinating words that begin with the letter P. Pule, pulk, pullulate... I thought that the following word was rather pretty, though. One might even say the word is beautiful
Noun: literary Beauty.
See also pulchritudinous (adjective) [Latin pulchritudo -dinis from pulcher -chri beautiful].
There are some things that we just don't tend to "do", for the sake of social expectations. Singing or dancing down the street is generally considered "weird", for example. Talking to yourself- particularly if you haven't showered or slept in a couple days- is liable to cause skittish passers-by to give you a wide berth. Even going to a restaurant by yourself is thought of as unusual.
The question is, why? We have a barrier between that which is "acceptable" and that which is "unacceptable", but each of these are imaginary, made-up distinctions.
Society tells us to have three meals a day. Most "health experts" will suggest breaking those three meals down into six mini-meals throughout the day. Me, I like to eat nearly everything by 2 or 3pm. At this time, my body likes to eat most of my day's food in the morning. I sleep better when I eat more in the morning and just a small amount in the evening. Social structures, however, make this difficult: most people do not eat this way, and thus I need to adapt for social situations to accommodate for the majority. It makes dealing with an eating disorder very tricky indeed.
Some of the things that we're taught to do "because that's how it's done" are rather odd. Going to the movies, for example, is a social affair. It's common to get together with friends to see a movie that everyone's interested in. But... that seems odd. Unless you're going out for dinner or something similar before or after the movie, what happens is this: the group of friends gets together, piles into a car, and drives to the theatre (or they meet at the theatre). Pleasantries are exchanged as they stand in line for tickets and treats. Everyone takes their seats and watches the film. A couple hours later, the credits roll, and the group discusses their opinions on the movie for the next five or ten minutes before parting ways and going home.
As much fun as going to the movies can be, it doesn't exactly spark conversation, and it doesn't really count as "spending time with people". You can get away with sitting in silence next to the person you're with and only talking to them for ten minutes in total if you really want.
In defiance of society's expectations, and because the next time I see my friends I'd like to talk with them, tomorrow night I am going to the movies on a date with myself. Besides, there's only one other person I can imagine seeing Iron Man II in theatres with, and as the sistertraveller is currently in Sri Lanka, that means that I will go with myself instead. I'm also hoping that going to the movies will keep me awake for when the father dear's flight lands late at night from Cambodia- spending the day by myself and listening to what my body needs and wants, rather than following exactly what society dictates, sounds like a very pleasant experience.
If you've ever wanted to calculate the nutritional content of your homemade dish, look no further! The Dietitians of Canada's Recipe Analyzer is one of my favourite online tools to plug in a recipe's ingredients for a quick way to check out the nutritional statistics. Not only can you know exactly what's going into your food when it's homemade, but now you can also know exactly what the overall meal's nutrient content is. You can "edit" your meal and refine it to your heart's content!
Pre-packaged food can't compare to this: homemade is better.
In the Media: Book Review of “The Compassionate Carnivore” by Catherine Friend (and an explanation of how a health writer writes)
I own what I believe to be a fairly well-rounded collection of health books. They vary from diet and nutrition, to cookbooks, to scientific studies, to fitness, to mental health and body image, to observations on human health throughout history.
What fascinates me about my collection of several dozen books is that they all share something else in common besides their subject of "health": the authors all have just the right mix of styles to convey their information in a way that the reader can understand it and change their lifestyles from reading, but also that the reader can enjoy the book.
Today I began to read The Compassionate Carnivore (or, how to keep animals happy, save old Macdonald's farm, reduce your hoofprint, and still eat meat) by Catherine Friend. Within the first few pages I was already hooked in:
Until Melissa and I started our farm, I'd lived in the city, where I happily wore clean clothes, kept a tidy house, paid no attention to the changing seasons, and was content to completely ignore the fact that my meat used to be an animal's muscles.
The quickest way to turn vegetarian (or vegan) is to start thinking about what your meat actually is. When I became a strict vegan as a health challenge for an entire month last fall, that was how I dealt with cravings for eggs. I stopped craving eggs very quickly once I really thought about what eggs "are" (don't think for too long or you won't be able to make a poached egg for a while). Friend's description of "meat as animal's muscles" captures this well without making the consumer feel guilty, which is central to her style.
This book is not a declaration of war against farmers, since I am one. It's not a plea for everyone to become a vegetarian, since I will never be one.
A key aspect of health writing seems to be a modest amount of humorous self-deprecation. Too little, and the readers will think you're a tiresomely pompous, self-righteous robot with no understanding of human emotion. Too much, and the readers will think you have the self-esteem of a thirteen-year-old who has just discovered that a) she has spots all over her face, b) boys aren't gross after all, and c) she won't be worthy unless she's on a diet and loses at least 20 pounds, according to the magazines at the grocery store.
It's a fine balance between sharing human insecurities and demonstrating personal strength in being the best that we can be, but Friend accommodates for both of these admirably.
This will not be one of those cheerful self-help books that makes change sound so ridiculously easy- "Become a Compassionate Carnivore in Just Ten Days!"- that you feel like a total loser when you're not able to pull it off. At the other extreme, it's not intended to be one of those books about factory farming that's so depressing that you can't get out of bed for a week.
As any writer knows, the only way they're going to sell their book is by writing something that's original and new (but still relatable enough that people will want to read it). There are many books out there about eating organic, local, and mostly plant-based foods, but to my knowledge there aren't that many books out there that focus on how you can eat healthy (for yourself, the animals, the economy, and the environment) as an avowed meat-eater.
Friend raises awareness and encourages readers by using rhetoric to relate to her readers. She identifies with our own overworked, overwhelming lives and shows us that even though we can't save everyone and everything in the world, we can still do our bit by making realistic changes.
...and that is how a health writer writes.
All of the above quotes can be found on pages 6-7. The book just keeps getting better from there.
...why it isn't rude to talk to a person across the table from you at a restaurant, but it is rude to talk on your cell phone at a restaurant if you don't have someone in-person to chat with.
...why it is acceptable in society to ask a "young" person what their age is, but it is considered nosy to ask an older person what their age is.
...why people feel the need to demand exceptionally short or exceptionally tall people, "so exactly how tall are you?"