Book Review – Crave Eat Heal

This is my favorite cookbook. No, I’m not kidding and they aren’t paying us to say this. In fact, I’m not even sure who the author is. However, to me it’s a revolutionary (although not unique) book on how we should feed and nourish ourselves.

Most cookbooks take the viewpoint of a particular diet, region, or tradition. But Crave Eat Heal takes an entirely different approach. The book starts with what our tastebuds scream at us to shove into our faces (tostitos and bean dip followed by chocolate mint chip ice cream, anyone else? Anyone?) and finds an alternative that isn’t “the healthy option!”, but that actually gives our bodies the nutrients, both physically AND emotionally, that we need.

We are the modern age of reduce reduce reduce reduce. Less sugar. Less meat. Less sodium. Less fat. Less gluten. Less oxygen. Wait, that one’s not right. I get these things mixed up sometimes. Sorry.

And while there are certainly foods that are more healthy or less healthy, beneficial or detrimental, etc to our physical bodies, aren’t we missing something? Or rather, while we’re taking all of these bad things out, what are we putting back in? Low calorie instant freezer meals kept in fallout shelters from the 60s and then repackaged?! (I’m looking at you, LeanCuisine.)

The book also bases its contents on the simple fact that our bodies are constantly providing feedback for what they need. We get thirsty, so drink water. Our lips get chapped so put chapstick on. Our eyes get itchy and we sneeze in polluted air, so fiche le camp! Why is our food any different? If we’re craving something sweet, our bodies could genuinely be needing something that sweet foods have in them. Here’s the kicker, what we need may partly be physical, but it can also be emotional.

When do we feel like ice cream? After bad breakups and getting fired. When do we like salty chips and popcorn? Movies and parties and other exciting events. Whatever you’re craving, there’s a good possibility that a connection between your emotional and your physical needs exist. And Crave Eat Heal answers what to do about it.

This cookbook lets you choose what your craving is and offers a variety of simple and truly nourishing, unprocessed stuff (re: with nutrients) that will give your entire being the physical AND emotional filling that you need, not just your stomach. A hardback cover and pretty pictures will get you interested but coupled with a charming and funny rogue-chef-gone-writer to take you along this culinary journey, well, I leave the next raving reviews for you.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with some ice cream, either. Cheers!

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Book Review – The $100 Startup

So it’s no secret that I own an Etsy shop (psst, click here), and recently I’ve been on a kick of reading any and all advice I can get my hands on as I try to scale up. With that goal, I picked up this book, because minimum monetary investment is what this poor college kid is looking for.

The quality of this book really depends on what you are looking for. For me, reading this book put me in the “ready to work” mode; it’s inspiring. The book is full of success stories that started in the smallest ways.

If you are looking for guidance you might be missing out. I only suggest picking up this book for the sake of guidance if plan on selling a service rather than a product. Most of the book’s actual advice is geared toward those people who want to sell consulting or some other service.

However, the resources on 100startup.com are helpful for establishing a business plan. As the philosophy of the book goes, there is no point in a twenty-page business plan that no one will ever see; the website provides a single sheet that will get you together.

All in all, the book is inspiring but rather unhelpful. John Doe quit his corporate job, opened up shop, struggled and then succeeded. The stories are personalized enough that you care about him; they don’t provide you any concrete guidance. I suggest picking up a different book if you are looking for any actual help.

Book Review – Chakras Wheels of Life

This 1987 classic is indispensable for anyone seeking to learn more about the useful and enlightening world of chakras. Chances are, if you are reading this, then you have already heard of the word, “chakra.” If you haven’t, despair not! Now you have, and you can go read the book.

To very, very briefly summarize (I’m only doing this because I couldn’t find a succinct youtube video to do it for me), there seven major centers, or wheels, of energy in our bodies starting from the tailbone up. These are connected to different emotions and associated with specific colors. For example, and perhaps the most well-known, is the third-eye chakra located on the forehead which is purple and helps focus mental or psychic energy (makes sense, if you have a really challenging math problem to solve, where is your tension and strain?). This is a very superficial explanation, but I hope it suffices for the debutant.

Judith’s book takes each major chakra, lays out extensive information and fascinating history about it along with exercises for “opening up” or activating the energy center and tapping into the correlated emotion as well. Struggling with self-confidence and empowerment? Here’s how focusing on the solar plexus may help. Want to open up more to the loved ones in your life? Time for work with your heart chakra.

If you have any interest whatsoever in connecting emotional and psychological development to your physical body then this is a FANTASTIC book. The chakra system is a wonderful way to work with your body and mind and get them in sync.

I’d also like to address the elephant in the room, one of cultural appropriation. That is, the author Anodea Judith is not a part of the very long and rich culture that has developed the chakra system. And yes, purchasing her book is potentially diverting funds away from those people. I bought mine at a small bookshop in India along with some other local products and still feel a bit conflicted about it. Life is messy and we do our best, right? Make your own decision, but I would highly encourage visiting some translations of Eastern writings on the topic in addition to this Western version.

Book Review – Ready Player One

It’s time for another monthly book review! This year I have joined a book club on Goodreads and signed up for many challenges, which has been giving me the motivation to just wreck my way through books. I am inhaling them. This means I actually had a few options of what to review for once!

I figured, why not do a super late review of Ready Player One?

Ready Player One takes place in a dystopian near-future where the planet has gone to hell and most people spend their lives in virtual reality instead of the physical world. The man who invented said virtual reality dies and in his will sets up a contest; whoever completes the RPG-style quest of finding keys and completing challenges will receive all of his fortune. Naturally, the world goes insane doing it, and when we enter the narrative most people have decided that it’s either impossible or just not true since nothing has been located after many years.

Our protagonist has not given up. However, due to his own poverty he cannot afford to leave the VR planet he goes to for school to explore and discover the key. This is a major problem…until he discovers that the first key is on his school’s planet.

The story then follows him as he tries to complete the competition and avoid being murdered by soulless corporate assholes.

The book is frontloaded with a lot of lessons in gamer speak and culture that will annoy you if you are involved in the gaming community, but I give it something of a pass as it is necessary to non-gamers understanding. Still, it probably could have been done better.

The plot of the book is, honestly, mostly non-existent. You listen to Wade’s thoughts as he works out puzzles based on 80s references and clues. Someone being described playing old arcade games isn’t precisely exciting. However, the book manages to be enjoyable; a light read for some 80s nostalgia and cheering on the nerd.

Rating: 3/5

Book Review — The Vegetarian

Being the longtime crunchie veggie that I am, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was a must read. The drama-inducing and rather sensual, dark purple book cover piqued my curiosity. Don’t be fooled by the title; Cowspiracy it is not. This story has everything to do with social normativity and very little to do with food, animal rights, or the environment. So don’t let the title dissuade you, you guiltless meat eaters and those of the omnivore persuasion.

The protagonist is a petite South Korean lady, Yeong-hye, a rather unremarkable wife and homemaker. She transforms from meat-eater to strict vegan, mirroring her growth from submissive housewife to taboo-and-general-social-expectations-rule-breaker. What she eats and wears are just a physical and external manifestations of this internal change. This does not go over well with her family, and here the conflict of the story is born.

What was the trigger? Embarrassment. And discomfort. The husband and family were embarrassed because the people with opinions that mattered to them (aka people who represented and were a part of society) were uncomfortable. Yeong-hye’s dress and actions made those people feel uncomfortable. Eventually, her family member’s embarrassment turned to fear. They feared that they wouldn’t move up in the world, climb that social ladder, and check the boxes of “success”. Yeong-hye’s choice to forego wearing a bra at a nice business dinner made the other members of the party uncomfortable, and that negative response sparked the husband’s fear of being passed up for promotion. Apparently that feeling alone was enough to justify asking her to change, to not be herself, and to ignore her convictions.

While the story is certainly centered around Yeong-hye, much of the content is written from other characters’ perspectives and follows their own inner turmoil. To contrast her personal growth, her sister’s husband is there as a male counterpart, mirror, and antithesis. Yeong-hye denies herself anything coming from an animal, to lessen her guilt (from a recurring and condemning nightmare about animal death) her impact on other living creatures, and to reduce her ego and her self. The unnamed husband comes up with reasons to indulge his passions, particularly one fantasy of body painting and sleeping with Yeong-hye. For the sake of art, or perhaps for the sake of his rightful personal pleasure. Whatever will be sufficient justification in his own mind to do the dirty deed. If it were not for lying and his generally distasteful approach, the sister’s husband could even be empathized with and his selfish nature overlooked.

[Trigger Warning: sexual abuse beyond this point. Avoid strikethrough text to avoid this content should you want to read on. This section also contains the portion of the review that reveals major events and the ending of the novel.]

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Is “Why Nations Fail” a little racist?

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu (winner of John Bates Clark medal, also top 10 most cited economist in the world) and James Robinson, came out a couple years ago. I happened to read it last year for an undergraduate course and also for my thesis on foreign aid, but there are a few nagging issues that have continued to bother me ever since.

See here for a nice summary of the work (and a blog along with it!).

I have a couple smaller issues and will mention one of them, and then one really big concern that applies to more than just this particular book, but is instead, unfortunately, something plaguing much of contemporary development writing. I believe there is an insidious air of subtle elitism, and perhaps implicit racism, in many of the recent outpourings of development texts.

I have no problem with the straightforward, succinct writing style employed by Daren and John and would actually encourage it, since economists are notorious for using heady jargon (mainly to scare off other social scientists, I think, and to make our profession seem more impressive than it is). However, I do not believe that they give a fair chance or analysis of the other commonly cited theories for the failure of development. In a very brief span of a couple pages, they dismiss valid, contributing reasons for why, in particular regions including landlocked countries or countries with particular resources, development has failed.

But here’s what gets me. The entire premise of Why Nations Fail is faulty. Why? Because the authors’ definition of development is that a small, rural community consolidates resources with other like communities until it becomes a strong, large entity that may then grow (with proper political willpower and “critical junctures”) into an industrialized, rich, and prosperous nationstate.

You may ask, “Why is this a problem, Natalie? Sounds like development to me.” To which I respond, this is an issue because there are many communities around the world that do not want, I repeat, do not want to become the next UK, US, or USSR. These groups (including many indigenous and traditional communities in both the developing and developed world) have other definitions of development. Alternative definitions that do not include mass industrialization are not recognized in any way by Daren or John. Communities may be striving for better healthcare and education, but not necessarily individual property rights and democratic populism. Why Nations Fail does not seem to recognize the former processes as development, unless they are in conjunction with the latter.

By defining development in such a limited sense and by excluding so many people and groups from development’s definition, Daren and John run the risk of de-legitimizing the development that these communities have achieved or are on the path to achieving. At its worst extent, Why Nations Fail teeters on a fence suggesting that if the indigenous communities do not pursue a very Western model of development, then they are regressive and part of the problem of non-development.

My concern is that the near-exclusive focus on economically dominant systems and equating them with successful development misses the point of development. At the end of the day, it’s not necessarily about the money, but instead it’s if the desired outcomes of the communities are met.

Unfortunately, Daren and John are not the only ones to characterize development in this way. Instead of being seen as a broad, all encompassing ideal for which people and nations could pursue, “development” has become caught up in numbers, statistics, modalities and targets. To let someone greater than myself take the floor, here is Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen from his seminal work, Development as Freedom, who says that development is “the process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy.”

Let us allow the communities themselves, not development experts, technocrats, political scientists, politicians, nor economists, to better determine how exactly those freedoms will take shape.

 

 

 

Book Review: Witches of America

witches-of-americaI have conflicting feelings about this book and the ethics of it, but a book review is first and foremost about the book, and in the case of the book, I quite liked it. Part of this is my own identification with the author; her struggles are struggles that are currently prevalent in my life.

The book tells the story of Alex Mar, and her exploration in Pagan religions in America during and following the production of her documentary American Mystic. Unlike American Mystic, this book is not an exploration of American Paganism, or intended to give information on it to the reader. There is plenty of information, but this is grounding for Alex Mar to discuss a personal spiritual endeavor. I think it would be dishonest to try to understand this as a sociological or anthropological texts (which it would seriously fail us) when Mar is honest about the book as a personal story.

Mar illustrates the magnetism of the spiritual leaders she finds herself drawn to, the charisma and inspiration of these individuals come through the page to the readers, making one ready to convert themselves. She is brutally honest; and, as would be the case if any of us were brutally honest, she says some cringe-worthy things. She maintains a maybe unhealthy dose of skepticism, fighting any sense of spiritual opening and closing herself off whenever she finds herself vulnerable in groups.

Mar is constantly self-questioning; some have taken offense to this as a negative voyeuristic judgement of the people around her, but to me it seemed clearly a judgement only directed at herself. She cannot find her spiritual truth, but she reaches it through these people because she believes they are reaching theirs. Mar, in this way, has a solid respect for these people and their beliefs.

In a deeply personal way, Mar shows the pull of these traditions, the rich history, and the deep effect they have on their members. She shows us with total honesty the brief moments that she can enter into this spiritual world, and does not hide her hopes and fears. She acknowledges her own drives; she does not lie. Mar wants the deep secrets of the world, and she wants the charisma and insight of the spiritual leaders she sees, and despite these questionable motivations, she does the right thing, she tries to learn things the right way, and most importantly she does not lie to us and pretend she lacks these motivations, which I think will become the main evidence that makes me more forgiving of some of the transgressions that others take issue with.

The truth in this memoir is a touchstone for me. I take a certain comfort in Mar’s struggles, which may be coloring my opinion and making this a bit too personal. Maybe I’m too forgiving because of it. However, this book is a comfort. These traditions are ones I wouldn’t personally enter, but I understand, and I can understand because of her total transparency at least with the leader if not with the individuals she interacts with, why she reaches for these traditions. I recognize the search, and the struggle to let go and enter into something bigger.

At this point, I will enter more into an argument surrounding this book rather than a book review.

However, I do have some problems with this book. In telling her story, she dragged a lot of people somewhere they didn’t want to be. While she did restrain from telling certain religious secrets, she did at points reveal too much, and the problem of consent given for her to do this is in question in a way that cannot be ignored. The traditions that she describes her are some of the more sensationalist ones active, which (no judgement on these traditions) does give an inadequate overall view of what most American pagans are life, and she does not adequately announce this fact to the reader. I can’t help but question if these were chosen for the sake of the book, or because they truly did speak to her most.

However, being a memoir, and extremely personal type of writing, I find myself not able to judge her as harshly as others might. There is a problem of intent that I cannot identify. However, as someone personally reaching for a religious tradition and a spiritual tradition, I understand this memoir and some of the unsavory descriptions of those she practices with as a personal struggle with a desire to believe. Sensational traditions have a particular pull, ritualistic traditions have a particular familiarity to those of us from Catholic and Orthodox backgrounds, and if Mar is being honest with us, she is honestly describing a personal struggle with things that she respects, even when sometimes she says things that may seem contrary to this. The idea that she somehow is not allowed to search spiritually or right about that searching is really ridiculous, especially when she is honest about her own position and failings.

In the process of being honest about her experiences, she overshared about others, but malicious intent does not seem to be there, and I find it hard to believe that she doesn’t care for or respect the people she speaks of. I also find evidence of her sincerity in this: when she recognizes, finally, a tradition is not for her, she leaves it, she does not stick around for the sake of knowledge, for the sake of the voyeuristic study she has been accused of. She is honest with herself and with her teacher, and leaves the tradition and its secrets behind.

All in all, my rating will be based on book quality, being a book review and not a morality review.

Rating: 4/5

Note: I want to admit that I have definitely failed to read up enough on some of the arguments against this book, in a desire to describe my own opinions and impressions adequately and with minimal outside influence. However, I find this article enlightening and would suggest reading it for a rather nuanced understanding from someone in the community.