Tag Archives: Reviews

The Scientific Age vs Food Culture

Words cannot express how good it feels to finally type away at my laptop, stringing words together to make sentences, which in turn fill a post up with an idea. It has been pretty hectic in Farrah-land, but I have gotten better at maximizing all the small tid-bits of time amidst the bustle.

So, what have I been squeezing into these time gaps you ask? A book that I have been itching to read for quite awhile now: “Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products” by Jeannie Marshall. This was definitely one of those eye-openers at the North American Food Culture compared to the cultures that exist all around the world. Now, I could write about everything I had originally planned on writing about, but it would be at the risk of writing a lengthy post about Marshall’s entire book – yes, that is how informative of a read it really was. Decisions, decisions! To be quite honest, it was a tough decision to choose one set topic as they all flowed quite nicely into each other like rivers into the ocean, but I settled on the concept of science and food culture.

©Farrah Merza: Outside The Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products by Jeannie Marshall
©Farrah Merza: Outside The Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products by Jeannie Marshall

Marshall (2012) talks about how North American culture is nutrient-specific, which means that instead of focusing on the meal, we focus on our nutrient intake (p. 63).  I was blown away! I mean, I have never thought about my motivation behind eating… who does! But it is so true. I catch myself saying “oh, I need to include some protein in my dinner”, when I really should know better and enjoy food. Thank both the German chemist Justus Von Liebig and his research into the “essential elements in food that sustained us”, and American chemist Stephen Babcock for continuing that line of research in collaboration with dairy famers (Marshall, 2012, p. 61). Liebig discovered the “percentages of protein, fat, and carbohydrates that he thought were needed in a healthy diet” (Marshall, 2012, p. 61). However, it was Babcock who found the vitamin link when he devised his experiment of controlling what certain groups of cows ate: one group was limited to corn, one to wheat, one to oats, and the last group to a mixture of all three grains (Marshall, 2012, p. 62). All four groups were not allowed to graze on the farmer-recommended plants they usually graze on (Marshall, 2012, p. 62). The cows fared okay, but when it came time for breeding, the real results were more than evident in their calves: The calves born from corn-fed group were -for the most part- fine, but the calves begot from the other three groups were a different story; they were weak and sick, and the wheat-fed group’s offspring were blind (Marshall, 2012, p. 62). Interesting eh! However, it is important to note that the famers knew that the cow’s varied plant-based, grazing diet was the best without any research; they knew from their agrarian culture, which was passed down from their forefathers. It was a shame that culture was never really credited for their vast knowledge of locally produced food. Unfortunately, research and nutrients was the game, which later skyrocketed when certain diseases (i.e. rickets, linked with vitamin D deficiency; and scurvy, linked to a vitamin C deficiency) were attributed to a deficiency in certain nutrients.

Now please do not get me wrong, I am not against science by any means! However, the research conducted on food has turned on us, the public. Food companies use this research to convince us to buy packaged junk by fortifying them with nutrients or getting rid of the high sodium/sugar levels that are usually present (Marshal, 2012, p. 67). That’s all I ever see stacked on the grocery store shelves. It’s a sad sight, and we need to smarten up. And yet, and the same time, how can we? There’s no time to cook, no consistent, warm climate to grow gardens, no emphasis on locally grown produce with all the exports we’re all exposed to, and no one set food culture because of our diverse demographics. Furthermore, ever since I can remember, I have been drilled with the North American food chart outlining the allotted daily grain, protein, dairy, and fruit and vegetable servings; however, never about local produce, their cycles, and how to use our Canadian soil (aka, never about a healthy, Canadian food culture). But, times are changing as now because thanks to Toronto’s non-profit group called FoodShare, there are schools who pride themselves on their green gardens, which are maintained by students (Marshall, 2012, p. 133). Marshall (2012) talks about Bendale, a technical high school located in Scarborough, which, with the help of FoodShare, created their own food gardens (p. 133). [NOTE: If you clicked the Bendale link, you will be able to see that their specialized skills will include horticulture and landscaping (p. 3). They also have a “Blooms and Bargains” market place open to the community (p. 5)] I was overjoyed reading this segment; my eyes were dewy for the first time with hope for a healthy food culture in Canada. It is a safe bet to say that this is where the shift has to start, from our youth. I actually wrote about educating our youth for the post carbon era last year in Part 2: Educating the Masses (click and read if you have not read it!), which ties quite nicely into this post as I touched on greenhouses and gardens in schools.

So yes, the scientific age versus food culture… but why should it be versus? Why can’t we, the consumers, strip this incessant, profit-based food culture we are saturated in so we can focus on rebuilding a healthy, food culture with the knowledge researchers have amassed? It is about respecting food culture (more importantly the local food culture), but tending to our scientific endeavours as well without our knowledge being abused.

Before I Go To Sleep, the Novel

What would you do if you woke up in unfamiliar surroundings due to sever memory loss? Waking up next to a complete stranger who is apparently your husband and found the old person staring back at you in the mirror is you? Then, upon glancing at your journal you’ve kept in hopes of remembering the memories you’ve lost (which was given to you by a doctor whom you’ve been apparently seeing), you see the following words that you’ve written in bold.

“DO NOT TRUST BEN”

Ben is your husband.

Now then, tell me, what would you do?

What a question! Well, I have been confined to my room for the past three hours, severely engrossed in this brilliant novel by S.J. Watson in hopes of finding out how the protagonist, Christine Lucas, deals with her unfortunate situation… I have the backache to prove it (due to sprawling out on my one seater couch intent on reading). The further and further I dived into Christine’s life, the more fervent I was to finish her story. Ben, oh Ben. What to say about Ben? She catches him lying about certain events in her life and about the people she knew and boy, do his lies stack up day by day. To think that she would have never caught on to them if she had not started recording her fleeting memories on paper and without her secret sessions with Dr. Nash… and yet her husband Ben is so ingrained in her mind (with constant reminders of pictures, letters, and his utter devotion to her) that she loves him over and over again. He’s been taking care of her so he can’t be bad, right? She’s conflicted and she doesn’t know who to trust. However, as events unfold and are brought to her attention through her treasured journal, Christine realizes who she can trust and who she can’t… but will it be too late?

Yes, needless to say, this book hooked me right from the beginning. I literally got chills while reading through the climax and I still get chills just thinking about the end. It was Christine’s vulnerability that really got to me. Without her memories, she was just a sitting duck, completely oblivious to the dangers that lurked around her. Her situation definitely made me ponder on the nature of memory and how memories define who we are; we depend on them so much that we never think of how different life would be if we could not retain them. It’s something we take for granted… well at least I do. I’m not going to lie, I definitely started to contemplate a scenario like her’s, but with me playing the lead instead and I did not like it one bit. To be at the mercy of others and their versions of your life is just to much to bare, especially with such scrupulous characters prowling about.

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©Farrah Merza: The book in question that I just could not put down! I’ve linked the amazon.ca link to purchase this book… that is if I’ve swayed you enough to pick it up!

A Fine Balance, the Novel

Are we but helpless victims to our own circumstances? Are we defined by our actions, judged but not even attempted to be understood? These were the questions that floated about in my head while reading A Fine Balance, the questions that I knew I just had to write about. But, before I dive into them, maybe a brief synopsis of one of the character’s life is in order.

Dina Dalal (maiden name is Shroff) is a stubborn and cynical woman, which means she’s the perfect character to be annoyed with and hate, right? Well, I couldn’t. Knowing about her tumultuous and tragic life starting with the death of her father at a very tender age was enough for me to understand why she was the way she was. She was a bright and ambitious girl who dreamed of being a doctor. Unfortunately, her life spiralled out of control with the passing of her father, everything unraveling right before her eyes. Nusswan was a troll of a brother, without a clue in the world of how to handle a little sister and a slowly disintegrating mother. However, Dina found solace seated in the theatre, listening to musicians playing away at their instruments. It was the perfect place to meet her love, Rustom Dalal. He was her escape, but he was only a temporary safe haven as he too died in a fatal accident. Now, she struggles to pay the bills on time and scrambles to keep her life together. With the other characters (Maneck, Ishvar, and Omprekesh) woven into her life, we see her grow… but I wont go further, as I’ll just be ruining the book for you. But, as you can clearly see, Dina has lead a tough life.

“Everybody’s got a story that could break your heart” – Amanda Marshall

It’s true. Even though Dina is a fictitious character, there are people in this world that have had similar lives, that have faced similar trails and tribulations like those of Dina’s. Some of us are victims of our situation. Remember, there are variables that one cannot control; the most infamous and revered is death. A death of a loved one could severely alter your life, just like what happened with Dina’s life void of her father and husband. It’s difficult to conceive if you haven’t gone through struggles like these, but they happen. However, in that being said, how many of us actually take the time to think about that upon contact with another person? How many of us empathize and get to know them as opposed to immediately judging them and staying away? Knowing people’s struggles puts them into context, thus enabling empathy to take root in our hearts.

So instead of leaving you with a question, I’ll end with this: A world without empathy would be a cruel world indeed.