Friday, December 20, 2002

"Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser

I probably won't base any stories on "Fast Food Nation." I probably won't change my eating habits profoundly. There've been times when I've been really pleased to see a McDonalds: familiar, kid friendly, fast, relatively inexpensive, and usually with reasonably clean restrooms. But (thank goodness) my kids have long since outgrown clamoring to go there. But this book is more than a slam against the fast food industry (like we didn't already know big macs aren't exactly good for us), it's an exposé of BIG agribusiness on every level from the ranch to the slaughterhouse to the restaurant to the garbage spilling into the street; from exploitation of the workforce to lack of concern for animal welfare to a system rife with potential to spread antibiotic resistant, food-borne disease organisms. And this book came out before the recent revelations of high levels of the carcinogen, acrylamide, forming in french fries during cooking.

So for me, it basically just reaffirmed my existing inclination to:
  • Never buy prepackaged frozen burgers, which are apt to contain meat from hundreds of animals, and thus exponentially increasing the probably of one infected animal spreading bacteria (or prions) far and wide.
  • Seek out local markets that sell produce from local growers. Preferably organic, free range, naturally fed, with NO antibiotics. Tastes like real food. 
I do not know why, and it seems unfair to blame McDonalds, but occasions when I have seen people egregiously littering it's been bags/wrapping/packaging from McDonalds. I've seen people toss it out the window on the Pacific Coast Highway (where I couldn't stop safely to pick it up), or just dump it in the parking lot no more than 10 feet from a garbage can (which is where I helpfully disposed of it for them).

Monday, December 16, 2002

"In the Devil's Snare; The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692," by Mary Beth Norton

Starting off... The first book I wanted to comment on is "In the Devil's Snare; The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692," by Mary Beth Norton. I picked up an interest in reading it the same way I do for most of the books I read these days: a combination of interviews/commentary on NPR, and the New York Times book review. When I spotted it on the shelf at the local library, I snapped it up. The book is a *detailed* and thoroughly endnoted/referenced account of the events, accusations, counter-accusations, and consequences of the infamous Salem witch trials. It would be an absolute bumper source for anyone wanting to use the actual events as a basis for a fictional story. As a read, I confess I found it largely boring (who said what about whom on what date), but her final conclusions were, IMO, fascinating. She notes a tendency to ascribe epidemic illness (i.e. smallpox) to "malefic activity." But even more importantly, she points out that events of the first and second Indian Wars had left the colonists terrorized (several of the individuals involved in the trials were refugees from the frontier)--and ripe for superstition and the seeking of scapegoats. Many of the judges involved had also been responsible for some of the disastrous decision-making that had exacerbated the anger of the tribes, and led to the outbreak of violence between native and colonial populations. Susceptibility to supernatural explanations meets politicians looking for the heat to go...elsewhere. Are there too many parallels here for comfort?