February 21, 2012

Eating Animals - Jonathan Safran Foer

This book kept coming across my radar, so I figured that I had better give it a read. A word of warning for anyone considering picking it up - this book is a 300 page, very graphic argument for vegetarianism; so if you are militantly anti-vegetarian, or have a weak stomach you may want to give it a miss.

Basically, Foer investigates the modern factory farm and examines all of the reasons why they are bad - bad for the animals, bad for the environment, bad for our health. There are very graphic descriptions of these farms, the animals living (if it can be called "living") on them, and the high-volume slaughter processes.

This book has not convinced me to become a vegetarian, but it has reinforced my already-held beliefs about eating meat. 5 years ago or so, I stopped buying meat at the grocery store, choosing instead to purchase any meat directly from the farmer who raised the animals. I do not eat meat every day (or every week, even). For me, this decision was based not so much on the ethical treatment of animals, but more on the environmental impact of shipping food half way across the country and back again before it reached my table; as well as the taste factor (animals raised in more traditional methods taste better than factory-farmed animals).

Here in Thunder Bay, we do not have any factory farms (except for one egg farm), and our only slaughter house (which I have visited) works only on a small scale, processing one animal at a time. Therefore, by buying local meat only, I know that the animal has not been subjected to factory farming practices. Right now in my freezer, I have beef from Mile Hill Farms; pork from Sandy Acres Farm; and lamb from Little Doo's (who are too small to even have a website!). The downside of this is that I have had to eliminate chicken from my diet as we do not have a chicken abattoir and it is illegal to sell meat that has not been killed in a government-inspected abattoir. This may change in the future as there is a move afoot to build a poultry abattoir; so for now we just won't tell anyone about the "illegal" chicken that is in my freezer waiting to be cooked. Now if I could just find someone to sell me the live chicken (or if the city by-laws would change to allow urban chickens), I could do the deed myself; but for now I will just hope that some day soon I will be able to eat chicken again.

The author, Jonathan Safran Foer does admit that choosing only to eat ethical meat is another option to vegetarianism; but states that he himself has chosen vegetarianism to satisfy his conscience. His main arguments for this decision seem to be that it is the only way to be 100% sure; and that if other people see you eating meat, it can be seen as a justification that eating any meat is OK (i.e. vegetarians can set a good example for others).

There was lots in this book that I agree with (even if I am not a full-time vegetarian myself). I already knew about the environmental and ethical and health concerns of factory-farmed meat. I did find this book to definitely be written from a North American cultural bias (e.g. the opening chapter using pet dogs as a comparison standard - in most parts of the world, dogs are not considered "pets" - in fact in Swahili, the same verb is used to refer to keeping dogs as you would use for goats, cows, or chickens). And all of the facts and data are American (as in USA) in origin. I am now curious to learn more about Canadian regulation and enforcement, as I know that while factory farms do exist in Canada, our farming legislation is very different here than in our neighbours to the south.

So for now, I will carry on buying my local, ethically raised meat. When I go out to restaurants, unless I know that they are buying from our local farmers, I will usually choose the vegetarian option. My biggest dilemma comes when eating at the table of friends and family. Here, I usually prioritize fellowship over meat-eating issues; but I rarely miss a chance to bring ethical meat issues into the discussion.

Supper tonight? A lovely vegetarian chick-pea curry!

February 18, 2012

The Secret of Willow Castle - Lyn Cook

Carrying on the trend of re-reading books from my childhood, I decided to pick up this book out of my bookcase. My copy has been re-read enough times that the binding is falling apart. Given that, I was quite disappointed to discover, while searching for a cover image, that this book seems to be out of print. Lyn Cook was one of my favourite authors when I was in primary school. I think that I read library copies ofmost of her books, as this is the only one that I own; but I remember reading and enjoying Samantha's Secret Room, Pegeen and the Pilgrim, and The Bells on Finland Street. Now on to this book...

Book: The Secret of Willow Castle by Lyn Cook. It is the story of Henrietta Macpherson, age 11, of Napanee, Ontario in 1834. She is dealing with lots of problems as she is growing up - a secret friend who is a servant for her father's political adversary; the social expectation for her to act like a "lady"; a beloved cousin, John Alex who is rising in the world (and later became Sir John Alexander MacDonald, first Prime Minister of Canada); slavery as it is being abolished in the British Empire; and just day-to-day life for a well-off family in rural Upper Canada in 1834. An interesting note - Henrietta's father, Allen Macpherson, was a real person (I haven't been able to find out if Henrietta was real or not), and their house really exists in Napanee.

First Read: I don't remember. Probably around grade 3 or so, when I was devouring "chapter books" like crazy. I enjoyed it enough to re-read it countless times between then and now.

Original Impressions: This was the first Lyn Cook book I read, but it lead me to read many of her other books as I mentioned above. As with Shadow in Hawthorn Bay, I loved reading books set close to where I lived, and Napanee was less than a half hour drive away.

Current Impressions: It is still an enjoyable read as an adult. I enjoy the pen and ink drawings that accompany each chapter. Henrietta is believable as an 11/12 year old. And I love historical fiction written for any age group - it is a window into a different time.

And that is about all I have to say about this book; other than I wish that it were still in print.

This is my 5th Canadian re-read for the Canadian Book Challenge at The Book Mine Set.

February 12, 2012

A Red Herring Without Mustard - Alan Bradley

This is the third Flavia de Luce mystery (there is a fourth one that came out just before Christmas - I am Half-Sick of Shadows - but this is one series that I tend to wait for in paperback). I was mildly entertained by the first two books (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag), so figured that the series was worth sticking with.

What I liked and disliked about this book is pretty much the same as the other books. I thought that Flavia was just a bit to precocious to be believable as an 11 year old; and yet I loved the relationship between the 3 sisters and thought that was quite believable (as one of 3 sisters myself!).

As in the last book, there are several mysteries some of which are loosely tied together in the end. A gypsy woman is attacked in her caravan. A local fish-poacher and sometimes antiques-dealer is found murdered at Buckshaw (Flavia's home). And there seems to be something suspicious going on around an antiques shop.

In this book, Flavia does more active detective-ing than in the last book - rather than just overhearing gossip, she is out actively searching for clues. However, the longer that this series carries on, the more one has to wonder just how many murders can take place in a small village like Bishop's Lacey, and specifically Buckshaw. This is the same question that is always lurking in the back of my mind with successful mystery novels or television series (think Miss Marple or Midsomer Murders)...

So a pleasant, easy-reading diversion this week; and I will continue to follow this series, and I suspect that I will continue to enjoy it.

February 5, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley - P. D. James

I have wanted to read this book ever since I heard about it. I love P. D. James' books. I love Jane Austen's books. Therefore a P. D. James written sequel to Pride and Prejudice must be right up my alley!

As an aside, it seems as though Pride and Prejudice spin-offs have become an industry of their own. I was in a bookstore in Minneapolis with a friend back in December, and we lost count of the P&P sequels, fan fiction, and other various and assorted spin-offs. Other than an unfortunate encounter with P&P&Zombies, this is my first experience with this quickly expanding genre. I suspect that the popularity of the movie versions may have something to do with this trend (I myself am a fan of the 1995 BBC version, but not so much the more recent one with Kiera Knightly).

It was a pretty easy read, but I came away from it with mixed feelings. Parts of it really felt like they were written by Jane Austen herself, with her distinctive voice and sense of humour. But parts of it read very much like a P. D. James mystery. The overall effect was very much a patchwork of the two styles - I never knew what to expect at the start of each chapter (or even each paragraph at times).

The mystery itself, and the solution were a bit predictable. I had guessed most of the ending by part way through the book. But isn't that the fun of a mystery - trying to guess the end, and seeing if you are right?

It was fun visiting with all of the characters from Pride and Prejudice again, and meeting some new characters. I thought that P. D. James stayed very true to the original characters. And it was fun spotting characters from other Austen novels. Mr. and Mrs. Knightly make a cameo appearance, as does the friend of Mrs. Knightly (née Emma Woodhouse), Mrs. Martin (née Harriet Smith). And James has Mr. Wickham working for a time as the secretary to Sir Walter Elliot, meeting up with his daughters.

So an in-between review of this one. If you are a Jane Austen fan, you will either enjoy the time spent with old friends; or you will be horrified at the liberties taken with the original. If you are not familiar with the original story of Pride and Prejudice, but are a fan of P. D. James or gentle mysteries, you will probably enjoy this one. But if you don't know Pride and Prejudice and aren't a mystery fan, you probably won't turn to this book anyways!