Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Giver

The Giver takes place in a pseudo-Utopian society. Everybody obeys strict rules and lives together in harmony. Apologies are given for even the slightest infraction. Children are free to explore different fields and volunteer in different areas. This will be used as input to their future career. However, when they come of age, their career will be picked for them. Reproduction is also carefully regulated, with everybody on an 'urge' reducing pill and special "birth mothers" producing all the children of society. When somebody is no longer needed they are 'released' out of the community.

In order to hold this society together, a "keeper of memories" holds onto all the "strong" memories so people don't have to. Only one keeper (and possibly a trainee) can exist at time. The keeper is the one that has more extensive knowledge of how society functions and provides guidance for difficult decision making. However, the keeper is not a true leader of society. If the keeper leaves, the society may have to handle the difficult memories themselves.

The Giver centers around a new keeper and his challenges. He discovers that there are some dark parts hidden under the fascade of the community and that he will run away from it.

Plotwise, there is not a whole lot going on. However, there are plenty of big questions. How much should a society be shielded? Does it really matter that society does not have all the many memories (both good and bad)? By keeping the "big" memories away, does that merely elevate the small memories to their state? Are the people truly free? They may be lacking in many memories, but it is impossible for us to know everything. Does it matter that they know how the memories are curated? (Would it be better to have things organically curated by the media and other groups?) What are the consequences of removing the "bad apples" from the society? Will this prevent innovation? Will it lead to the eventual destruction? (Or is it the one thing that keeps the society from being destroyed.) What is freedom and who is free?

The questions could go on and on. You can see why this would be a great book to teach in school. It has a few opinions, but keeps enough ambiguity to allow just about any interpretation.


In its history, salt has been an expensive commodity that has been fought over and even used as a currency ('salary' comes from the word salt.) Pure salt was highly salt after and governments would often try to use the salt trade for their benefit. Today, however, salt is dirt cheap and often used to dump on roads. "Impure" salt is more highly valued for its additional color and taste. Salt domes are primarily valuable for the oil that may be contained underneath. (But could the history of salt be a foreboding for the future of oil?)

Salt is a history of sodium chloride - the combination of a flammable metal and a deadly gas - that humans require in moderation. The book explores the ways that salt has been obtained, used, traded and regulated. Salt was historically a preservative used to enable fish and other food to be stored for a long time. (However, freezing has taken over much of the preservation that salt has been used for, leading to curious "frozen" salted fish.)

The history of salt poses a challenge for the book. There is no linear narrative for salt, but instead many different stories that may or may not be connected. This leads to a book that feels like it is jumping around. There are also many recipes and details included which also distract from the main narrative. It all makes for a great book to skim through to pick out the good parts.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

Salt + Sugar + Fat = delicious. After reading this book I found myself snacking on some salted butter and sugar. That really is the basis of great taste. I can easily see how companies would love to use this to manipulate customers. There is plenty of nastiness uncovered in this books. By using the cheapest possible sugars and fats, companies can create highly desirable foods for cheap prices. Nutrition takes a back seat in the production of the things that people crave. In many cases companies know the negative impacts of what they are doing, yet they let the market decide. Yes, the processed food that we get today is scary. Our best solution is to sacrifice convenience and cost for home-made meals. Big food knows this and has further infiltrated the kitchen, producing items such as the Betty Crocker cookbook (that subtly encourages using convenient food products like bisquick and margarine.