Thursday, September 07, 2006

Little Bits

Not up for a long post right now - work stuff has been weighing on me lately - but I wanted to touch base on a few things before they evaporate totally.

What To Eat by Marion Nestle - Excellent, excellent book. Big thanks to Pat for pointing this one out to me; it's so good that I'll probably buy the paperback when it comes out. If you're someone like me who periodically reads the news, even if you're not a health junkie, you're overwhelmed by the constant and contradictory reports on food. Eggs are bad for you... no, wait, they're good... no, the whites are good but the yolks are bad... no, the whole thing is good, but only if they're organic... no, wait...

Nestle is a professional nutritionist, and I love this book because it boils everything down to very simple, direct explanations of what you should eat, what you shouldn't, and what is optional. Her organizing motif is a trip through a supermarket, with each chapter devoted to a particular section, such as breakfast cereals, eggs, organic produce, etc. Each chapter is filled with really solid information about the issues in each category, including the industry's marketing, the history of that food in the US, and health claims, including those which are established, experimental, or disproven. Best of all, though, each chapter ends with a paragraph or two that says really directly how you should approach it. For example, on eggs: if you enjoy eggs, have up to one a day, but try to not eat as much meat if you have an egg.

I think that this book pairs very nicely with Fast Food Nation. FFN was more exclusively focused on meat, but is also what got me interested in the ways our politics have affected our diets; before reading that book, I never thought about how the federal government's huge corn subsidies helped encourage consumption of soda and cheap hamburgers. Nestle gives an even broader explanation of this phenomenon, and I'm guessing her "Food Politics" probably goes into more detail. Anyways, FFN was great at sounding an alarm for a particular section of the market ("Most meat produced in the United States is unsafe and should not be eaten"), and earned my respect by saying what to do about it ("Don't patronize national fast-food chain restaurants until they change their ways, and buy organic meat, especially if you eat beef.") Nestle basically takes that approach and expands it to everything you might buy in a supermarket. I've already gone shopping since finishing this, and it really is pretty incredible what a big impact the book has made on me: I hesitate less, feel better about how I'm spending my money, and know what to look for on labels and what to pass over entirely. It's also been affecting my diet still more; my breakfasts are a lot more varied, healthy, and tasty than they were three months ago.

So, this book is highly recommended. Even if you don't read this book, the next time you're at the library, please at least read her first chapter. In less than ten pages she gives a clearer and more helpful explanation of healthy diets than I've seen anywhere else, and in my opinion that information alone is worth the price of the book. Everything else that comes after is great; that first part should be required reading.

Desperado - I'm now 2/3 through the Mariachi trilogy. It was pretty good... I think I preferred El Mariachi, but this was still well worth watching. Antonio Banderas is a very, very, very different actor from the guy in the first movie, and I think that irrevocably changes the movie... he's no longer an essentially nice guy who has been swept up in violence, but a Grade A fighter who is much more heroic (though, in my opinion, less sympathetic) than his predecessor. Salma Hayek is stunning.


My favorite three parts of the movie:

First, towards the very beginning, in the instant when the Mariachi stares out towards the frozen crowd and hears the clapping. You see the guy in the plaid shirt from the first movie, and in that split second a chill runs down my spine. Even before I can articulate it I get that feeling I feel so often in dreams - "This person does not belong in this place." That was really cool, and I felt a little gypped when there weren't any more dream sequences later in the film. As I've mentioned before, that was one of my favorite things about the original.

Second, when his two friends show up to help him fight. Prior to that scene I'd started to get a little annoyed at some parts of the movie that seemed unrealistic and contrived. But, once someone starts shooting missiles out of a guitar case... really, at that point, there's no point in worrying about what the director is trying for. At that point everyone is on the same page and, hopefully, agreeing to have a fun time.

Finally, I liked the line at the very end where he says, "Everyone I've killed has been someone's father, someone's brother, someone's son." They didn't do anything with it, but I thought it was a really powerful sentiment. They at least acknowledge that the slaughter of everyone he has killed affects someone as much as this one particular boy affects him.

Honorable mentions: Steve Buscemi was awesome. The fighting scenes in general were really excellent; it's important to remember that this came out several years before the Matrix, and was probably revolutionary for its time.

My least favorite parts of the movie:

I didn't like the kid. Nothing personal; I never like the kid. I hate all these movies where the big, strong, tough guy needs to find an adorable little urchin so he can Show His Sensitive Side and become Emotionally Involved and Learn Important Lessons. This was an awful trend in the early 90s, and I'm very grateful that the trend seems to have largely died off now. (Ironically, I think we now have better child actors than ever before, but we're putting them to much better use than the Moppet Foil.)

The catchphrase was just dumb. "Did I thank you?" "No." "You will." I mean... it just... gah. I keep going over it, and it's even stupider every time I think of it.

Those complaints aside, it was a fun ride. I'm already looking forward to Once Upon A Time in Mexico.


Dave Barry's Money Secrets: Like: Why Is There A Giant Eyeball On The Dollar? - This is the first Dave Barry book I've read since... hm. Big Trouble, maybe? That or the Guide to Guys. No, wait: I think it was his gift guide book.

Anyways, it's funny stuff. It's semi-coincidental that I stopped buying a Sunday paper around the time Dave stopped doing a column. He hasn't been as consistently funny in recent years as he was previously, but when he's on fire, he's still one of the funniest print writers in America. And the best thing about doing a book, of course, is that it's generally the best material. You don't get that feeling of, "Geez, I guess he didn't come up with anything before his deadline."

I'd heard of this book when I caught an interview with Dave on the Motley Fool radio program. The interview was way more informative than the book: he sounds like he has a decent grasp of finances, and talked about how he and his accountant crunched numbers to figure out whether he could afford to stop writing a column. For some reason I kind of got the impression that the book was really funny, but also imparted some basic useful financial information. I was wrong: it is funny, and like every other Dave Barry book, is completely and utterly useless.

Also, it's kind of funny when you read his books (which I've been doing since the 80s) and see the ways in which they become more topical (the latest references Suze Orman), and at the same time, how much seems as relevant now as it did 20 years ago (the latest also references Donald Trump and Mick Jagger). I get the same feeling when I read the new Opus comic strips.

Also: the last two New Yorker issues have been among the best I've read yet, and that's saying something. I'm always glad to subscribe; these last weeks, it has been almost revelatory. Also, I realize that reading the magazine for two years has badly spoiled me. I recently subscribed to The Atlantic Monthly, and while I enjoyed the first issue, I was shocked - shocked! - by some of the sloppy writing that somehow slipped past the editors.

Yes, I am fully aware of the irony of complaining on my blog about sloppy writing. Now go to bed.

1 comment:

  1. If there's one thing Robert Rodriguez knows how to do, it's action. Dialogue, plot... meh. But action? Absolutely. Do I want to watch a dude with a guitar case full of guns take out a bunch of scumbags in a sleazy Mexican bar? HELL YES!