Friday, September 20, 2013

Title: Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal
Author: Melanie Warner
Genre: non-fiction, food issues, health

"Just because it's edible doesn't mean it's good for you" (xvii)
Melanie Warner's mom, quoted above, was onto something and way ahead of her time. While most kids had the freedom to eat whatever processed food came their way, Melanie was only allowed to eat whole foods; "gooped-up" foods were not allowed in the house when Melanie was growing up.

Nowadays, food science has taken technology and food processing to a whole new level: hexane is used in the manufacturing of soybean oil, synthetic Vitamin D is created from sheep grease in Chinese factories (won't be buying vitamins anymore), other vitamins are created from coal tar and acetone. Yuck!

Warner takes us through the history of American cereal. Americans used to eat oatmeal and various meat products for breakfast until the Kellogg brothers figured out how to create cereal flakes. Sugar was added to make the flakes more palatable and now modern cereal grains undergo extrusion and gun puffing before they are filled in the cereal box. Unfortunately, "industrial processes like extrusion and gun puffing ... dismantle foods to the point where there's not much left for our digestive systems to do" (65). So what's the big deal about that? "Depriving our stomach of its gastric duties by giving it disassembled food appears profoundly to alter energy metabolism and the dynamics of hunger and satiety" (65). Sounds like our stomach needs to work out too.

Warner, like other food-issues authors I have read, discovered that food scientists don't partake of the products they create; the food scientists she interviewed bought their produce at farmer's markets, planted their own garden, and cook their own meals from scratch (one scientist she interviewed even makes his own yogurt!).

Not only are synthetic chemicals and vitamins added to our food, but there is special category that food scientists refer to as "food-contact substances." These are "things manufacturers use in their packaging and apply to machinery to keep it running" (109).

The American food industry is like a dog chasing its own tail. Natural nutrients are taken out of a food to make it cheaper to produce. Then synthetic vitamins and nutrients must be added back to said food product so that it can be marketed as healthy. To make sure these vitamins stick to the product, more chemicals must be used. Oy vey, when will it all end?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Title: The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think
Author(s): Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods
Genre: animals, non-fiction, science

Is your dog smarter than a 5th grader? Could your dog possibly be smarter than you? If you answered yes to these two questions, you are not alone. Brian Hare is an animal behaviorist who has been studying canines and their cognitive abilities. Using various experiments, Hare hypothesizes that dogs' genius came about due to domestication. (No, he is not saying that wolves and foxes are dumb but dogs perform better on animal intelligence tests which are talked about extensively in the book)
Hare also hypothesizes that canine domestication occurred through the use of breeding for non-aggressive personalities (friendliness) versus breeding for a certain physical trait.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Title: The Cat Whisperer: Why Cats Do What They Do- and How to Get Them to Do What You Want
Author: Mieshelle Nagelschneider
Genre: non-fiction, animals, cats

We used to have a cat with "issues." Rusty would chew things; this was a habit he acquired as an adult cat. He would chew shoelaces, holes in clothes (new clothes, of course), and chomp on computer mice cords and speaker wires, yet, he somehow never shocked himself. Our vet never found anything physically wrong with Rusty and I would always joke that Rusty needed a shrink... Imagine my pleasant surprise when The Cat Whisperer  appeared at my local library.

I have had pet cats for my most of my life; after observing various felines for so long, you think you have a pretty good understanding of the feline universe, but I did learn a few things:
1. Your sweetest cat is usually the most anxious. All that cuddling and rubbing against you may actually be your cat's way of trying to self-soothe (29).
2. Spatio-temporal hierarchy (61). This is a mouthful that means "kitty timesharing." I have noticed this behavior among my four cats but I didn't know it had a name. Examples: Midnight and S'mores will follow me into the bathroom in the morning as I get ready for work. My other two cats, Oreo and Cocoa, will not be in the bathroom at the same time as Midnight and S'mores. At night, Oreo will snuggle by my feet or behind my knees. Cocoa will snuggle near my chest. Midnight will be hanging out in the room but not on the bed. S'mores will be hiding in the closet and will come out every now and then for some head rubs. Oreo will groom Cocoa but not the other cats; Midnight and S'mores will groom each other but not Cocoa or Oreo.
3. Flehmen response. Do you ever see your cat sniff a spot (or some stinky shoes) and make a weird face? This is the cat sniffing and tasting a scent, "A can take in the taste and scent of something simultaneously with this organ [Jacobson's organ], which is just behind the incisors in the roof of the mouth" (209).
4. The plague spread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages after widespread persecution of cats.
5. There are 40 to 70 million homeless or feral cats in the United States but "relatively few homeless or stray dogs (21)." Why the feline to canine disparity? Cats are not highly valued as dogs (21).

So how did Mieshelle Nagelschneider become a cat behaviorist (and get paid for it)? As a little girl she would (try) to befriend the feral cats near her family's ranch. A combination of patience, experimental techniques, and having a special gift set on her on the track of helping cats and their humans resolve difficult cat psychological issues. Working as a vet tech and moonlighting as a pet sitter helped solidify her work with cats. When she starts feline behavior therapy, she first corrects the behavior of the human (usually the cause of the cat's behavior problem):

"Cats are more often killed for unwanted behavior than for any other reason. Imagine if the number one killer of human beings was not disease but behavioral problems. We'd view this as a mental health epidemic" (20).