February ended up being a month of non-fiction. I quite enjoyed both, so let’s get to the details.
Unsavory Truth by Marion Nestle
First, I feel I should provide a bit of background. I’ve been reading Marion Nestle’s blog (Food Politics) for years now, and her book, What to Eat was one of the first that really sparked an interest in pursuing nutrition as a career. In fact, I liked it so much that I designed an entire syllabus around it. Anyway, in recent years Marion has developed a reputation as being an advocate of complete transparency regarding funding sources for nutrition research. The fact of the matter is that federal funding for nutrition research is a limited resource such that we nutrition scientists are somewhat dependent on food companies and agricultural “checkoffs” for financial support. Obviously, this can create some serious conflicts of interest, and thus the basis of this book was born. Nestle thoughtfully lays out the historical intermingling of industry and nutrition science (not to be confused with food science…a distinction made clear in the book). She draws some very striking parallels between this issue and the tactics used by pharmaceutical companies to increase sales. The final chapters do provide some guidance on what nutrition scientists should do to avoid conflicts of interest in the future (and no, it’s not just limited to transparency about funding sources). This was an interesting read for me, given my background, but I’m not sure it holds as wide of appeal to general audiences. If you’re not that interested to read it for yourself, just be aware that the nutrition studies you see publicized in the media may potentially be a disguised advertisement.
Educated by Tara Westover
This book has quite a buzz going around it these days–everyone is reading it and raving about it. In fact, it took several months for my turn on the library wait list. It’s the memoir of a young woman (coincidentally, just about my age) who grows up in a Mormon family who does not send their children to school but ultimately ends up with a PhD from Cambridge University. Just like everyone else in the world, I did find this memoir pretty fascinating and at times heart-wrenching. It presents some thought-provoking questions regarding mental health, familial loyalty. and self-discovery (and which one of those deserves top priority). In a way, it reminded me of a fiction book I read and loved in high school called I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. They both focus on bright young women who are stuck between a family life devoid of intellectual pursuits and the opportunity to pursue higher education. Sadly, Westover’s story is far more tragic than that of the fictitious Charlotte Simmons. I’d recommend this book.
What did you read in February?