May 28, 2017

Book Review || The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman

Phillip Pullman is the master of coming of age novels. In 'The Broken Bridge', we meet Ginny, the only black girl in a Welsh town, who has been treasuring her roots and becoming an amazing artist just like her mother. But her father is hiding a secret from her, and she comes to find that everything she knows about herself might be a lie.

This young adult novel is filled with the usual teenage concerns of falling in love, discovering who your friends are, and coming to accept yourself. But it has more going for it than simply that.

We see the world through Ginny's eyes - literally, the eyes of an artist. She sees everything as though she's preparing to paint it, and Pullman focuses a lot on describing the world as an artist would see it: in terms of different colours and hues, composition, and highlights and shadows. This contributes to making Ginny a believable artist instead of simply taking her word for it and was possibly my favourite part of the novel - there is true passion for her craft in Ginny's narrative.

The fact that she is an artist is a big part of her identity but she is forced to question it when her father's lies catch up with him and she wonders if anything he told her was true at all. Her art was what defined her, set her apart in a positive way, in a world where she was already sort of an outcast as one of only two black people in the town, and the daughter of a white man and black woman. When mysteries are laid at her feet about the town, her father, and her mother, she questions who she really is and realises that the idealist side of her - the artist - was selfishly looking at things in a certain way. There's a moment where she consoles a crying woman and actually moves herself around so that the artistic composition would be better.

In a way, this selfishness represents that of every teenager so caught up in their new emotions and urges, worries and needs that they forget there are other people in the world suffering in different ways. When Ginny meets her brother, he is also selfishly experiencing the world. However, the two of them begin to have a proper relationship when they open up to one another, in a way that many adults cannot do.

Another theme to consider in the scope of the novel is whether there is a perfect family at all. Ginny and her father are all alone until Robert comes along. Robert and his mother were all alone until tragedy struck. Andy has been exiled from his family, as has her best friend Rhiannon's older sister, who in turn is stuck in a loveless, abusive marriage. We are faced with the truth that there is no such thing as a perfect family, but the members within it can only do their best.

In many ways, this novel - written in 1990 - was written before its time. Touching on issues of broken families as it does, you can also throw in questions about homosexuality, racism, gangsterism, suspicion, selfishness, arrogance, roots and origins, and even a little bit of spirituality as well.

The novels' story of the broken bridge and its metaphorical meaning become clear at the end: no bridges are mended from only one side.
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May 20, 2017

Stop Eating Meat, Cape Town!

The City of Cape Town has tightened water restrictions again after an announcement that usable water levels in dams were only at 11.2%. They pleaded with the public to use only 100 litres a day. Well, this is all well and good, but how about curbing the water usage of the biggest culprits? And I'm not talking about big businesses who leave their sprinklers on all day or households who have swimming pools...

Here's looking at you, factory farms, meat farms, abattoirs! And, yes, I know that curbing their water usage has major economic setbacks, such as being unable to pay workers, meeting consumer demand, and so on. But we can use our lifestyles to change that.

On average, a single poultry abattoir deals with around 18,000 chickens a day to meet consumer demand. Processing a single bird uses around 17 litres, so that's already 306,000 litres used per day. Over 2 million litres a week. There are several poultry abattoirs in Cape Town and the Western Cape. Let's say there are 10: That's at least 20 million litres being used a week to process chickens. Just chickens. And you're being asked to use only 100 litres a day? Update 24 May 2017: It was pointed out to me by a commentator below (whom I only know as 'Anonymous' - thank you for fact-checking!) that I incorrectly stated 18,000 chickens per day as per the article I linked to, which actually stated 8,000 chickens. I apologise for this link error. Using this abattoir as an example, it would still mean, however, that 136,000 litres would be used per day - 952,000 litres per week - 9,520 million litres for an assumed amount of 10 poultry abattoirs. To me, this is still a lot of water being used when you're asked to use only 100 litres per day. Regardless of this, Selectra claims that a medium-sized poultry abattoir would process 20,000 birds per day. This is more than my original calculation anyway.

Add to this that, in essence, this water is sometimes returned to natural streams, within certain healthy and acceptable 'parameters', which are probably not met all the time, as many abattoirs struggle to maintain proper bacterial balance in their sludge dams - this is why they are sometimes red: it's not blood but algal bloom, and if this is released into natural streams... ruination of ecological system. Mostly, however, wastewater is dealt with in municipal sewer systems. And don't even get me started on the physical waste products, such as intestines, bones, and blood - where does all that go?

Perhaps it is time we took a more responsible outlook on drought over and above showering for only five minutes, making use of grey water, or only flushing once our toilets are good and dirty. What if we changed our lifestyles and stopped eating meat?

"Oh, but what about my protein needs?!" you ask.

"Okay, fine", you say, "but what about my calcium requirements?!"

Then you'll say, "Okay, smarty pants. What about my Omega oils intake?" To which I will say that it's likely you're deficient in them anyway and ...

"Erm, well I also need iron. Can't possibly get iron from anywhere else but meat!" Really?

"And Vitamin B12!?"

I detect a certain panic in your voice as you squeak, "...and zinc?!"

Do you really still want to tell me there is no other place to get everything you need to survive but meat?

"Oh, but I do take part in Meat Free Mondays! That's something, right?" Sure, it's something. But you have to ask yourself if it's enough.

Thank you so much to everyone who commented! I have also added some more related links below about water usage comparisons, since we are talking specifically about water.

Related Reading:

10 Vegan Cheat Sheets
From Lettuce to Beef: What's the Water Footprint of Your Food
The Water Footprint of Food
Waterwise: Your Water Footprint
And if there's one film you watch this weekend, please let it be this one!!!! Earthlings

{Lead image credit: By AerialcamSA - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link}
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May 19, 2017

Welcome to the world, Caitlyn (and privilege and beauty conventions)!

Update: Okay, so I wrote the below essay just after Caitlyn Jenner publicly revealed her new look on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine last year, and I didn't publish it because I thought my criticisms were .... uncalled for at the time. I regret not publishing it then, because barely a year later people are realising that her privilege, which is my main criticism below, is not changing anything. Now the media is complaining that she is in fact taking up too much space in the trans conversation. Her public visibility as a white, rich woman is doing nothing for those on the ground suffering very real and often violent discrimination on the ground. Of course, we could go into the arguments about women being told in general that they take up too much space, but that is a conversation for another day...

Original piece written in June 2016: Following Caitlyn Jenner's very public reveal on the cover of Vanity Fair with a photograph by Annie Lebowitz, many have lauded her bravery at taking the world with her on her journey from a man to a woman. Of course she should be lauded - her face gracing the cover of the upstanding Vanity Fair is a major step in normalising transgender sexualities and is so necessary in our world fraught with prejudice and judgement.

I do not wish to detract from Caitlyn's achievements and all her very real experiences. But what is striking about her successful coming out is the very real fact of her privilege as a national hero and former male and how that narrative has largely been left out of mainstream media coverage of her coming out.

Caitlyn's history as a successful athlete cannot be overlooked. Her athleticism is an important part of her success. She made a name for herself as the 'All American Hero' after beating a Russian during the Cold War - a masculine trope that men still aspire to. This fame has contributed to her popularity. As a male athlete, she also received all the privilege that came with it: She was one of 4,824 men to compete in the Olympic Games in 1976, where the number of women was less than half that, and with women's sports not being so popular, one can imagine the sponsorship deals for women were not as lucrative as the deal he received from Wheaties for appearing on their box. Hell, pay equality is still an issue even today.

And then she's been successful outside of her athletics career in television and also in auto-racing - a notoriously male sport.

She recently accepted the Espy Arthur Ashe Courage Award in July for coming out because of the 'adversity' and 'peril' she faced by doing so. The very fact that she received the award at all raised its own controversy, as many believed others were worthier of the title. What's more is that she is not the first athlete to come out as transgender, but she is the first to be awarded for doing so.

I can perhaps see why she was chosen because the breadth of her influence has that much more potential as a result of her popularity on reality television. She thus had a lot more to win or lose by coming out publicly and also greater influence on the public's view on transgender people, which is not to say that is a bad thing.

In her acceptance speech for the above award, she practically accepted it on behalf of those transgender people who are struggling to come to terms with their status as the world struggles to come to terms with them. But that is my point: the transition for him was, not to say easier, because making that decision and going through with it could never be easy, but he had very public support over his move in a way that many young transgender youths today do not. Plus, his prolific career gave him the financial support many youths could only dream of.

My other concern is with the very public, very beautified way in which she came out. Her cover for Vanity Fair was indeed stunning ....
...but it concerns me that she chose a medium known for edited and touched-up images exemplifying conventional feminine beauty standards. Her image on the cover is flawless in a way that live footage of her is not. I have previously expressed my ire for how leaked 'real' photos mean nothing because they are not plastered on magazine covers and are not considered official publicity releases for celebrities, and the situation is similar here. Not only can Caitlyn enter the world and very publicly be accepted as a woman, she enters it as one of the most 'conventionally' beautiful women. As a man making the transition to a woman, how should she see Caitlyn's transition - which felt as though it happened overnight - in the face of her battles with hormones, fashion, beauty treatments and loved ones? How should those feel who are completely cut off from making any such transition and are forced to live in the wrong body? Furthermore, how do those who identify as women feel when who was once a man can be so beautifully flawless while they struggle at home with their masks and creams and lotions? How should they feel after a former man wins Glamour Magazine's Woman of the Year award? What else can we think but that even men can perform femininity better than women? It's like that STEM competition for girls, which was opened for entries from boys and what do you know? The boy won!?

How can anyone compete with that?
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May 5, 2017

Birthday Party || Top 10 Car Theme Ideas on Pinterest

We recently celebrated Emma's fourth birthday (I can't even believe it!) and this year she wanted a car theme. I didn't have a lot of time to work on the themed decor for her party because I spent the first three days of the week repainting and redecorating her room (which included fresh paint on the wall and ceiling, an appliqued sea theme curtain; and waves painted with blackboard paint). I technically only had two days to do everything else, since one day was spent doing the shopping.

What also made it more difficult this year was that I had to find and make vegan eats - last year we were still vegetarian so I could still make most of the goodies with egg when required. This year's baking went terribly - I must have been tired and everything kept flopping. Sigh. It was also difficult to come up with ideas for the theme in such a short time, so thank goodness for Pinterest! And if you're thinking, 'This looks exactly like last year's party, just with cars!' you and my hubby are in agreement there.

Emma wanted a strawberry cake, so the race track in the shape of a 'four' is a vegan sponge cake with strawberry flavouring. It's quite old-fashioned but Emma wanted it to look like this:
I made streetlight brownies like these:
And then everything else was pretty standard: popcorn, jelly beans, and crisps. Easy. I would have liked to be more creative and if you are planning a car-themed birthday, too, here are my top ten favourites from Pinterest:

1. Pot Holes or Wheels from Oreos

2. Vegetable Cars

(Though I don't think any child would grab these!)

3. Apple Cars

4. Checkered Flag Biscuits

5. Dip Sticks

6. A Car Photo Booth. 

I really wanted to do this one - I had even bought the card. :(

7. Car-Shaped Biscuits

8. Checkered Drinks

I wanted to put the checkerboard pattern around our disposable cups.

9. Dip Sticks and Traffic Light Condiments

10. 'I Wheelie Like You' Gift Bags

I hope these help you out and I would love to see your own ideas!
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