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Bookworm: ‘Ingredients!’ You'll eat it up

And a story for the haves and have nots

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
"Ingredients: The Strange Chemistry of What We Put In Us and on Us" author George Zaidan.

"Ingredients: The Strange Chemistry of What We Put In Us and on Us"

  • By George Zaidan
  • c. 2020, Dutton
  • $27, $36 Canada; 320 pages

All winter long, you’ve pored over cookbook after cookbook. The second the grill’s ready, you will be, too. Imagine it: charcoal steaks blackened just right. Cooked-rare burgers, dripping with cheese and sauce, salty chips right next to them on the plate. Good eats – but are they good for you? In the new book “Ingredients” by George Zaidan, you’ll see that it’s all relative.

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One quick online search, and you’ll learn that everything you love to eat is going to kill you because of the chemicals. That’s kind of scary, but there's this: everything you put in your body, from your first breath to your last, is made of chemicals. Water contains chemicals. Potato chips. Spinach. Bananas. Cigarette smoke. Even oxygen is a chemical.

When people talk about the dangers of processed food, Zaidan likes to point out that all food is processed. We chop it, cook it, dry it, can it, bake it, mix it, and store it. Everything we do to food from its harvest to your mouth is processing. The fear, he says, is with "ultra-processed foods" that are produced industrially, from which Americans get more than half their calories.

Okay, so maybe you should go on an all-plant diet?

Or maybe not. On one hand, plants are full of sugar that we can't necessarily taste, but they're also full of ingredients that could kill us, such as cyanide. That we've learned to avoid poisons and still eat plants is a marvel in itself.

Maybe you should just fuggedaboutit and go have a smoke outside by the pool.

Nope, tobacco is not just one chemical, it's many; we don't yet know the number of chemicals in vaping mist. We misunderstand sunscreen and sunblock too much. And the pool?

"Ingredients: The Strange Chemistry of What We Put In Us and on Us" by George Zaidan.

Naw, you don't want to know...

So, what can you do? Not much, says Zaidan. You can worry all you want, you can stay inside 24/7, and decline the invitation to that dinner party but in the end, nothing matters...

If you're like many Americans, your first act of social isolation was in high school, when you stayed six feet away from chemistry class. But come back: author George Zaidan takes the scary out of the subject in "Ingredients."

There are no boiling beakers or Bunsen burners inside this book, and no lectures that don't include sarcasm and satire. You don't even need a white coat. Nope, this book is all about teaching readers in a way they can relate to, and in a way, that’ll make them laugh; Zaidan uses profanity (beware), but he also uses real terms and drawings you might see in a chemist's lab.

And that's the best part of this book: while explanations and humorously ridiculous (but valid) examples are found everywhere here, Zaidan manages to keep things scientific. Don't make the mistake, then, of thinking this book isn't serious.

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It's also seriously funny, and it'll help you separate real studies from the really silly. If "worry" is your default mode these days, get "Ingredients" and chill. You'll eat it up.

"Beheld: A Novel"

  • By TaraShea Nesbit
  • c. 2020, Bloomsbury
  • $26, $34.99 Canada; 275 pages

Either you are a have ... or you are a have not. If you are a have, you feel secure, knowing that what you need is close. If you are in the latter category, you may want for much and own very little. It's not fair, it's not equitable, and in the new book "Beheld" by TaraShea Nesbit, it gets worse.

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She should have known it was coming.

The signs were all there, but while Alice Bradford noted them, she paid little heed. With three small children to tend and a household to run, she had no time for worry – although worry crept into her mind often.

"Beheld: A Novel" author TaraShea Nesbit.

It was "the year of our Lord sixteen hundred and thirty," a decade since a small handful of English landed at Plymouth and the colony had first settled. Alice wasn't among them then; she came later, after her best consort, Dorothy, died; and after Dorothy's husband, William, called for a new wife.

Life in Plymouth had gone well for Alice, although she missed the children she had by her first husband, boys who'd been left behind in Holland. William promised that both their sons would be brought soon; in the meantime, there was much to do – including things that, as the wife of the leader of the colony, were necessary but regretful. Alice did not want to confront her nearest neighbor's wife, or to tell her things she must know.

Like her husband, John, Eleanor Billington came to Plymouth as an indentured slave. For seven years, she dressed, fed, cleaned, and cared for the colony's wealthier citizens, figuring that at the end of servitude, she'd become a full and equal member of the village, with cows, goats, acreage, and a home like everyone else's.

Alas, William Bradford and his soldier, Myles Standish ensured that that didn't happen, and though Eleanor chafed, she worried more about John.

She'd seen the dangers beyond the colony's fence. She knew what was inside the compound could be worse...

For weeks now, you've been stuck inside, and you've read everything from serial to cereal box. You're antsy. You're restless. So, here's your next book.

"Beheld: A Novel" by TaraShea Nesbit.

Don't judge it by its cover, though. It may appear that "Beheld" contains healthy sips from a handmaiden's novel and peeks of stuffy Puritanical life but it's really more of a mystery on top of a mystery on top of a feminist tale on top of a story of rich-versus-poor. Here, you'll meet people that history treats with heroics, but that author TaraShea Nesbit makes relatable as humans who lie, cheat, abuse, lie some more, and act with lasciviousness.

And that mystery...? From the first paragraph, you know something dreadful has happened, but Nesbit makes readers wait to find out, while a cold fog rolls over and skin-crawling doom creeps in. That shivery-ness makes this a perfect staying-in novel.

This is one of those gaspy tales that can hold you enthralled until it's time to shock you good, and if you need something different, find it. Indeed, "Beheld" is a book you must have.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.