Book Reviews

As a teacher, sometimes I don't think I can really turn it off. The world is my classroom. I am both teacher and student in all aspects of my life (sometimes to a fault). But one thing most teachers do love to do is read. I am reading a lot of interesting things lately so I will post my reviews of these books from time to time. They are written with the most recent books that I read listed first.

IMPORTANT: Please note that some of the books reviewed reflect a range of theories around healing, cancer, and food. There are cases in which I do not agree with the views expressed by the authors. Occasionally, I will voice my own differing view point in a book review and take less of an objective stance. Other times, if I feel the author is violating a human right, I will voice that as well. However, despite the controversial nature of the authors' views, I do believe that there is something that can be learned from what they are saying despite my own beliefs. So I have chosen to highlight what I have learned from each of these books. Some of these books were very fun and others difficult to read however, I do like the challenges.

Is it weird to embrace a book? I want to give Hill Harper and his book a big hug. It is so rare that a book is written straight from the heart and touches my own. I almost didn't read The Wealth Cure: Putting Money In Its Place by Hill Harper this week. With all of the busyness, parties, and celebrations that occur during the holiday season, I was not looking forward to reading a hefty book about financial planning but then I decided to at least read the introduction of The Wealth Cure and I was immediately drawn in. This is not your typical book about money. First of all, in my post Hill Harper: Renaissance Man and Thyroid Cancer Survivor, I announce that Hill discovers the first signs of his illness at the end of the film shoot for For Colored Girls and writing a book about finances. (By the way, I am ready to watch For Colored Girls now. I will watch it over my Winter vacation.) Hill woke up one morning not being able to swallow. He telephoned a trusted doctor to examine his neck. He was sent for an ultrasound and fine needle biopsy. He had three cancerous nodules discovered in his thyroid. Hill Harper was no stranger to cancer-- he was a caregiver for his father who passed away years prior from pancreatic cancer. Cancer also took the lives of his uncle and grandfather. Naturally, he was scared to now have this diagnosis. Being the Renaissance Man he is, Hill used the cancer as an opportunity for growth. In fact, he talks about financial growth as a metaphor for a cancer treatment plan, something he calls The Wealth Cure-- "a return to some fundamental values that have been discarded". The Wealth Cure is divided into five parts:

The Diagnosis
Treatment Options
Compliance: Sticking with a Treatment Plan
Maintaining Your Health and Wealth
Masterminding: Thrive and Survive
Life Account Versus Bank Account

The Wealth Cure describes a journey consisting of The Wealth Factor. The Wealth Factor is a personal list to make oneself "unreasonably happy". The "story" of The Wealth Cure takes place on a train from Los Angeles to Chicago in which Hill in the days leading up to his surgery, he writes his book reflecting on financial management while meeting interesting people along the way. I love books that draw me in through story, not just a series of facts. I also love trains. I have traveled throughout eastern Canada alone on a train and used to travel for free thanks to the fact my father worked for ViaRail, a Canadian passenger train company. Through personal discoveries about his own financial blunders in real estate investments and stock, evolving attitude about money, encounters with new and old friends who reformed their lives along the way, and inspirational quotes, The Wealth Cure for me continues where The Alchemist and The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari left off. Harper applies the basic and important values for existence-- simplify your life, clear your debts, "follow your passion and the money will follow", invest in yourself first and then in some solid financial practices (mutual funds, CDs, emergency funds, retirement savings, etc.) There are a lot of nuggets of wisdom in this book that I will take and put into practice. I realize that I have done some of Hill's suggestions already.

First of all, after completing his degrees from Harvard Law and graduate school, Hill Harper decided to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. With $60, 000 in student debt, he was an "overeducated waiter" at night so he could attend auditions in the day. I admire his vision despite this difficult period. He was given excellent advice from his grandfather to pursue what he loved to do. "Don't pursue law for the money." His Uncle Frank told him, "If you are making any decisions solely based on money, then it is the wrong decision." To receive that advice from an elder is such a golden opportunity. As a result, Hill pursued acting and it has become a very fruitful career, eventually paying him even more than what he would have made as a lawyer. Even as a waiter, he did not do a "half assed" job and strived for his best. He has applied this value to other areas of his life.

Secondly, he wrote about Mastermind circles. When I read that word, I immediately thought "illuminati"/secret society but that is not a complete definition. In fact, I realized that I used and continue to use Mastermind circles during my cancer journey. A Mastermind Circle is a "resource", a "collective brain", "a group of people that gets together to brainstorm or to give support to one another" with a single purpose "to forward the careers and/or business objectives of every member of the group." I have used this approach during my cancer journey through e-mail chains with my relatives, facebook, posts on this blog, connecting with my friends and family, and attending support groups including the Young Adult Cancer Canada Retreat and Conference.

Thirdly , follow your heart is one of my mantras. Although, Hill explains that being at the right place, the place that feels right, the right person, the right decision are not synonymous with "easy". He writes:

The right place is not always the easy place; the right person is not always the person who is easiest to be with; the right decision is not always the one that's easiest to carry out.


The only discrepancy I can find in this book is with what Hill Harper shares about his diagnosis of follicular thyroid cancer. There are some inaccuracies. Follicular represents about 10-20% of thyroid cancer cases. I had papillary which accounts for 75-85% of cases. Follicular and papillary are often grouped together and called "differentiated thyroid cancer". In the section called North Star, he spoke to his doctor about his condition. Here's an abbreviated and slightly edited version of the conversation:

"Hill, we believe you have thyroid cancer. And it looks to be follicular-- the worst kind," the endocrinologist (Endo) said.

"What the hell is follicular, Doc?" [Hill] said as [he] tried to deflect the idea of even having cancer.

"It's the type of cancer you don't want to have," he responded.

The Endo here is in the wrong. I hate ranking cancers but if he is going to, please get things straight. The differentiated thyroid cancers are the more treatable and curable forms. Medullary, anaplastic, and undifferentiated are more difficult to treat, hence "worst" if you wish to go there. On the following page, Hill's friend Tracey who recently lost her husband to cancer says she has "seen worse" after reading the author's medical report. In the final chapter, Forming Your Mastermind Circle, Hill says to his friend Sean, "Thyroid cancer is the best kind to have. It's treatable. I know I'll beat it." I love his optimism however the "ranking of cancers" does not account for the experience of every thy'ca survivor. Thyroid cancer experiences are so individual. Some people have to go through multiple surgeries with severe scarring, vocal chord paralysis, years of recurrences, spread of the cancer to other areas of the body including lymph nodes, salivary glands, lungs, and brain, complications added to other health conditions, depression, repeated radioactive isolation, other cancers, the impact on relationships, and a host of other side effects inlcuding death. Please Hill, don't lump "thyroid cancer as the best". It negates the experience of the thousands of people who experience it each year.

Nevertheless, I am happy to say that Hill Harper's surgery was a success. I would love to interview him one day and I think I will try to send him an e-mail with a review of his book. Hill Harper is a man who seems true to his words, whole-heartened, and sincere. Along with his successes, I hope he finds the kind of love and family that he admits to wanting.

Like Rob Hawke's Kicking Cancer's Ass, it is nice to find a book by a thyroid cancer survivor. (It's so rare!) Go out and buy this book! You'll understand cancer survivors better, experience personal growth, and grow your bank account.

How much of an impact does racism have on a person's health? An excellent question which I have not considered yet but a group of researchers attempts to answer. In Race and Well-Being: The Lives, Hopes, and Activism of African Canadians, Akua Benjamin, David Este, Carl James, Bethan Lloyd, Wanda Thomas Bernard, and Tana Turner conduct studies of Canadians of African descent in three cities-- Halifax, Toronto, and Calgary. Each city is quite distinct in its population and size. Located in the Maritimes, Halifax is small city on the nation's east coast with a small percentage of visible minorities and largely Black Canadian (at least 3 generations in this country). Toronto is a large city with a predominantly Caribbean first- and second-generation population. Finally, Calgary is a mid-sized city with most of its African Canadians coming directly from the continent of Africa as students, working professionals, and refugees. Each of these groups of African Canadians is quite distinct but similarly they share experiences in Canada are as a racialized community in this country. Since those who immigrated from the Caribbean and Africa, came from countries in which they were not a visible minority and instead a majority, arrival in Canada has presented new challenges including racial stereotyping and racism in employment, education, housing, and media.

What drew me to this book was to find out if indeed there were links between the experience of racism and disease or illness? The answer is "yes", there do appear to be some links but this study shows them in very general ways, more so in general physical, psychological, mental, and emotional. A limitation of this study was that there were no specific diseases linked directly to racism. However, the participants surveyed in the study indicate that racial incidents cause tremendous stress and produce destructive effects on such factors as the family structures, self-esteem, relationships, career advancement, and economic productivity. Black-on-black violence is also discussed as a form of internalized racism which has devastating effects.

Race and Well-Being helped me to critically evaluate my own personal experiences with racism in Canada and evaluate them with a new lens. In some of these incidents, I was quite aware that they were prompted by racism. One example was when I had been stopped by police for "j walking" in Edmonton at night. This was scary since I was alone in a new city, touring my film festival, where I did not know anyone close. There were two police officers in a cruiser that slowed down beside me as I walked on the sidewalk. One asked me to show my identification which I did not have on me at the time (it was in the hotel). I knew this was a racialized incident since the large group of white youth who "j-walked" just before I did were not stopped. Plus, I have never heard of anyone stopped for "j walking" in Toronto, where I'm from. (I had "j walked" several times without worry. When I told the officer this, he laughed and said he had been to Toronto many times so he knows how things operate there. Jerk!) Then there was an incident when I was in the bus terminal in Calgary walking with a cart which contained my luggage and boxes (again full of films that I toured across Canada). A plain-clothes "officer" asked to see my identification and bus ticket. Aside from these two incidents, I have never been stopped "out of the blue" by police officers. However, both incidents took place in the same province, Alberta, in cities that are a few hours apart. Then there are the very blatantly obvious incidents of being called the n-word in elementary school, having eggs and objects thrown at my childhood home when we moved into a new neighbourhood, the children who said they could not be my friend because "I am Black", and the Grade 4 teacher who never picked me or dealt with a situation where I was constantly being called racist names and teasing by a classmate. I must admit that now as an adult, racial incidents such as these are much rarer but they often do occur on a more subtle level. I wonder now how these incidents may have impacted me since my childhood. Are they related to anxiety and depression that I have experienced in different periods of my life? Isolation in the school yard and not making friends in school? Feelings of insecurity? Feeling unattractive? "Diving" into books and academics instead of socializing?

Then there are other incidents that I look at with a renewed suspicion since it is sometimes challenging to know whether or not an incident was "racist". The secretary of the English department at the university told me, "She doesn't like Jamaicans," regarding a woman had spat on her. Was it the woman she didn't like or ALL Jamaicans (including myself)? And what events took place that would cause the Jamaican woman to spit on her? When my university professor wrote in my reflection journal that "he was not sure how I would fit in since I was so different" in my music class where I was the only person of colour. Was he being racist, prejudice, or just ignorant? Or when my English high school teacher asked me why Black boys were not succeeding in high school? Why was I at 18 being asked to be a spokesperson for my race? These were stressful situations but I have never considered the stress or impact such repeated incidents may have.

The challenge in Canada is that race-based stats are not kept on African-Canadians so we look to the US for health information about African-Americans. There are several differences between Blacks in both Canada and the US, for example Canadians tend to have hyphenated identities, e.g. Jamaican-Canadian, Ghanaian-Canadian which emphasizes first the country of origin first. Plus the Black population of Canada is largely immigrant and first- and second-generation while in the US it is largely indigenous. However there are some similarities between the groups in each country which include a history of enslavement, systemic exclusion, civil rights, segregation, racism, and restrictive immigration practices. Also, in the early years, talking 18th to early 20th centuries, most of the African migrants (escaped slaves, Black loyalists, settlers, etc.) to Canada came from the US. So what do the American statistics say? African-Americans are more likely to die from breast and prostate cancers than their White counterparts with the same diseases. In both Canada and the US, all non-White groups have increased rates of Type II diabetes. In Canada, this poses an increased challenge for medical care providers since they have only begun to recently provide health and dietary information that is more culturally specific. For example, a question like, 'How many fried dumplings, green bananas, and plantains can be consumed healthily?' would never been addressed for diabetic patients. So it's nice to know that we are moving toward more representative diets.

In my Sistah Vegan post, I mentioned Dick Gregory who is an African-American comedian, vegan, civil rights activist, and writer. I have listened to a few of his interviews on youtube and he provides excellent examples of how race, food issues, and health intersect to produce unhealthy conditions for African-Americans. He also frequently alludes to the US health care system not being set up to benefit Blacks. As I mentioned, I have a lot of relatives who are health care providers (i.e., anesthetic nurse, cytotechnologist, general nurses, osteopathic doctors, pharmacist, surgery, psychiatrics, pharmacist, physician assistant) in the US. It would be very interesting to get their views about being Black and a medical practitioner within this system.

Here is a sample of his thoughts:

How are these conditions similar or different to those in Canada? I am sure the First Nations peoples may find connections with their experiences as well.

The impact of racism on ones' being may take the form of increased depression and mental illness, substance abuse, and other ailments. The writers of the book have indicated the need for the World Health Organization (WHO) to include racism in one of the barriers to the social determinants of health in reference to the boundaries around access to resources, information, and health care race can produce.

Published in 2011, I am so excited to see such a recent example of written work that is pertinent to my experience as a Black Canadian. A book focused on the health of African-Canadians has many applications in service delivery and program development. For years, there have been books about gender and socioeconomic differences when it comes to healthcare. So I think it is long overdue to have a study that examines the differences of how racialized people experience health in Canada. As much as my gender, my race fundamentally affects the way in which I relate to and experience my world. Further study can look at how these and other factors intersect in one's well-being. Long overdue.

In the final chapter, the authors list ways in which the Black participants in the study have coped with racism: spiritual involvement (whether it be through church or mosque), community, activism, family, and education. Each of these means have sustained the participants but have had their own limitations as well. I feel very "hopeful" as I read about a philosophy I have become familiar with over the years with Paolo Freire's "pedagogy of hope" for oppressed peoples. By understanding one's history and condition, there are excellent opportunities for growth, hope, and creating a new reality. In addition, by building bridges with other peoples of colour, stronger alliances and networks are made to create positive change.

Pyramids of Power: An Ancient African Approach to Optimal Health by Dr. John Chissell, both the tape and book, were donated to my school recently in a big box of other gems. I borrowed this book to find out what exactly is an ancient African approach to healing. The book is divided into a number of chapters with ones focusing on Optimal Health intellectually, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and socio-economically. African-American author, Chissell , does an effective job of developing a healing philosophy which combines his medical knowledge with Ancient Egyptian/Kemetic healing practices and alternative healing. He describes the Pyramids of Power which are a series of triangles which can do anything from promote healthy relationships, reduce illnesses, and increase well-being. I read this book and although it is described as "African" in its approach, I felt a bit of "deja vu", as in "I read this before"... "it sounds a lot like...", etc. In less than 100 pages, Dr. Chissell promotes a healing practice which endorses raw veganism, forgiveness, meditations, and a "healthy" criticism of the medical system.

In the first chapter, he describes his own health crisis, a diagnosis of malignant hypertension, which led him to his philosophy. Reading the name of this condition, I became confused since I only know "malignant" to mean cancerous and "hypertension" as high blood pressure. Confused, I thought "cancerous high blood pressure" was impossible but thanks to wikipedia, I understand that Chissell's ailment "is severe hypertension (high blood pressure) with acute impairment of an organ system (especially the central nervous system, cardiovascular system and/or the renal system) and the possibility of irreversible organ-damage". Chissell had gone the medical route by taking an ever-increasing strength of prescriptive medications. However in what would be considered a "spiritual awakening" while a medical intern, this physician ended his agnosticism which led him to a path where he believed in " a divine order" (Ma'at) that eventually led him to seriously question and trust in the healing capabilities of his body. What I appreciate is that despite his training in medicine, he was still able to critically view the health care system in which he worked, dubbing it a "sick care system" since he felt that too much emphasis was being placed on treating illnesses and not preventing or curing them. Very rare is it to find a doctor trained in Western medicine who actually sees the limits of its practice and embrace other philosophies. Like Queen Afua, contributors to Sistah Vegan, Kris Carr, and so many others which I have reviewed on this blog, Dr. Chissell sees food as medicine and extensively explains his medical reasoning for this through his ABC system.

Nevertheless, through his dietary changes, exercise, stress reduction, and other lifestyle adjustments, Dr. Chissell was able to reverse his illness. I appreciate that he also provided a much more comprehensive explanation of Ancient Afrikan/Kemetic beliefs and practices than what I found in Sacred Woman by Queen Afua. Although I do some broader parallels with Christianity and other belief systems, I am still unclear on a lot of specifics in Ancient Afrikan/Kemetic philosophy including the deity (Amun) and energy (Nun). The Pyramids of Power are also a bit unclear, abstract, and convoluted. (Near the end of the book, I began to feel a bit lost.) He does provide a lot of description about the different pyramids however, I felt a bit lost and overwhelmed with all this information. There are diagrams but they are completely separate from the descriptions and that does not help my comprehension. What I do love is that this writer grounds himself in his ancestry and place of origin which lends to his lens and way of looking at the world. He reminds me that my African ancestors, as do many other indigenous peoples, looked to nature for clues about healing. By looking at how animals behave, we can gather clues about how one may live to gain optimal health.

John T. Chissell, MD

Imagine kicking the ass of cancer? What would that be like? Would it require steel-toed boots? Or could you use your barefoot like in the martial arts? Well, after reading Kicking Cancer's Ass: A Light-Hearted Guide to the Fight of Your Life by Rob Hawke, you feel equipped to kick anything.

You may recall that I promoted Rob Hawke's launch for Kicking Cancer's Ass a few months ago here. Well, I contacted Rob through e-mail and asked if I could interview him for my first-time video interview on this blog. He said: YES!!!!

This was all before I had a copy of the book. Now that I have read Kicking Cancer's Ass, I must say that this was an extremely accessible and useful guide to cancer. First of all, it was refreshing to read something by a fellow thyroid cancer survivor which is so rare. (Equally rare are cancer stories by Canadians. So being written by a Canadian thy'ca survivor, I guess you could say that this book is 1 in a million.) Like me, Rob Hawke was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer and, unlike what the doctors tell you, it's not easy. As Rob said, it's not like the doctors are "wanting to sign up" for thyroid cancer. Rob also had a difficulty with going through thyroid cancer both as a survivor and a supporter. Second of all, I love reading stories about survivors by survivors. Kicking Cancer's Ass is not only a survivors' tale but arms the reader with tools on how to face the "fight of your life". He discussed many themes which resonated with me including self-blame for cancer diagnosis, naturopathy and alternative methods, and a variety of scripts including one asking for help. (Come to think of it, looking back, I don't think I asked for enough help. I'm sure it would have come sooner but I agree with Rob, it is tough to ask for help.) Rob even wrote a section for the caregivers which comes from experience, since within a year of his diagnosis, his girlfriend at the time was also told she had thyroid cancer. (You can't make this stuff up, people!) Make sure you pick up Kicking Cancer's Ass to make it part of your cancer-fighting aresenal. You can find it at the bookstores listed here or on Amazon.

We finally did get to sit down and conduct the interview which you can watch here.

We conducted this interview at the Free Times Cafe in Toronto. Being my first video interview where I was asking a lot of the questions and talking about my cancer experience, my inner-critic was operating in full effect when I watched it for the firs ttime. (I think I was a little nervous too.) Nevertheless I think the interview was successful. This conversation is Part 1 of a dialogue between Rob and I about thyroid cancer survivorship and cancer experience. (We had to switch locations since the band showed up so Parts 2 and 3 were filmed at a coffee shop down the street. Unfortunately the footage for those interviews did not come out quite so well.) I would love to hear your feedback.

Robert Hawke, Improv and Sketch Comedian/Writer/Speaker

There is a Buddhist proverb that says: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma is a teacher of sorts. A few months ago, I was recommended chapter 11 to read because it discussed practical strategies to manage time. (To read more of my thoughts on this chapter, please click here.) I fell in love with the message of the Deathbed Mentality which describes how to prioritize and manage your day as if it might be your last. So, I decided to purchase the whole book.

Although I have reviewed some pretty inspirational books, ones that I may describe as "life changing" and "earth shattering", I feel that The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari really met me where I am in my healing journey. I was immediately drawn into this book through the power of story. Julian Mantle was an extremely successful attorney who had it all-- money, cars, a huge house, the admiration, appeal, women, and the respect of his colleagues. He was at the top of his game. Then he had a major heart attack and he was presented with two alternatives by his physician-- give up his "high powered" lifestyle or pursue a path focussed on recovering his health. Julian decided on the latter resulting in a spiritual quest into the remote Himalayas which sounds a little cliche, but is not. He returns with a mission-- to share all that he has learned from the mystical monks who taught him the path to happiness and fulfillment. He first pupil is a younger attorney at his firm.

And this is where I am in my healing journey. I too gave up half of my dayjob (and salary) in order to focus on my healing recovery. As a result, I have also had to make some cost-saving decisions including not driving my car with the hopes to sell it, taking public transit, designing a new budget, and spending less in addition to meditation and visualization. As these decision have been challenging, I feel similar to Julian-- there are many rich lessons to be learned from this path as I feel more balanced.

Reading the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, my interest was immediately drawn through the power of story. The book reminded me very much of the Alchemist by Brazilian author Paulo Coehlo and some of his other work. All of his stories feature a character, whether a shepherd to an exotic dancer/prostitute, going on a quest to find his or her bliss and destiny. A critical difference between The Alchemist and The Monk... is that in the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, author Robin Sharma is overtly didactic by teaching the readers lessons and providing tools and strategies for life. In this way, Robin Sharma comes across as more of a corporate trainer than a writer like Coehlo. In fact, Sharma has a series of books, CDs, and workshops aimed at the business professional. Given Sharma's background as a Dalhousie University-trained lawyer (LLB and LLM in hand), he draws from his experiences when characterizing both Julian Mantle and the younger attorney.

Through a series of enticing parables, techniques (e.g., The Heart of the Rose, The Secret of the Lake), and symbols (e.g., the lighthouse, garden), Sharma describes a simpler existence involving meditation, self-discipline, vegetarianism, goal setting, self-improvement, and the secret of happiness. Given all of the books that I have read so far, I realize that Sharma's ideas are not original, an amalgamation of Eastern philosophies, effective business practices, and research. But there is a certain magic about this book which borders that of a fairy tale. It is wonderful to read a book that embodies Kaizen (self-improvement in Japanese). It helps me to feel that I am on the right path and I am where I need to be.

Robin Sharma, author

After listening to her lecture online, I must thank A. Breeze Harper for inspiring me to critically examine my class-privilege as an educated middle-class woman. You can listen to her lecture here.

A. Breeze Harper

Although I was raised in a predominantly working class immigrant community, I understand now how the issues of economics and race play a part in the rhetoric around veganism and issues of access to healthy food, even in a wealthy nation like Canada. Having reviewed a number of pro-vegan books on this blog so far including Veganist, Crazy Sexy Diet, Skinny Bitch, and The Kind Diet, the important topics of access, socioeconomics, and race were missing from the discourse.

I grew up the child of Jamaican immigrants. In the late 1990s, when I was about twenty years old after I heard that livestock (natural herbivores) were being fattened with the diseased remains of ground up "dead cows", I tried to be a vegetarian. Living in this community, there were (and still are) no health food stores so I had to do a lot of my shopping downtown and take the subway and bus to transport these goods home. Forget about health information, I did not have access to it like I do now. I did not own a computer and had very little internet access. In essence, I was isolated from other vegans and when I moved away to college with fish and bean allergies (the latter I outgrew), my vegetarianism ended after challenging nine months.

Now, after Harper's work Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak On Food, Identity, Health, and Society, I have an even better understanding of the intersectionality of veganism with identity, politics, and social justice issues like the ones I faced when I just adopted a plant-based diet. Sistah Vegan is refreshing and engaging. It provides something that was lacking in the other books on veganism that I read-- the voices and experiences of Black people and people of colour.

Reading Sistah Vegan reminded me of the types of discourses I would have in my graduate studies courses where we spoke critically and questioned everything. Through a series of twenty-five thoughtful essays and poems by African American women and one white female ally, Sistah Vegan expands on the diversity and complexity of the issues that are raised in veganism. It is a very honest, personal and concise dialogue about veganism. By virtue of being Black, these writers not only have a racialized lived experience like me but many of us asked questions about reclaiming our health. As I have been reading other books about factory farming including, most recently, Farm Sanctuary, I see connections between the horrors of slavery and abuses to slavery. Sistah Vegan helped me to understand that these observations were no coincidence and there are many parallels between animal rights and the liberation movements of groups. In addition, I gained a better understanding of how much of the rhetoric around veganism tends to reflect a white middle-class bias. As a new vegan in Toronto, I have noticed a lack of diversity at most vegetarian and vegan events I have attended. For example, like many of the contributors, I found that I was the "only Black person" at veggie events. At the recent Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival, I questioned this lack of diversity in a conversation with a fellow African-Canadian vegan who also attended. I know several Black vegetarians and vegans through the school I teach and elsewhere but did not see enough evidence of this diversity in the discussions and representation. However all of the guests on the panels and the overall tone of the event sounded very "white middle class" and it's not because veganism and vegetarianism are unheard of in other cultures. (I do give some credit to the organizers for having some diversity with the Hare Krishna meditations, food vendors, and Latin cooking demonstration by Terry Hope Romero. This is some representation but not enough for such a culturally ethnically diverse city such as Toronto.) The organizers would not have had to look far for more diverse examples of veganism. For example, in my Jamaican heritage, there is a tradition of vegetarianism and holistic healing that exists in many non-western cultures. Rastafarians originated a term called Ital which is vegan, although some Rastas may include dairy and fish in their diet. Contributor Nia Yaa defintes Ital as being "natural and in tune with the Most High and all of nature" in the chapter called What You Cooking, Grandma?.

Here's a little taste of Ital Cooking in Jamaica:

Although the Sistah Vegan writers are all American women, my struggles and concerns as an African-Canadian woman are very similar especially regarding the ongoing impacts of over four hundred years of colonization, slavery, and racialization. I have gained a clearer understanding of how my adoption of a vegan diet was not only an individual act inspired by my diagnosis of cancer, the desire to know more, and positively change the course of my healing and recovery but is the participation in a revolutionary act. Revolutionary since I questioned the status quo [most of my doctors who said I could do nothing about cancer], chose to make conscious choices about the way I eat, continue to educate myself about the benefits of veganism, and seek to understand the social/health implications of what I am doing to affect the future course of my health.

Being Black in the Americas and vegan means debunking unhealthy legacies. Throughout slavery and colonialism, Black slaves were forced to eat the leftover scraps of animal remains that were not wanted by the slave master. For African Americans, these items include ham hocks, pigs' feet, gizzards, tripe, oxtails, and chitlins (pig intestines). In Jamaica, these foods included goat stomach (for mannish water, a soup that was one of my favourite dishes as a kid), goat heads, pigs' feet, tails, nose, and ears, and cows' feet. Many of these "cast off" foods have remained in our cuisines and soulfood dishes. As a young girl, contributor Nia Yaa asked her grandmother about the tripe dish that she was preparing. Since she was quite young, she could only ask 'What "smells like poop"?' to which the reply was, 'It is poop'. I too remember the terrible smell of goat stomach simmering in the kitchen but the spicy sophisticated distinct taste of the resulting mannish water (goat belly soup). In the spirit of improvisation, people of African descent have disguised, seasoned, roasted, and spiced these seemingly disgusting entrails and body parts into tasty delicacies because that is what the hardships and survival required. However today, many Blacks in North America have choices to eat meals that heal our bodies in ways that were not available in the past. In the poem featured in the chapter I Am Sistah Vegan, Tasha Edwards asks:

When [Martin Luther King] spoke of being 'Free At Last,' did our Americanized palates ever
Come up for discussion?
Was anybody rushing to say 'We Shall Overcome Cancer and Obesity'
Or are we still holding on to our story about how 'Massuh' fed us the scraps
And that's all we know how to eat?

The change of diet is major and does require a "decolonization" of our palettes, our tastebuds and memories of several loved soulfood and homecooked dishes, making way for meals that are more nutritious, and making choices for whole foods when before there were no choices. Unfortunately, many Blacks, as I did in the neighbourhood I grew up in, live in areas that are lacking health food stores, farmers' markets, food co-ops, and fresh fruit and vegetable options. For many, due to geography, it is much easier to access fast foods and alcoholic beverages than wholistic foods that build.

For several Sistah Vegans, choosing veganism has meant their Blackness and loyalties were questioned by others. No more is this truer for the writers who spoke about their stance on animal rights. They are often confronted with accusations of "acting white" or turning their back on the injustices affecting the Black community. However there is a "complexity in complicity" (Pattrice Jones' chapter, read on). As Breeze Harper writes in Social Justice Beliefs and Addiction to Uncompassionate Consumption: Food for Thought, the question is, 'How did our ancestors eat before colonization? Was our concept of consumption polluting our water?" Or as Mary Spears in the chapter "Eyes of the Dead" writes:

How many of my ancestors
Were treated like today's farm animals?
When I hear of calves
Being taken from their mothers
To be sold as veal
I can hear the wailing voices of mothers
Crying for their babies
As the slave master takes them away
So when I looked into those stunned eyes today,
No one could have said to me,
"What's the big deal?" "It's just an animal."
I could have remembered a time
When someone might have said the same about me

In Being a Sistah at PETA, Ain Drew writes about being in her dream job of working as the Urban Marketing Coordinator for the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that turned out to be full of challenges and another form of discrimination which resulted in her dismissal.

Ain Drew

Ironically, it was a controversial 2005 PETA ad campaign that inspired editor A. Breeze Harper to create the Sistah Vegan anthology. Known for its shock tactics including throwing blood on furcoat wearers and "calling Hollywood celebrities out" on their use of animal skins and furs, PETA called The Animal Liberation Project in which, according to Harper in The Birth of the Sistah Vegan Project, images of "human suffering [were] juxtaposed with nonhuman animal suffering: a painting of Native Americans on the Trail of Tears positioned next to a photo of herds of nonhuman animals being led to their demise; the atrocity of a Black man's lynched and torched body next to a picture of an animal that had been burned; a black-and-white Jewish Holocaust photo next to animals in confined, crammed structures on a meat production farm". Harper indicates that most of the images were obtained from Black Americans' past with slavery and Jim Crow segregation. These resulting ads were deemed offensive by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and other Black associations and individuals. Many Blacks felt that PETA was a racist organization for comparing the suffering and injustices of African Americans to those of animals. I must agree with Harper that it was not the message that was wrong but the tone and delivery that PETA used. I also agree with Pattrice Jones, the only white and non-Black contributor to this anthology, who wrote Liberation As Connection and the Decolonization of Desire, that it was not necessary for PETA to use and manipulate the suffering of [Black] ancestors to make the 'dreaded comparison'.

Pattrice Jones

You can visit PETA The Animal Liberation Project website here.

In Sistah Vegan, there are also several mentions of Queen Afua's book Sacred Woman which I reviewed here a few months ago and the ways in which it influenced several contributors on the path to natural healing and veganism. In addition, there is the mention of Civil Rights activist/comedian/vegetarian/writer Dick Gregory on exposing the writers to veganism. I have never heard of theorist Gregory but have definitely seen him in the media and wish to learn more about his work.

Queen Afua

Dick Gregory

I guess what you're reading here has become less of a book review and more of a critical response to the state of veganism from a "working-class raised, educated middle-class Black-Canadian of Jamaican heritage" perspective. Obviously there is so much to say about the Black female perspectives on veganism. So I'll get back into review mode. I love the variety of texts presented in Sistah Vegan from essays to poetry, from vegan aphrodisiacs (The Food and Sex Link by Angelique Shofar) to nutritional recommendations (Ma'at Diet by Iya Raet), from animal rights activists to holistic healers, from 'ecowomanism' (Veganism and Ecowomanism by Layli Phillips) to body image and less Eurocentric definitions of healthy female bodies (Veganism and Misconceptions of Thinness as 'Normal' and 'Healthy': Sistah Vegans Break It Down In Cyberspace compiled by A. Breeze Harper), from raw veganism to whole foods, from physical fitness to spirituality, from hip hop urban culture to the indigenous Afrikan approaches... this book represents a diverse collective of voices who discuss veganism from "multiple, integrated angles. Race. Sex. Class. Health. Sexual orientation. Environment. Decolonization. Animal liberation" (from Jones' chapter).

From this text, which I plan to read again and refer to again, I am even more encouraged to continue this vegan journey. I may be the only Black person at some vegan, vegetarian, or animal rights events but I will not let that stop me from learning as much as I can and incorporating it with the rich knowledge- and cultural-base from which I claim my ancestry. I am also quite hopeful about taking control of my health. In both Canada and the U.S., my people, Black people, are at an increased risk for developing hypertension, certain cancers, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes than the general population. I understand that there is a genetic link however I do believe that these diseases were largely influenced by the impact of colonial foods that lacked nutrition but were the only means of nourishment available in slavery. Today there are even more threats to our health. There are these colonialized "soulfoods" but there are also fast foods, factory farmed livestock, genetically modified crops, junk foods, overprocessed foods,... to be contended with. We cannot afford to be complicit to eating these foods mindlessly but reclaim our consciousness in selecting foods that beautify, heal, and build our bodies. For the first time in decades, we can control what we eat and have an influence on the course of our health. There is enough credible information out there not to do otherwise. Thankfully, there is a wealth of culturally-relevant vegan books that can help me stay connected with my roots as well including Caribbean Vegan, The Vegan Soulfood Guide to the Galaxy, Viva Vegan!, and Sacred Woman. The Reasons to Vegan are diverse and complex.

I am happy to say that I am part of a movement to turn around the statistics. I am also pleased to say that I am choosing to eat in a way that is aligned with my beliefs of social justice, non-violence, holistic health, and well-being. To my pleasure, I have learned that the way I approached my healing journey is aligned with an an Africentric holistic approach that incorporates mind, body, spirit, creativity, and community. I hope to inspire others to question their eating practices and make better choices to influence their health. Thanks Sistah Vegan.

Me in my Ghanaian dress

A. Breeze Harper is also proof that you can have healthy pregnancies, shrink your fibroids, raise babies who love kale chips, and write a PhD dissertation for UC Davis all while being vegan. Check out Breeze's blog .

Here is one of her videos about Sistah Vegan.

Speaking of hip hop and veganism, check out this music video which I love called "Wheatgrass" by Denver, Colorado-based popular educator/activist/urban farmer/environmental sustainable rapper DJ Cavem. Watch out for the cameo of Sistah Vegan.

Wheatgrass by DJ Cavem

Look at this pig's cute little face?

Remember when you were a child and you sang songs like "Old MacDonald" and "Baa Baa Black Sheep", imagining some idyllic pastoral scene? The cows nibbled hay, the pigs rolled around in their mudbath, and the chickens pecked at seeds in the dirt. Sigh! What a beautiful scene? But that ideal picture of Canadiana is reserved for history books. Sigh! Most farm animals are not raised in such natural settings. Instead, they are raised in an industrial complex where pigs lose their "pigmanship" (origin in Farm Sanctuary) and become products of protein and consumption. Chances are Old MacDonald does not own his farm any more and is on contract with a mega-billion dollar agricultural giant to grow thousands of products (read: animals) to industry specifications. He does not own his means of production and had to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to transform his farm into a high-tech operation, loans that he cannot repay, and now he may also be depressed and contemplating suicide. "Old MacDonald's Farm", a family-owned business, simply does not exist any more (or at least becoming extremely rare).

Sometimes I must admit that I feel discouraged being a vegan. Walking from restaurant to restaurant, searching for vegan options, asking a million and one questions about food preparation, bringing my own vegan cheese to an Italian restaurant, going to specialty stores to buy vegan basic essentials, spending extra money on going plant-based ($7 for a microwave dinner, c'mon)... it can feel downright like a hostile environment. So when I read a book like Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food by Gene Baur, my commitment to veganism was renewed. Farm Sanctuary tells about more than thirty years of activism for animal rights, fighting against factory farming and slaughterhouses, rescues, and legislation reforms at all levels of government. Baur begins describing his roots growing up in California of German immigrant parents and his agrarian ancestry. He felt moved to animal activism as he began to examine compassion at all levels and pursued studies in animal sciences. In 1986, Gene, and his wife at the time, founded the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY to "to combat the abuses of factory farming and to encourage a new awareness and understanding about 'farm animals.' At Farm Sanctuary, these animals are our friends, not our food" (source Farm Sanctuary website). Backed with the support of its sponsors and a number of Hollywood celebrities to boot, Baur's efforts have resulted in two farms (a 175-acre shelter in upstate New York and a 300-acre shelter in Orland, California), rescue and adoption programs, and educational resources. What is also really awesome is that you can visit this place in real life which I plan to do (Funky Sexy Manifesto #38).

Unlike my parents who grew up in rural Jamaica, I was not brought up with animals around me (aside from a few pet fish). Until about four years ago, my fiance and I adopted two cats. According to me, "cats are people too". Until I lived with Marcus and Makeda, I was totally unaware of the diverse emotions, vocalizations, uniquenesses, longings, and personalities of cats. Animals are sentient (feeling) beings and somewhere along the line, I think many people, myself included, got disconnected from that fact.

Farm Sanctuary had a lot of details about animal rights laws, legislations, and court cases-- a little too much for my taste. I do not find this information interesting but I think without them the book would not be complete. The legal battles and activism have been a part of Farm Sanctuary from the very beginning.

What I appreciated the most were the animal stories in this book. I felt that Gene Baur creates the picture of an animal's soul. Like us humans, animals have an innate desire to live, avoid pain, and attain its basic needs with as little effort as possible. Through personal stories at the end of each chapter, Baur tells about the various animals rescued and brought to the Farm Sanctuary locations. Each animal has a unique journey back to health (reminds me of someone I know, ahem) and a special name. There is even a sheep named Persia, after one of my favourite vegan animal rights activists, film producer/actress/musician and former star of "Girlfriends", Persia White.

I think one of the reasons that these animal stories speak so much to me is because I am a Black person and I know that not too long ago, there were numerous corrupt institutional systems of power which deemed me and other people of colour as "products" for consumption and unfeeling in nature. When I read about slaughterhouses, factory farms, transportation of animals, forced breeding and confinement, crowding, mutilation, separations of offspring from families, lack of sanitation, drugging, denial of basic care, and other abuses to billions of animals each year, I think of the wrongful capture, enslavement, splitting of families, trans-Atlantic crossing of ships packed with kidnapped people, slavery, rapes, forced breeding and feeding, amputations, executions, unethical experimentations, unhealthy living conditions, unsafe practices, and countless other horrors that have happened to my ancestors and people of African origin. Blacks and other people of colour were also called animals, undeserving of basic dignities and treated in cruel and inhumane ways. Now, the wrongful treatment of people in society has come a long way and laws and regulations have been reformed to reflect this evolved consciousness and compassion for humankind. I think there needs to be a change in the way animals are thought about not as just mere products for human consumption but as sentient conscious beings. I have found that a number of other writers and researchers have found parallels between forms of oppression (e.g., racism, sexism) and the modern factory farming industry as well and I have begun reading one such work which I hope to review shortly.

In August 2011, I had the pleasure of meeting Gene Baur. Here is a link about that encounter. In the meantime, read Farm Sanctuary and be prepared to feel a compassion for animals that you may have never felt before. It will enhance your understanding of the unsustainable and negative impacts that the current practices are having on our environment and health and may cause you to want to do something about it.

Viva Vegan!: 200 Authentic and Fabulous Recipes for Latin Food Lovers by Terry Hope Romero

You know when you admire the work of a famous person and then you finally get the opportunity to meet them and then your whole image of them shatters because you find out they act like an asshole in real life? Not Terry Hope Romero. She's as genuine as they come. She's witty and pretty, she pokes fun at herself about being a nerd (I sense a kinship), and she's Latina. I like her.

Plus, Terry Hope's encouraged my blogging which scores high in my books. I met Terry Hope at the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival this year. I attended her workshop on vegan blogging (since I lost that Vida Vegan Con Burrito Bonanza contest and couldn't see her in Oregon)

and saw her cooking demonstration of pastel de choclo.

I have a huge interest in Latin culture and studied Spanish for over a year. My long-time dream is to visit both Central and South America. I got a little dose when in Cuba. Also, if the British lost the war in Jamaica, mi premera lengua would have been espanol. As a child, I wished I was Puerto Rican. I learned to salsa and queca (national dances of the Dominican Republic and Chile, respectively, thanks to an ex). My fiance plays Brazilian music and now I'm soooo wanting to learn Portuguese. (I am working on a children's picture book set in Brazil.) La cultura latina is muy similar to that of Jamaica (where my parents come from). There is the whole shared history of slavery, imperialism, and colonization for starters between Jamaica and the rest of the Latin world. There are the vibrant cultures, cuisines, and music which have fans around the world. The African influences in both Jamaica and the Latin world are evident throughout music, dances, and foods. Plus, the ingredients in the food are essentially all the same: rice and beans, yams (cassava or yuca as they are called in Latin America) and potatoes, assorted corn products (non-GMO, por favor) and hot peppers. The combinations of these staples are different, for example a lot of Latin dishes contain some sort of tomato which is probably a Spanish influence and Jamaican cuisine has some types of yams, but we are essentially el mismo.

Terry Hope is muy occupada! Cooking up a storm, demos around the world, writing cookbooks (the newly released Vegan Pie in the Sky! along with Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World!, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, and Veganomicon), blogging, and running websites Vegan Latina and the PPK (Post-Punk Kitchen).

I love Viva Vegan! and I have made its recipes over the past two months. The layout of the book is primarily in black and white with red-letter print and there are some glossy colour photos as well. Each recipe and dish has been a winner and has not failed me yet. There is no tofu obsession (although TVP is used in some recipes) but instead seitan tends to be the protein of choice so if you have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or an allergy to gluten, you will need to do substitutions here. There are plenty of easy-to-follow descriptions and lots of ways to alter and substitute your dish. She also gives the background and some history about each dish. Plus, something I really love, she has written different menu options complete with which dishes go best together just in case you want to entertain and floor your guests with The Buena Vista Social Club or Latin Caribbean Buffet. There are tons of dessert recipes. I tried making the alfajores which contain dulce de leche cream. Stay tuned for another Vegan Photo Album where I share how they all turned out.

I would have loved to see more main-dish-y type recipes since that is what I cook most but in Latin cooking there is so much flexibility in making the "side dishes" into the main dish. Take empanadas for example. Instead of just having one (as a snack), you can have two or three for a meal. Lastly, I would love more pictures.

Vida Vegan! got me out to my local Mexican and Latin American stores to purchase tortillas, tomatillos, hominy corn, anatto seeds, ancho chili powder, sweet paprika, Mexican oregano, and jalapeno, serrano, and poblano peppers. Just saying all of these words is making me hungry. (Probably that and I haven't had breakfast yet.)

I feel like I have just scratched the surface in making the recipes from this book and I look forward to mucho comida Latina con sabor muy deliciosa!

Check out her cooking demo here:

The Vegan Soulfood Guide to the Galaxy: Your All-in-One Guide for Soulful Vegan Recipes, Grocery Shopping, Dining-Out, Nutrition and More! by Afya Ibomu

I first learned about Afya Ibomu in VegNews magazine. I believe she had published an article about vegan soulfood. Finding information about vegan cuisine in the Black/African diaspora is challenging so naturally I looked up Afya Ibomu. Instantly, I grew an affinity to this woman. First, like me, she is multi-dimensional and a "jill of all trades". She has a website and an online magazine called Nattral. She is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor, a trained vegan chef (Natural Gourmet Institute in New Yorkl), a mother, and received a degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. On top of that, she is the wife of stic man of socially and politically conscious hip hop group dead prez, freelance writer, and crochet artist. Her crocheted pieces have been worn by the likes of fellow vegans and vocalists, Common and Erykah Badu.

Afya was also Erykah's nutritionist on the Worldwide Underground Tour.

Besides, having all of these attributes, Ms. Ibomu has a gummy smile just like me.

Okay, okay. I've got more gums on her by at least two centimetres or more.

Periodontology (the study of gums) aside, The Vegan Soulfood Guide to the Galaxy is a refreshing addition to my collection. Initially, I wanted to purchase this book because I thought it was a vegan wellness guide. After reading the first section, I realized that this book was actually a cookbook too. Not only that, it came with this snappy DVD called Pimp My Tofu. (I don't know if I want anyone to actually pimp my tofu but it seems to be a catchy phrase.) And there is even a catchy jingle that stic man throws down. See the preview below.

I appreciate that in "punk rock" Kujichagulia (self-determination), Afya self-published this book with her publishing company Nattral Unlimited. Full of glossy black-and-white and colour pages, I am encouraged by a book like this which is very original and independent. (I have a few projects I wish to self-publish.) I also appreciate the breakdown on where a vegan can eat when going out to a restaurant and how to decipher nutritional information. It is evident that Afya was trying to reach an audience of the Black/African diaspora yet her book his in no way exclusive. Her writing is clear and worded like a conversation with your homegirl.

One thing I found a bit odd was that the recipes that were demonstrated in the video tend to be very rich and oily which seemed a bit contradictory. (She is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor, you know.) For example, the buffalo tofu was fried in palm oil shortening. I know that palm oil has been consumed by African people for centuries however it is extremely high in saturated fat. (It contains 11.1 grams in just 1 tablespoon.) Traditionally, I understand that African peoples could handle that but today, I am concerned that Black/African people in the diaspora (especially in North America) have high rates of hypertension, heart disease, and obesity which are a lot higher than that in the Motherland. Yet, I do know that Soulfood traditionally is rich. So I plan to compromise by adapting the recipe with some healthier alternatives. I also wished to see a description or some background information about each recipe as I see in other cookbooks.
Nevertheless, the foods are sumptuous and I can't wait to give them a try. Can't wait to pimp my tofu!

It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong

If I didn't read it for myself, I would never have believed that Lance Armstrong could be such a cocky son of a gun. In It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, I got a play-by-play account of cycling like I never would have otherwise. I also think that the title is totally a lie. Let's face it Lance, it is about the bike. It's about what the bike represents as well as the sport of cycling, setting goals, overcoming obstacles, and winning. It's all about that and more. Lance says that he does not believe in God (or at least not in an organized-religion sort of way, he is described as "agnostic"), yet I perceived him to be quite spiritual. Perhaps it is how he spoke about his cycling and then how he looked at his life post-cancer. He said that winning cancer was a lot more important than winning the Tour de France twice (in total, he won this 3 week long more than 3,600 kilometres (2,200 mile) race seven times post cancer.) Unlike Adam in 50/50, Lance Armstrong's testicular cancer had metastisized into his lungs and brain placing him in the worst 3% of cases seen by his oncologist.

Reading this book, I definitely got a greater appreciation for the sport of cycling but Lance began to name drop like anything and I found my head spinning. (Who was that again? Who was he?) I also learned how Lance's experience with cancer was the catalyst for developing Livestrong, the Lance Armstrong Foundation which unites, inspires and empowers people affected by cancer. I am all for an organization like this which "fights to improve the lives of people affected by cancer." This organization is an excellent example of how a vision can create a movement. The Livestrong empire hosts athletic events, fitness and leadership institutes, publishes guidebooks and resources, videos, and perhaps most famously made those yellow rubber wristbands all the trend.

He spoke so highly of his wife Kik (Kristin Richards) who stuck by him through thick and thin and did not complain. This woman sacrificed a lot for their marriage and his career including her own career and comfort. She had a huge part to play in getting Lance to cycle again after his cancer as well as starting Livestrong. So I wondered what happened between the time he wrote the book until the marriage ended three kids and four years later. But then I found this article on Oprah's site here. It looks like what Lance praised was also the downfall. Kristin was trying to be the perfect wife and the perfect mother and kept a lot of her own wishes to herself, losing herself in the process. The Lance Armstrong that was married to Kik was new to me. (I only new post-Sheryl Crow Lance Armstrong who had married other women and girlfriends. Sheryl Crow, by the way, is also a cancer survivor.) He has a history of dating celebrities. Let's take a look at his dating history. (PLEASE NOTE: This is not your typical book review and I am not your typical book reviewer. I do however have a guilty pleasure for Hollywood gossip. Humour me.)

Lance Armstrong with Kristin Richards,

Sheryl Crow,

Kate Hudson,

Anna Hansen,

and Ashley Olsen (15 years his junior).

Lance Armstrong is popular with the ladies! (He really likes blondes. I guess I have no chance.)

Okay now that I've got that out of my system, let me continue with more serious matters.

In almost 290 pages, It's Not About the Bike is a compelling read. I was hooked through most of it although I found some parts emotionally challenging to read (like the monotony and suffering during chemotherapy and the precarious nature of the Tour de France). Lance Armstrong, Texan badass on a bike, struggles and comes out a winner, displaying the human spirit's capacity to conquer all types of physical and mental obstacles. As a reader, I am better for having read this book and sharing this journey with Lance Armstrong.

One section that I most related to with Lance Armstrong on is survivorship. There was a period when Lance Armstrong talked about after he got news of his remission that lasted for over a year. During that time, he went through a "don't care" period in some respects. He spent a period of time not fully committed to or sure if he wanted to continue cycling. He played golf all day and "got fat". Was it a depression? Not sure but he certainly did not resemble the "Tour de France"-winning Lance we know. I have heard a few young adult survivors refer to this period. One said he was "lost" for about two years. Another person said he found it very difficult to do the mundane chores of life like laundry and cleaning house. For me, it is the sense of one's mortality and a huge shift of perspective. The sense that if this was the last day on Earth, what would you rather do? Chores or something a lot more fun. Judging by Lance's experience, he had a lot of people rallying to get him back on the bike but essentially they had to let him go through this period and sort some emotional stuff.

God, Faith, and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection by Jeff Levin, Ph.D.
Prayer helps healing... blah blah blah... people who go to church more are healthier... blah blah... religious people have more life satisfaction... blah blah blah... This is a basic summary of God, Faith, and Health by Jeff Levin, Ph.D. Don't get me wrong, I find the epidemiology of religion, "the scientific study of how characteristics and expressions of religious faith and practice serve to prevent morbidity and mortality and to promote health and well-being" (Levin), topic quite fascinating. When I saw this book, I was quite excited but then I became disappointed. The presentation of the information and all of the data and research was quite overwhelming and often redundant. Over and over again, through several studies quoted, Levin indicates that yes, it is quite clear that religion, faith, prayer, and meditative practices do inspire optimism, ease anxiety, promote healthy behaviours, as well as other findings as evident through scientific research. So I decided to stop reading this book by page 128 (I think I gave it the "good old college try") and fast-forwarded to the stories that started the remaining chapters. (But maybe another reason why I grew impatient with this book and stopped reading it was due to the fact that I am presently ill, dealing with a mysterious flu-ish type sickness. I have been home sick for two days. My appetite is absent. On the first day, all I did was feel extremely weak and achy and sleep constantly. Today, I woke up with cold sweats and it's stomach pains and a 'zombie like' feeling.) God, Faith, and Health reads more like a doctoral dissertation than an inspirational book to lift your spirits when you're feeling like crap. Each chapter started off with stories, testimonies if you will, of how people, including the author a reformed Jew, transformed their lives and health through joining faith-based communities, prayer, and religious observance. I get that part and it has been important for me as well. I appreciate the fact that various faiths (Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Muslims, etc.) and ethnicities (African Americans, Mexican Americans, etc.) were researched for rates of cancer, healing, recovery, happiness, and other factors. Also, I liked that the book is organized around easy-to-follow seven principles on which he discovers:
1. Religious affiliation and membership benefit health by promoting healthy behaviour and lifestyles.
2. Regular religious fellowship benefits health by offering support that buffers the effects of stress and isolation.
3. Participation in worship and prayer benefits health through the physiological effects of positive emotions.
4. Religious beliefs benefit health by their similarity to health-promoting beliefs and personality styles.
5. Simple faith benefits health by leading to thoughts of hope, optimism, and positive expectation.
6. Mystical experiences benefit health by activating a healing bioenergy or life force or altered state of consciousness.
7. Absent prayer for others is capable of healing by paranormal means or by divine intervention.

However, I felt that this book was a little too "research-y" for my taste and needed more real life stories to keep me hooked. It seemed like Levin was writing this book mostly to refute all the skeptics, his doubting professors, and a harsh scientific community by saying "kiss my tukas, I've got proof". (Tukas is a Yiddish-slang word for butt or rear-end.) I hope Dr. Levin will come back with part 2 to this book with all of the personal stories of healing that he came across during his research. Now that's a fascinating book! (Apparently, he does have other books which I'm hoping to check out.)

Sacred Woman: A Guide to Healing the Feminine Body, Mind, and Spirit by Queen Afua
If Crazy Sexy Diet was written by Erykah Badu, Sacred Woman: A Guide to Healing the Feminine Body, Mind, and Spirit by Queen Afua would be it. Where Crazy Sexy Diet is written in magazine-style, Sacred Woman is a manual of how to self-heal the female body focussing on the womb. Why start with healing at the womb? Queen Afua believes that beginning with the womb helps to heal the world of its problems as well as the spiritual, physical, and emotional body of the woman. The book really gave me an insight into the spirituality of Erykah Badu who is one of my favourite singers/artists and an observer of the ancient Khemitic (Egyptian faith). (Listen to the Baduism Live album where she talks about the ankh, ancient Khemitic symbol for life.) She is also listed as a 'Sacred Beauty Contemporary' in Sacred Woman and has a quote praising the book on the first page. (Erykah Badu is also licensed as a Holistic Health Practitioner which follows the "professional footsteps" of Queen Afua and precedes those of Crazy Sexy Diet author Kris Carr.)

What do these 3 women have in common? Holistic health practitioners.

Like Crazy Sexy Diet, Sacred Woman focuses on the foods we eat (mostly raw vegan is recommended, although Queen Afua does not use this term), juicing, cleansing, colonics, meditation at an altar, and yoga. At first, I wondered if Kris Carr rewrote Sacred Woman as Crazy Sexy Diet because her tips were so similar to those of Queen Afua. Sacred Woman was quite dense and detailed and, at times, I felt a bit lost wondering what exactly was the bigger picture. This book is like a whole course on Africentric (more specifically Khemitic) spirituality, womb healing, nutrition, and alternative healing practices. Queen Afua uses an instructive, very prescriptive, and disciplined plan (she recommends rising at 4 to 6 am everyday to begin the healing program) that is a series of 9 Gateways of Initiation to be completed over several weeks for each one. One may interpret this book as trying to convert one to practice a particular religion, yet on page 133 Queen Afua depicts how women of nine faiths (Christianity, Yoruba, Nubian/Khamitic, Rastafari, Islam, Hari Krishna, Hebrew Israelite, Buddhism, and Aboriginal) may find a connection to this text. Sacred Woman is very specific with such things as the elements, oils, prayers, colour visualizations, and herbal tonics designed for each gateway. Other more general practices which apply to all the gateways include libations, prayers, fire breaths, and chants. I did not read the entire book but stopped at page 137 since Queen Afua devoted the next 225 pages of very detailed rituals, recipes, homeopathic, and herbal recommendations for each Gateway. Each Gateway has creative suggestions that I like too for literature, movement, music, and even hairstyles to celebrate the woman. I find many of her suggestions helpful but it is a lot to wrap my head around. This healing plan does have some proven effectiveness since it shrunk the uterine fibroids of A. Breeze Harper, the author of Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society. Click here to listen to her speak about how Sacred Woman helped her. There is some "taken for granted"-ness in Sacred Woman that the reader fully understands Queen Afua's healing philosophy. It feels a lot like getting a textbook for a course that you know bits and pieces about without having an instructor to guide you through. Nevertheless, I am interested in reading more Queen Afua books like Heal Thyself which I thought Sacred Woman was when I first bought it in Harlem. Perhaps, a re-read or comparison of other works will help me to gain a better understanding.

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

Thank goodness for books on CD. If AudioBooks haven't been invented, I don't think I would have got around to reading any of Eckhart Tolle's books. So I started off with A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose which was first published in 2005, instead of The Power of Now which was published in 2000, because the former worked in my car's CD-player. For some reason my audio system did not take too well to The Power of Now. Not yet, at least. Filled with heady monologue, mysticism, and new age wisdom, A New Earth is modern-day spiritual guide to living mindfully and humbly. Being a best-selling novel and Oprah's Book Club pick, this work borrows from Christianity, Sufism, Buddhism, and other spiritual teachings with a focus on self-development and not being ruled by the "ego". There were several "kernels of wisdom" that I may have to review in this book. Since I listened to A New Earth while driving, my concentration was divided and I felt that I missed some things which I would have loved to rewind and listen to again if my CD player was working better. A message I took home is that in order to make a generous contribution to the world, one must begin with the self and that today there is a collective move towards introspection and living more consciously. One must find his or her own inner and outer calling. The inner calling is enlightenment or awakening. The outer calling is a reflection of the inner calling. Eckhart Tolle says that in order to eliminate the suffering of the self and others, one must choose activities or apply oneself to his or her work with at least one of the following: acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm. I find that these three qualities are necessary in the application of oneself toward work and great guidelines for finding one's own purpose and destiny. Today, I finally got The Power of Now to work on my car's CD player so I look forward to gaining an even deeper understanding of Eckhart Tolle's work.

Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson

The vegan is a herbivore in an omnivorous world. Ever notice how much it costs to buy vegetables? I have noticed in the low income areas of my city (Toronto) that it is more and more difficult to find healthy options. Thank God for supermarkets that offer healthy goods at decent prices. Sometimes, I buy foods at these businesses when I need to stretch (s-t-r-e-t-c-h) my dollar. But most of the times I choose to eat organic which is a little pricier but eliminates the other stuff I don't want like pesticides, genetic modification (GMO), and more fair farming practices. There is a reason why buying vegetables cost more in the US which is the government (RE: tax dollars) heavily subsidize the meat and dairy industries which are largely factory farmed. Thus, it is cheaper to buy meat and dairy than veggies in the US. Having grocery shopped in both the US (New York City to be exact) and Canada, I think we Canadians have it a bit better for purchasing fresh produce at more affordable rates. There are more options for me living in Toronto to rely on cheaper healthier sources for my veggies like food co-operatives (like Karma Food Co-Op, The Big Carrot), discount supermarkets (like No Frills, Price Chopper), community non-profit initiatives to access healthy food for all (like FoodShare, The Stop), and farmer's markets (like Dufferin Grove, Evergreen, The Stop Farmer's Market). Whole Foods, a popular US food chain which stocks many a vegan product, is relatively new in Canada. I thought we still had two locations but now I've seen that it has expanded to seven. Although very lovely, Whole Foods is considered more high end and a bit of a luxury here in Canada. Whereas my sister in the US indicates that Whole Foods is not that much different in price than other supermarkets.

Veganism is replete with healthy options. So when a book like Vegan on the Cheap: Great Recipes and Simple Strategies that Save You Time and Money by Robin Robertson comes along, it's a lifesaver. Now vegan eating is not only cheaper but takes less time. I really appreciate that. I will be going back to work soon and juggling writing, planning a wedding, and other commitments, so any tool that helps me to save on these precious resources (time and money) is a god-sent. So what can you learn from this book? On Page 2, Robin starts off with selling you on, "How a Vegan Diet Can Save You Money?" 1. Grocery bills, 2. Medical bills, and 3. Dining out. The cost of being a vegan is slightly higher upfront but can have a great benefit in the long run. She provides helpful meal planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation tips, as well as a cost saving comparison chart. If you make some of the vegan basics (such as mayonnaise, salsa, sun-dried tomatoes, seitan, vegetable broth) from recipes in her book instead of buying the store-bought products, you can save over $ 72.39. I have had the pleasure of trying out many of these recipes, which you can find photos of in my Vegan on a Budget (Vegan Photo Album 4), for the last few months. Vegan on the Cheap is a frugal masterpiece and a necessary addition to the thrifty efficient cook's bookshelf. Robin Robertson has also written a whole library of vegan cookbooks which you can check out on her site here.

Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr

The title of this book should be "How to Make Going Vegan, Living Healthy, and Holistic Healing Hot and Sexy". Budweiser babe/model/actress turned author Kris Carr of Crazy Sexy Diet, does it again with an enlightened and detailed book about how to revolutionize and shake up your existence with green juice, meditation, alternative medicine, and righteous living. This book is Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman meets The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone with a few splashes of Cosmopolitan Magazine in the mix. It's too bad that this book is called Crazy Sexy Diet. Although, Carr selected a sensational title with sexy catch words ("crazy" "sexy" and "diet"), most folks may think this book is all about losing weight. That it is not. In this book, "diet" refers to the meaning of the word which is regimen, routine, habitual nourishment and, specifically, cleanse. (But no one would by a book called Crazy Sexy Cleanse. "Diet" is a sexy word for marketers.) If you "habitually nourished" yourself, using Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Diet, you'd be one righteous, glowing, and vibrant babe. Unlike her other books Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor and Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips, Crazy Sexy Diet is not specifically designed for cancer patients, survivors, or supporters. Crazy Sexy Diet is for everyone!!!

Chock full of hypercolour "retro" graphics, bright photos, CSD (Crazy Sexy Diet) testimonials, and "brainfood" from such holistic experts as Kathy Freston (The Veganist) and Dr. Neal Barnard (Food for Life, Dr. Neil Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes), Crazy Sexy Diet is a fun light read. Carr does an amazing job of making raw veganism look doable, easy, and fun. (Instead of hours and hours of preparation.) Although, she states that she is not trying to convince everyone to become a herbivore, she provides many compelling reasons. Carr, who was diagnosed with an extremely rare uncurable sarcoma called epithelioid hemangioendothelioma (EHE), took life "by the balls" and her health into her own hands. She became an expert in her illness, certified at the Hippocrates Health Institute (HHI), and changed her life patterns (no more "flirting with coke" and drinking). As a result, although her cancer was diagnosed at Stage 4, it has not progressed and "it is frozen in time". Carr is an amazing person who shows you that living with cancer is not a death sentence. The Crazy Sexy Diet is the secret to her longevity and vibrancy, the theory behind her madness or should I say "crazy"ness. Testimonials from a number of her readers and workshop-/class-takers attest to the effectiveness of the CSD in relieving symptoms from cancer, diabetes, depression, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), arthritis, and other conditions.

I am inspired by the helpful hints and plan to try the Crazy Sexy Diet in two weeks (#3 on my Funky Sexy Manifesto list). This week is Wean Week in which I begin to drop my junkfood vegan ways. First, of all, I need to get back into juicing my veggies. (I totally dropped of the bandwagon on that one. It's certainly worth my time.) Second of all, I need to eat more salad, greens, and vegetables raw. (I am going to look for more ways to dress them up.) Third, I need to drink more water and phase out gluten for a while. (Aaahhh!) We'll see how the Wean Week goes and then I'm off to try the Crazy Sexy Diet. I must admit that I'm a little nervous with the other suggestions. The meditations, massages, and yoga I can handle but enemas and colon therapy? A little scary but if it worked for the Ancient Egyptians... well... we'll see... Raw foods (60/40, 80/20) are a little stretch for me with my cooked foods. Enzymes, probiotics, and dry-brushing, now that I know the value of these, I can implement them. I hope the CSD can give me an energy boost as I prepare to return to work. Carr states the CSD benefits to be:
- a super-sexy glow
- fewer colds
- quick healing of both cuts and colds
- terrific, regular, stink-free poops
- healthy organs
- clear skin and sinuses
- leaner abs and a tighter butt
- a revved-up sex drive
- better sleep
- sweet breath
- strong bones and pain-free joints
- lower cholesterol and blood pressure (without pills)
- balanced blood sugar
- consistent energy
- fewer blues, and more clarity
- less "dis-ease"

Sounds great, eh? (That was so Canadian, eh?) And it's drug-free so no drug company is profiting from the CSD (but maybe the alternative healing/natural wellness companies which make the products listed in this book do). Unlike those prescriptions medications advertised on television, you will not get a list of all those side-effects muttered at the end of the commercial that sound a lot worse than the disease/illness you were trying to retreat. However with the CSD, like all "detox" programs, there are some temporary side effects that happen but do not last due to all of the toxins leaving your system. (Doesn't that sound nice?)

I loved this book and will continue to refer to it in the future. Nothing that Kris Carr is saying is new here (except in her own unique voice). Crazy Sexy Diet connects with many of the books I read and reviewed like Anti-Cancer, Skinny Bitch, The China Study, The Kind Diet, The Veganist, and Foods That Fight Cancer. With creativity and gusto, Kris does add new information and re-packages the information with young and sexy appeal, showing she did her research, knows her shit, and gives credit when it is due. Check out Kris Carr here on video:

21-Day Cleanse

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Part 1
This is the first time I felt compelled to write a book review in parts. I recently learned about The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, written by Siddhartha Mukherjee from Linda, a young breast cancer survivor. Linda reads and recommends a lot of great books. Thanks to her, I've read some great literature. You can check out her blog here.

OMG! What an intense drama! There are heros, martyrs, villains, and ideological, technological, and scientific wizardry. Author/oncologist (cancer specialist) Mukherjee pens a tale which inspires hope, terror, and pity. This non-fiction work takes you through the biography of the disease known as "The Emperor of All Maladies", aka cancer. From etymology (Karkinos- crab and onkos-lump) to various early crude form of treatment, cancer is an illness which has gone through tons of trial and error approaches ranging from the barbaric (acid and fire to burn off tumours) to bloodletting to radically radical mastectomies. I felt on the edge of my seat for most of this book, sensing the urgency of its players as they participated in the war against cancer. The lone "mad" scientists who worked on treatments in the basements of cancer hospitals, the scores of young leukemia patients who were the subjects of potentially deadly clinical trials, and the "stab in the dark" for an answer to this mysterious, allusive illness. From the first potential citing of cancer dating back to 2500 BC, doctors have tried to rid the body of cancer. The ideologies change and the approaches become more refined but essentially the disease, metamorphasizes, metastisizes, and fools. This book helped me to appreciate the sacrifice of the early visionaries, these oncologists who persisted in spite of the dissension of their peers, the limitations of the medical industry, and the thousands of children and adults who were subjected to these early critical trials when cures were so desparately sought after. I give my props for Siddhartha Mukerjee for compiling this rivoting book which must have taken years of tireless research through medical journals, newspapers, and interviews.

Unfortunately, I have to do this review in parts. I had borrowed Emperor of All Maladies from the library and now I must return it. There are 472 pages in this book and it is a "Best Bets: 7 Day Loan". I managed to get to page 167 in seven days. So this is where I'll stop for now.

Lotus in the Fire: The Healing Power of Zen by Jim Bedard

'Do not underestimate the healing power of prayer!' seems to be the most important message of Lotus in the Fire: The Healing Power of Zen by Jim Bedard. In 1995, Jim Bedard was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). AML is a quickly progressing and deadly form of blood cancer. I knew that Bedard was an otherwise healthy, strong, active, vegetarian who meditated regularly, and would have been considered "low risk" yet he still got cancer. There is an irony in that which I have encountered in my readings on healthy, nutrition, and cancer-prevention. Bedard comments on this when he is confronted with loads of unsolicited advice on treatments, diets, and therapies from random family members as well as strangers. He at once realized that in his healthier state, he used to deliver this advice to the "couch potatoes" in his circle. How annoying and inundating! I pray that I do not become like these folks as it is evident that practicing an active, plant-based lifestyle does not fully prevent cancer.

In this book, Jim Bedard seems to focus on describing the lengthy, painful, and complicated treatment of AML. He brings you into the trenches with him and I felt as if entered his mind, sensing his worries, defeats, aches, as well as his triumphs and joys (even his nausea) at times. Lotus in the Fire was not quite what I expected. Before reading this book, I thought it would be more of a "how-to" get through cancer book through meditation and Zen philosophy. Instead, it was a diary about one man's spiritual journey through healing. I felt this book was inspiring but written more for a Buddhist audience. Published by Shambhala publications, a publisher of "books on Buddhism and classics of the wisdom traditions", I felt that I seriously needed a dictionary to comprehend some of the words used in this text such as sesshin, zazen, kannon, and bodhisattva. Although I appreciate and practice some aspects of a Buddhist worldview including meditation and read the work of visionaries like Thich Nacht Hanh, a lot of terms and ideas were new to me including the idea that his cancer was caused by "past lives" or karma being played out.

Through the bone marrow transplant, surgeries, three chemotherapy programs (each lasting several weeks), radiations, unrelentless nausea and vomiting, severe headaches, lengthy hospitalizations, isolation, and intensive care unit (ICU) stays, atrophy of his muscles, weightloss, hairloss, dehydration, internal bleeding, weakness, and medication side-effects, Bedard really paints a detailed picture for the reader about the beastly nature of AML. There are several moments when Bedard thought he was going to die and in fact this might have been an easier choice in his mind, yet he continues to fight and "choose life" throughout the journey. Although he has had a "few out of body" experiences. Despite it all, he is able to inspire other patients and find solace in his spirituality. Bedard continues to remain thankful, express gratitude, and pray throughout his arduous ordeal.

There is a lot to be said for the effectiveness of prayer in this book, whether it is from his Buddhist sensei (teacher, I know that word), friends, and members of his Zen centre or his Catholic nieces and nephews, family members, and members of congregations around the world. There is a lot to be said for the effectiveness of a devoted spouse, spiritual congregation, and caring family, friends, and teachers who consistently surround him even if it is just to sit in the same room or chant in another room. There is a lot to be said about the human spirit and how it can persevere in times of difficulty. So there you have it! A plan for healing. Faith, community, and self!

I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to understand the "ins" and "outs" of a deadly cancer diagnosis. What is it like to be told that you may have only days or weeks to live? How does it feel when you are offered treatments that could help you but there is also a chance that they could kill you? How does a cancer diagnosis affect the "co-survivors"-- the spouses, children, parents, family, and friends? How can one's faith assist in the healing process? After reading this book, I became even more grateful and aware of the blessings in my life. It is a reminder to prayerfully seek the learning opportunities in even life's most difficult situations.

Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr

April 8, 2011 Funky Sexy Cancer
Girl gets cancer. Girl is dissatisfied with diagnosis and the fact there is no known cause to cancer. Girl seeks answers. Girl reads books. Girl has awakening. Girl changes diet (becomes vegan). Girl focuses on healing journey. Girl does more yoga, meditates more, and looks to food as medecine. Girl reaches out and meets other cancer warriors. Girl turns to alternative medicine treatments. This is my story.
But then I was surfing the net and learned about Crazy Sexy Diet. I go to visit a website called Crazy, Sexy, Cancer and I learn about Kris Carr. Her journey sounds a lot like my journey. ALOT like my journey.
I stop feeling quite so original.

But then I remember TLC's album "Crazy, Sexy, Cool" released in 1994. And I realize that Kris Carr is not quite so original after all.

I chose to reprint my very first Blue Butterfly blogpost above to illustrate how similar Kris Carr's cancer survivorship journey was to my own. And in illustrating how I felt about my journey, beginning a blog, learning how it works, and then going public/worldwide with my diagnosis, I thought I was original, different, and no one else felt this way. How wrong I was! After attending the Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) East Retreat this year, workshops, and various support groups for young adults with cancer, I have learned instead that my cancer journey was and is very similar to many survivors as Kris Carr illustrates in Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips. When I first learned about Kris Carr, I had my (oh so wrong) preconceived notions of this Budweiser beer babe/model/actress/photographer turned health educator/advocate/cancer activist.

(I give her 'nuff respec' for completing her Health Educator certification at the Hippocrates Health Institute.) I thought it would be all fluff and no substance but boy was I wrong. (I know, I know... you can't judge a book by its cover.) I am so glad that I began reading this book after my survivorship began because now I could really understand and relate to Kris Carr's message more clearly. At age 31, Kris Carr was diagnosed with Stage IV epithelioid hemangioendothelioma (EHE), a very rare cancer with no known cause or cure and very few treatment options. Immediately, Kris began to take her diagnosis and fate in her own hands by going through a journey of self-healing. Although today, at age 39, Kris is technically not cured of cancer (she lives with "indolent" or non-progressive, stable tumors), she takes us on her journey. When I was first diagnosed and going through my surgery and treatments, I was not ready, clear-headed, or prepared to mentally absorb the sorts of cancer tips that Carr describes. I had to figure out my own "funky sexy cancer" tips, ones that worked for me and define my own journey. But I notice huge overlaps with Carr's journey and my own.

Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips is organized into eight chapters that contain almost 80 tips to go from "Cancer Babe to Cancer Cowgirl". I feel that many of the tips have already been a part of my journey such as:
Tip no. 7 Get a shrink! (A counsellor does wonders)
Tip no. 8 Telling people does get easier over time (I decided to do this through facebook and my blog)
Tip no. 12 Don't tell everyone (in some circles, this feels right to me)
Tip no. 14 Find a penpal (I found one through the thyroid cancer forum)
Tip no. 19 Seek second (and third!) opinions (I had four endocrinologists)
Tip no. 22 Create and maintain a medical binder (mine is a really thick purple file folder)
Tip no. 36 Replace the word patient with the word survivor (survivorship is in my arsenal)
Tip no. 39 Make a List of 10 Things You've Always Wanted to Do and Try Them (I made a list of survivor resolutions after I got my great news so Ima' gonna' start on them)
Tip no. 40 Awaken your artistic mojo! (mine are blogging, writing, drawing, music)
Tip no. 42 Take a cancercation (I've taken a couple-- Newfoundland, Montreal, soon New York)

Like Carr, I have also used my "cancer card", gone vegan, and "shaken my ass" (got active).

With colourful, glossy photographs, notable quotes, quirky anecdotes, and profiles and advice from her creative cancer posse, this book was much a joy to read and felt like getting good advice from your big sister or your homegirl. (According to Kris, her oncologist is her homeboy.) Carr tells you how to eat right, look good, and feel like a cancer-fighting goddess as well as other topics like dating, how to "get your freak on", and beauty tips. You too can be a hot crazy sexy cancer survivor cowgirl.

I so much appreciate a profile from the late Oni Faida Lampley, an African-American playwright, actress, and artist who shared her wisdom. Like her, I am a Black woman who has found very few "survivor" stories from women of colour. In African diasporic (African-American in Oni's case, Afri-Jamaican in my case) culture, as in others, it is still quite taboo to discuss cancer openly but I am glad that Oni talked about her search for Black "survivor role models". (For more on the cultural aspect of cancer, read Everything Changes in which one survivor discusses this subject at length.) I loved reading Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips because it reminded me of a cross-between Cosmo and Shape magazines. and cannot wait to read other books in the Crazy Sexy franchise with a dash of Sex and the City. Click here to get a taste of the Crazy Sexy Life by visiting Carr's awesome blog and website. I will be reviewing her other books as well.

Everything Changes: The Insider's Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s by Kairol Rosenthal

Guilt, empathy, and intrigue are some of the feelings that I had as I read Everything Changes: The Insider's Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s by Kairol Rosenthal. However, I needed to ask myself, did I miss something with my cancer experience? As I read thirteen chapters that delved into the lives of young adult cancer patients and survivors in their twenties and thirties, I got into the horrible habit of comparing their experiences with my own. OMG! There were survivors in this book who had it really bad. One turned to self-cutting, others had serial one night stands and slept around, went into deep depression, became suicidal, infertile, or drug addicted. Two had divorces. It was quite bleak! I felt guilty in some way that I did not experience those things and "got off easy". (If "easy" is defined as surgery, hypocalcemia, "going hypo", hyperthyroid, side effects, scarring, radiation, isolation, hormone replacement, long wait times for second opinions, lack of finances, unavailability of medication, uncertainties, loneliness, depression, and anxieties. I had issues with my insurance and getting coverage but it eventually came around, and that is a long eventually. I didn't say the guilt was logical.) I hate to do the comparison game but this is not your typical uplifting or inspiring cancer book in the sense that no one is running a marathon, climbing Mount Everest, or winning seven Tour de Frances but it is insightful. (Sorry! Lance Armstrong often pops into my blogs lately.) Everything Changes is gritty, seedy, and dark. It is more like a documentary in which some of the characters you get so attached to die at the end (leaving children behind). The book paints a sadly sobering and realistic picture of cancer. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I read this book (and I couldn't put it down finishing the 239 pages in two days). It was refreshing to read real stories about real people. But Kairol's subjects (the young adult cancer patients she interviews across the US) are going through some really tough "shit". Really "tough". Kairol, herself, has thyroid cancer which makes recurrences during the writing of this book. Ugh! It is tough. Kariol is tough too (and extremely opinionated telling off Louise Hay). Full of suggestions to make you into your own cancer advocate, access resources, and deal with "hard to discuss" stuff like sexuality and mental health and wise quotes from cancer survivors and patients, I was waiting for a bright light at the end of the tunnel. It didn't come. What did come is an increased sense of urgency for the plight of young adults with cancer. Since the year that Elvis died (1977, I know because I was born that year), there have been no improvements in the survival rates of young adults with cancer. The survival rates for children with cancer as well as older adults have both improved. Why? Young adults are diagnosed later since their symptoms are ignored and attributed to stupid shit like the flu or "the sexual positions" (page 170) they are using. Many doctors are saying to their sick young adult patients, "It's not cancer, you're too young to have cancer." They get diagnosed in stage 3 and 4 (which is pretty late) and they have different side effects to treatment. They are more likely to not have health insurance, especially since they are too old to be on their parents' and there is a gap of time between this and finding a stable career with health benefits. I also became more aware of the disparity between the US and Canada healthcare systems. Canadians get a minimum level of healthcare and even the drugs which are not covered by health insurance can be covered with a provincial health benefit. The path to get coverage in the US is a labyrinth. Sheesh! This is a desperate situation. No one, especially young adults who Kairol mentions have at least 2 decades of education invested in them with lots of talent and potential, should have to go through cancer alone or broke. This book did not give me "an uplift" like other materials designed for cancer patients yet it reminded me very much of the trenches I was in not too long ago as well as the varied experiences of my friends with cancer. Cancer patients can read this so they know they're not alone. Doctors and other health professionals should read this to learn about the huge psychosocial impact of cancer on young adults. Family and friends of cancer patients should read this to get inside their heads. This book helps me to realize and be so thankful for all of the support, resources, and people I had along my journey.

I almost forgot to mention that Kairol Rosenthal has a website and blog for Everything Changes. I had the pleasure of corresponding with Kariol recently and she even responded to my post Money Talks I. I decided to post her comment in a separate post called Money Talks II.

The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell III

Why did I become vegan overnight? What made me say goodbye to fried chicken, ice cream, and milk chocolate? (Confessional: Although, I did have a few "cave ins" for Red Velvet Cake, peanut butter brownie, and cheesecake.) What evidence compelled me that being vegan was the right decision? Well, much of it began with the evidence presented in The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II (father-son team). Be warned! This book could change your life. From The Kind Diet to the Anti-Cancer to Skinny Bitch (all three book titles are reviewed on this blog) to Bill Clinton (click to see how Clinton became vegan to combat his heart disease), The China Study has been cited as a "breakthrough" in preventive nutrition. "Preventive" is only part of the fun. We are talking about regressing and reversing disease too. Author T. Colin Campbell, primary researcher of the China Study, discusses the significant evidence that a whole foods, plant-based diet can prevent and slow growths of such chronic diseases as cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, obesity, Alzheimer's, and diabetes. The preliminary studies for the China Study began while T. Colin Campbell was researching the incidence of liver cancer amongst children in the Philippines. He discovered that there was a higher prevalence of this disease among more affluent communities (where a more Western diet was consumed) than among the poorer. In addition, he learned about an Indian study that showed rats who received higher doses of animal protein developed cancers when a carcinogen was administered. The rats who did not develop cancer received far less animal protein. The cancerous tumour growth rates in the rats could be "turned on and off" by adjusting the animal protein intake. (I do not promote for studies on animals.) These results were so impressive to Campbell that he decided to repeat the India study. Enter the China Study. Often genetics are designated as the primary causes of many chronic diseases. What Campbell is saying is that heredity accounts for a much smaller source of chronic disease than we originally thought. Campbell claims that it is diet that has far more influence on the outcomes of chronic diseases and by eating a whole food plant-based diet, we get sick a lot less than a Western diet which consists of high amounts of animal protein. In order to "rule out" the genetic factor (and building on the earlier work of Chou EnLai and 650, 000), Campbell joined forces with Dr. Junshi Chen and thousands of researchers in China, where the genetic population is 87% homogeneous (genetically of the same ethnic group, the Han people, in other countries like the United States there is more genetic differences), to research dietary correlations with disease. Selecting China for this study means that for a large part, the genetic influence on the occurrence of disease is eliminated. The whole study took over twenty years. What did they find? Over 8, 000 associations between dietary factors and disease. (All of which are too voluminous to mention in this book.) To embrace the China Study, you got to throw out everything you learned in health class. First of all, Campbell claims that most of the health curriculum that is taught in public and medical schools is a result of a corporate agenda. (I recall coming up with milk advertisements to be read over the public announcement system as a student council executive in high school.) Second, you got to accept and see evidence of the conspiracy in place to keep people sick and make profits for the pharmaceutical industries and technologies. Third, you got to try out a whole foods plant-based diet for yourself and watch your bones get stronger, your blood sugar-levels normalize, as well as your cholesterol, blood pressure, and cancerous tumours regress, and your weight drop. Fourth, you have to understand the mainland Chinese diet vastly differs from the Western diet. The Chinese diet is high-fibre, high-calorie, low-fat, high plant-protein, and predominantly plant-based. However this is changing in some areas of China and as those diets become more Westernized (high-fat, high animal protein, low fibre) so are the increased incidents of chronic disease. In fact, there have been studies suggested by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and others which show a much higher increase of chronic diseases among third and fourth generation Chinese and Japanese living in America than those individuals who still live in China and Japan. Note: Most of the world lives on a plant-based diet which is why you can find awesome vegan dishes at restaurants of the Ethiopian, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, etc. variety. Lastly, you got to read the book The China Study. Why haven't you heard this information before? Well, when you have an unpopular idea, against the status quo, and especially when your evidence is so compelling, you get shunned. Campbell, Esseltyn, and others have been accused of quackery and "false miracle cures". Campbell provides several negative examples of the repercussions of speaking your mind and showing compelling evidence. Unfortunately, there are not enough practitioners in the medical establishment who want to change their methods. And not enough medical practitioners have a sufficient knowledge of nutrition which is still considered a "soft science". Most medical practitioners rely on "hard science" surgery, technology, and pharmaceuticals but these often have side effects (which is why other medications or treatments are prescribed) and do not offer cures. A serious and sobering statistic: Twenty percent of all new drugs have serious unknown side effects, and more than 100, 000 Americans die every year from correctly taking their properly prescribed medication (page 335). Alternative medicine is still seen by some as uneffective and airy fairy although our ancestors understood the importance of these methods. (I experienced this as I told my endocrinologists and anathesiologist that I see a naturopath.) Please Note: I am not knocking the use of medicine or technology here. I am advocating for the implementation of nutritional prevention which will aid the healing process and decrease the need for invasive methods such as surgery and medicines. I believe in multi-faceted approaches to attack disease. I myself have integrated surgery, radiation, Traditional Chinese medicine (cupping, herbs, and acupuncture), naturopathy (homeopathics, herbs), counselling, art therapy, Reiki, community/social/church support, my faith, yoga, and dietary changes into my own healing program. These all have been helpful in making me feel healthy and stronger. Campbell (and Esselstyn) experienced such resistance from his colleagues about recommending plant-based diets to heart disease patients because they claimed that people do not want to change. Ironically, it was these same colleaguessaw Campbell and Esselstyn for preventive nutritional voice on their own heart disease (and sent their families to them). Another thing I learned is the importance of eating whole foods as opposed to everything in itemized vitamin and mineral tablets. This was also mentioned in Foods That Fight Cancer. How does this all relate to the origin of my thyroid cancer? Well, you will find out some of my thoughts in my upcoming article, Why Do I Have Thyroid Cancer? In the meantime, spend the $ 20 and read the almost 400 pages of The China Study. It is worth it. For the movie version, watch Forks Over Knives playing at an independent theatre near you. You know when you find out something so amazing, some wonderfully great news and you want everyone to know, yeah, well this is it!

FOODS THAT FIGHT CANCER: Preventing Cancer Through Diet by Richard Beliveau, Ph.D., and Denis Gingras, Ph.D.
There is an amazing secret. An answer to a long-sought mystery and it lurks in your refrigerator, your cupboards, and your local supermarket. The response to the age-old mystery in which billions of research, trillions of dollars in medical procedures, treatments, and millions who get diagnosed annually... what causes cancer? According to Beliveau, Gingras, and his research team, preventable factors and 30% of the time it is poor dietary habits. When I learned about this news, I wondered why there were no protests, riots in the street, or wars between fast food restaurants, agricultural and meat industries, and the general public. The information suggests that sometimes we are responsible for our cancer diagnoses. Louise Hay and Carolyn Myss, Ph.D. suggest that cancer is caused by psychosocial and emotional issues. And now this? On the pie chart on Page 19, there is a pie chart that displays RISK FACTORS FOR CANCER. Hereditary factors (15%), workplace-related exposure (5%), infection (5%), and other environmental only account for a combined 30%. Other factors such as smoking (30%), , alcohol (3%), obesity and lack of exercise (5%), UV-ray exposure (2%), drugs (2%), pollution (2%), other (1%), plus the poor dietary habits account for the other 70% are considered preventable factors. I have to ask some questions since I realize that drugs, UV-ray exposure, and pollution may be considered both within control or beyond the immediate control of the individual. For example, if a child had melanoma and was administered radiation therapy to treat and later grew up and developed thyroid cancer as a latent side-effect of the treatment that was administered years prior, this is not within his immediate control. If one chooses to ignore the warnings about UV-ray exposure from the sun by not applying sunscreen for example, she increases the risk for skin cancer. The lines can be blurred sometimes.

The answer to the question about what causes cancer is so complex and I am quite fascinated to know all of the theories. In practice, I have mentioned in my book reviews that there is a lot to learn with theories such as Beliveau/Gingras so I will share with you the things that I did. These researchers found that the most effective way to prevent the start of a cancer and slow down cancer cell growths is by preventing angiogenesis, the formation of blood vessels which provide the necessary nutrients and oxygen to a tumour. The researchers suggest that food is most effective in blocking the formation of these tumour-feeding blood vessels in ways that the more conventional treatments of cancer such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are not. The way I look at it is that in addition to the conventional treatments (I have had both surgery and radiation), food is my most potent plan of defence. First, I am in control of what I eat and second, there are no side effects except a full belly. (Or anaphylactic allergic side effects if I eat the fish which I can't and won't anyway.)

I learned about this book in a Vegetarian Cooking Class and Workshop offered at Wellspring Cancer support centre. The dietician who presented this workshop focused on the FOODS THAT FIGHT CANCER (but included a few others she added as well). These FOODS THAT FIGHT CANCER are:
1) Cabbage family which includes all cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, collard greens, turnip, watercress
2) Garlic and onions also includes such things as leeks, shallots, and chives
3) Soy also includes edamame, dry roasted soybeans, miso, soya sauce, tofu, soy milk
4) Turmeric
5) Green Tea
6) Berriesincludes strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries
7) Fish for their Omega 3 fatty acids but if you are vegan and/or anaphylactic like me you can get the same benefits in flax seed, soy, and nuts
8) Tomatoes are here because of their lycopene but so are watermelon, guava, and pink grapefruit
9) Citrus Fruit includes oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and mandarins (clementines, tangerines)
10) Red wine but you can get some of these benefits in grapes
and my favourite
11) Chocolate but not the milk kind that I love but dark chocolate

There are other plant-based foods, fruits, and vegetables that could be added to the list such as eggplant, celery, spinach, apples, mushrooms, and algae.

And it's not because these foods contain a lot of vitamins and minerals (although these help), it's that they contain phytochemicals which actually slow the growth of these cancer cells. Isn't that exciting???

I love books like this because they give me such a sense of hope. A hope that cancer fighting is in the hands of the patient and not only in the hands of the medical establishment. There are things we can do!

So whether you have been diagnosed with cancer or not, I recommend this book. Beyond cancer, it provides a lot of healthy suggestions for diet which can help prevent other diseases and illnesses as well. I think our ancestors knew it best since many of them ate these foods readily. The ancient Japanese first drank green tea for healing and now it is quite integrated in their culture. The same goes for garlic and onions in southern European and Asian cuisines. Indians ate turmeric and black pepper in combination to increase their healing potential. Isn't this amazing???

So before you think I'm a lunatic, read this book!!!!

NOTE: Shout out to Gingras and Beliveau, my new French-Canadian research homeboys!!!

THE TROPICAL VEGAN KITCHEN: Meat-free, Egg-free, Dairy-free Dishes from the Tropics by Donna Klein
On a visit to my local library, I was pleasantly surprised yet suspicious to see THE TROPICAL VEGAN KITCHEN: Meat-free, Egg-free, Dairy-free Dishes from the Tropics. Surprised because, “Wow, it’s a vegan cookbook!” but on the other hand suspicious since it had no photographs whatsoever (except for the salad on the cover). Cooking with a cookbook that has no photographs is kind of like seeing someone in person after you’ve read their profile on a dating website. There are definite risks involved. Have no fear! Unlike said dating site, THE TROPICAL VEGAN KITCHEN does not tell you he is 6 foot 5 when he is really 5 foot 2 or that he is built like Taylor Lautner when he is more like Michael Cera (not that there is anything wrong with him, geek chic is in). And just like Michael Cera, this cookbook is quite an amazing find, humble and smart but not as typecast. The best part is that as an amateur chef I could feel confident preparing Aussie-Style Fettuccine with Basil-Macadamia Pesto without comparing it to professional food photographs found in other cookbooks. The dishes in this book take you around the world to sunny, exotic, and breezy locales. The Thai Pineapple Fried Rice is to die for and no quesadilla would be complete without Kiwifruit Salsa. Want to try an interesting flavour combination? Try sinking your teeth into coconut milk-moistened banana, pineapple, kiwifruit, and mango chunks in the Tropical Whole-Grain Muffin. I even got in touch with my ancestral roots by making some serious Roasted Vegetables in African Peanut Sauce on Fufu. THE TROPICAL VEGAN KITCHEN will take your tastebuds on vacation.

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay
I just finished an uplifting conversation with Louise Hay today. Well actually, no. But I did finish reading You Can Heal Your Life and it felt like listening to Louise giving her best advice. Dominated by affirmations, Hay opens this book as she would one of her sessions. She recommends that one reads this book all the way through and then go back a second time to complete the series of exercises. Where Myss emphasizes locating the disease and possible causes, Hay is more direct. She believes that people are responsible for their dis-eases and they can be overcome through personal change. Like Myss, Hay links body parts and ailments with particular causes. She suggests the thyroid ailments are related to humiliation and lack of self-expression. Cancer is related to deep resentments that stem from childhood and eat away at the body. Hmmmm… this brings up a whole host of other questions. What about cancer in children? Do they cause their own disease? Well, Hay tries to answer it in her way. Again, this is her theory. The part which spoke most to me were the affirmations and the empowerment I gained from reading this book. Things don’t just happen. There is a purpose to everything including disease. I found links with my own spiritual beliefs as I saw connections with Christ’s teachings. We all have the power to affect change in the world and it all starts within.

The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck
I decided to read TThe Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck once I heard a glowing report from a woman who is a cancer survivor. She loved this book and spoke so highly of it. I had heard of it in the nineties when I believe that it was a bestseller. So given all of these recommendations, I eagerly borrowed it from the library and read it. I was extremely disappointed with this book. It started off well. Dr. Peck is a psychiatrist and discusses main themes exhibited in a person’s life— discipline, love, growth and religion, and grace. He draws from his experience in mental health by linking certain behaviours and disorders of his patients with early childhood experiences especially in their parental upbringing. Dr. Peck is part of the school of psychoanalysis but does not quite go into all of the particulars as analyst Sigmund Freud. However, I am intrigued by all of the case examples and how he relates his own personal experiences all linked to the nature of how initial love is demonstrated by a parent to a child. So everything is going fine… so imagine my shock when on page 156 when Peck asks his patients to imagine that they are slaveowners! Slaveowners! With slaves! If you don’t believe me, I’ll quote it. “I frequently tell my patients that their feelings are their slaves and that the art of self-discipline is like the art of slave-owning.” Can you believe that? This book was not published in 1978 not 1778. (Didn’t ROOTS come out on television in 1977?) Then Peck goes on to say: “Here the owner treats his feelings (slaves) with respect, nurturing them with good food, shelter and medical care, listening and responding to their voices, encouraging the, inquiring as to their health, yet also organizing them, limiting them, deciding clearly between them, redirecting them and teaching them, all the while leaving no doubt to who is the boss. This is the path of healthy self-discipline.” Are you kidding? This text is so patronizing, racist, and totally insensitive to any person who comes from a marginalized group. It is totally insensitive to Blacks and other groups that were in bondage during the American slavetrade. I hope that he is still not practicing psychiatry without some serious anti-racist and sensitivity training. Plus, I hope that this is just an old copy of an edition that is no longer in print and the publisher has not re-issued the book without a thorough re-edit. Deplorable! I cannot bother to finish this book.

Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing by Carolyn Myss, Ph.D
Anatomy of the Spirit by Carolyn Myss, Ph. D. was actually on the recommended reading list of Skinny Bitch but don’t let that turn you away. The two authors are smart women who recommended Myss’ great read. An alternate title for this book could have been “Chakras 101”— I have heard about them, knew what they were, or at least I thought I did. Now I have a better idea. It took me a very long time to read this book (about a month and 8 days to be exact.) On the tip of self-healing, Myss talks about her ability to discern disease based on physical scanning a person. She has a gift and she wants to not only tell you how she can detect disease in someone, but she wants to teach you how to find disease and heal yourself. She explains that when she meets someone, she can often detect the disease and the emotional issues associated with it. Sound spooky? Well, Myss is part of the school of researchers, healers, health professionals, and psychologists who see the psychological links with disease. This is still quite a controversial idea especially when talking about pediatric cancer. However, I am fascinated with this field. I think there is a lot to learn as I heal physically from cancer, there is definitely a significant mental and emotional component. Dr. Myss integrates the seven chakras with Catholicism’s seven sacraments and the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). She proposes that if we begin to make changes within our lives and selves in regards to the emotional issues related to a particular disease or cancer of a body part, then healing may occur. For example, Myss associates the thyroid with the fifth chakra— the will and the sacrament is Confession. This has to do with having faith, giving up one’s fear, and surrendering to God’s will. She suggests that the greatest act of will in which we can invest our spirits is to choose to live according to certain rules including making no judgments and having no expectations. She associates the thyroid with a number of emotional issues. Although I am still have some skepticism and lack clarity in understanding the links of the three systems, I did some connections with emotional issues that I am experiencing and thyroid cancer. I don’t think Myss is saying one brings on one’s own disease but I did see some links between the issues listed and things I have been experiencing in my own life. I take it as use the disease and this book to help shine light on areas of my life that I can improve. Anatomy of the Spirit is not a quick read; it is a slow 290 pages. I began very sleepily reading it during my Radioactive Isolation, in Newfoundland, and then again back home. But I kept on chugging through as the book intrigued me with the case studies and examples that Myss uses. The book left me feeling empowered with new ideas. Definitely recommended if you are willing to challenge your notions of the origins of disease.

Veganist by Kathy Freston
This may sound harsh but if Barbie (I mean the doll) wrote a book about veganism, this might be it. At first, I thought of the Malibu Stacey doll from the Simpsons who when you pull the string, it says, "Don't ask me. I'm just a girl."

Compared to the other books that I have been reading, it clearly comes across that Kathy Freston is neither doctor, research scientist, nor investigative journalist. She often wrote things along the lines of, "I'm no expert on this so I'm going to ask someone who is..." She includes interviews with researchers and experts in the field, as well as individual accounts of people who have benefited from veganism. I felt like I was reading through stuff I already learned about in the other books and found myself looking for the "meat" in Veganist (no pun intended). I thought, this is what sold millions of copies? What Kathy Freston does accomplish is a how-to guide of veganism, a manifesto. According to the author, veganist is a vegan who understands the implications of his or her food choices. This is accomplished in 10 promises. She won me over with the second half of the book in which she addresses the environmental benefits, feeding the global poor, animal stewardship, social influence, and especially, Promise 9 spirituality. Here, she illustrates how veganism follows the wisdom of the Great Spiritual Traditions. I learned about the evidence of animal rights and vegetarianism in my own faith and others as well. Veganist is concise and an easy-to-read 235 pages. She is humble in her approach and talks about her own struggles with "leaning" into veganism. Aside from a few spelling errors here and there (I cannot shut off my writer/teacher mind), I recommend this book to anyone considering a vegan lifestyle.

EATING ANIMALS by Jonathan Safran Foer
To eat meat or not to eat meat, that is the question. And the question gets a lengthy, complex, and fair answer. "If nothing matters, there's nothing to save." I found myself disturbed, distraught, and challenged at times by this series of essays which Foer dedicates to his infant son that leave very few stones unturned. This book illustrates the ethical dilemmas amongst omnivore and vegetarian/vegan-choices historically, traditionally, and ethically. With graphic word art, quotations, and numerous transcriptions of farm factory workers, ethical farmers, animal rights activists, and vegans who build slaughterhouses or run ranches, at times I was not sure where the balance would shift. Yet Foer, a committed vegetarian, makes it quite clear which team he is rooting for. Yet he does so with respect and dignity of his interview subjects no matter where their ideals lie. But it is quite clear that factory farms are the bad guys. According to Foer, the"artificial cost" of increasingly affordable meats is becoming more clear but wants to leave a responsible answer for his son. And the power of the almighty fork in turning the tide of justice. EATING ANIMALS brings mindfulness to the tastebuds and conscience.

FAST FOOD NATION: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser
Remember watching filmclips from the 1950s about what they thought the future would be like? There was this idealism, speed, efficiency, and cleanliness in the perceived era of modernity. This was the era in which the fast food industry was built. Fast forward fifty years. Environmental wastes from factory farming and packaging, high rates of obesity and heart disease, and the growing wealth and power resulting from the consolidation of corporations.

I finished this book today (April 15, 2011). All 383 pages. Okay, okay. About 100 of those pages were research notes, bibliography, and index. However the book is a compelling research document which fills out a few details from the independent feature film (FAST FOOD NATION) that I watched a number of weeks ago.
GOT ME: The compelling personal stories of the workers in this meat processing/factory farming industry. The horrendous injuries and deaths, gross human rights injustices, unsanitary and abusive working conditions, and unfortunate disregard for lives and well-being of its workers. The workers in this industry are mostly uneducated and illegal immigrants and American poor who are untrained and ununionized earning 30% of what workers did in the 1960s. The ways in which the fastfood industry have set the standards for franchizing and globalization which have been adopted by other industries. The death of the family farm and the growing powerlessness of ranchers. What really goes into the meat and fries. How Ray Kroc (who turned McDonald's from a small southern California fastfood chain into a multibillion dollar conglomerate) used the Disney corporation as his model (especially the part about advertising and appealing to children). The seemingly incestuous relationships between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), meat industry executives, fast food industry, and government in determining the safety of these workplaces and the products. Putting profits over people. Pathogens and epidemics. Active infiltration and disruption of union organizing. Corruption, disruption, and consumption. Huge environmental impact and wastes generated.
LOST ME: Good to have lots of statistics to back up the facts but then it became a bit much. The last couple of chapters were the most dry at these. The legal issues between the meat industry executives and individual ranchers and farms, regulations, etc. etc. etc.
Overall, I think Schlosser achieved his goal to inform the public about a largely hidden problem and empowered the audience with some solutions. At some points the book seems gloomy (especially since the part of the expansion of these fast food chains into countries, exporting the unhealthy diets and 'fast food' methods of industrialization) and I found myself saying "evil, evil" at points while reading, Schlosser ends on a positive note to remind consumers that they have the ultimate power (and money) to effect change.

SKINNY BITCH by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
Remember that (most likely blonde) girl in school? She was slim and beautiful and popular. She had the nicest clothes, all the boys wanted to date her, and she had a following of pretty fashionistas who followed her around like a queen bee. She flashed her hair which brushed in your face and she did not notice or apologize. You simultaneously despised her yet secretly wanted to be a like her. She never seemed to have to work too hard at anything because it was all delivered to her willingly. (Even the teachers fell under her influence.) And when she did take notice of you one day, it was usually to say some sort of scathing or dismissive remark. Okay. Maybe it did not happen exactly like that in high school (more like grades 7 and 8) or maybe I'm reliving through some scene of MEANGIRLS.

But you know what I mean? Okay, now imagine that same girl twenty years later and she is now giving you advice about how to eat and look like her EXCEPT she has read a few books on holistic nutrition, she has joined PETA, and is dating a guy from GREENPEACE. Now she is telling you how to join her clique and become like her. That is what this book is like. But I love it (except for the title which the authors claim they used for shock value). The facts are sound and well researched. I learned that there is a link between Prosilac, a commercialized form of bovine growth hormone used to increase cow's milk production, and thyroid cancer. And I found myself laughing out loud many times saying things like, "I can't believe they wrote this." (e.g. It's no wonder you eat shit and garbage. Coffee is for pussies. Soda is 'liquid Satan.' 'Yeah, you heard us-- fruit. Eat it.' And a chapter called the 'The Dead, Rotting, Decomposing, Flesh Diet'.) This book kicks your ass into veganism without letting up. If you are looking for a lighter read than FASTFOOD NATION but still want the facts, have a sardonic (scornful or cynically mocking) sense of humour and want to be told the truth more bluntly and directly then my Jamaican mother, you'll love this book.

LOVE, MEDICINE & MIRACLES: Lessons Learned About Self-Healing from a Surgeon's Experience with Exceptional Patients by Bernie S. Siegel, M.D.
"Have you heard of exceptional patients?" asked Linda, a 27-year old young breast cancer patient asked me. "No," I replied. Exceptional patient? What was this? An extra chance to earn bonus marks? The keener honour student in me was interested. How do I become an exceptional patient? Read "Love, Medicine, and Miracles", suggested. Although this book is a little old school (published first in 1986 based on research since the 1970s), Siegel was one of the first doctors' to write about the link between mind and body. Today, it's common knowledge that our thoughts can have a huge impact on our healing. He gets into the psychology of cancer. He claims that the patients who survive the longest were the ones who freely expressed their emotions and vented on their doctors. They were not "easy" patients and demanded a lot from their doctors, asked for second opinions, and insisted on the best care. They are the squeaky wheels. As my naturopath told me, "Get angry. The angry ones live." I was angry (about a lot of things) and anxious and frustrated about a lot of things but I will have do another post about that. He even talks about the "cancer personality" and the controversial reasons why some people get cancer exploring four basic questions: Do you want to live to be a hundred? What happened to you in the year or two before your illness? What does the illness mean to you? Why did you need this illness? (I'm still working through these questions.) But the hope, the empowerment comes in the chapter Becoming Exceptional. Through creativity, self-respect, assertiveness, independence, emotional support, transcending fear, and hate, as well as relaxation, prayer, meditation, and visualization, we all can become exceptional patients.

ANTICANCER: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD
A cure for cancer? This is not but read the caption above the title: All of us have cancer cells in our bodies. But not all of us will develop cancer. This is not to suggest that we cause our own cancer. Instead, suppose we could influence our cancers, inhibit their growth, and reduce their spread? If I were to sum this book up in one word: Hope. I would like to thank my University of Waterloo pal, Leslie for telling me about this book. This book helped me to feel even more empowered in the course of my illness. Servan-Schreiber is a researcher/cancer survivor and as he is searching for the answers to what makes one resilient to cancer, he is looking for answers in his recurrence of a brain cancer. This book is research-based but very personal since it is very much his story. He ventures to take some responsibility for the events and habits which led to his relapse of cancer. I love the chapter on the Anticancer Foods and the Anticancer Mind which suggests that through eating anti-oxidant rich, low glycemic, and alkaline foods and doing activities like meditation and prayer, we can create an internal environment hostile to cancer cells. I feel like I could read this book again just to get some anticancer inspiration.

'I can't believe it's not meat!' could be the working title of this book. Too bad many of the dishes are of Bajan-origin. (What? I'm quite open about my Jamaican bias.) Nevertheless, Barbados-born author Taymer Mason impresses the tastebuds with traditional dishes such as jug-jug, doubles, macaroni pie and roti. From the mouthwatering, never-could-get-enough "Vegan 'Beef' Patties and the gastronomical wizardry of the Jerk Pizza with Sweet Potato Crust, Mason's dishes challenge a novice but they never disappoint and actually helped me feel like a Vegan Culinary Queen. Averaging at least 20 ingredients per entree (there are 54 different ingredients in the Jerk Pizza for example if you include the ingredients in the Jerk Sausage), these meals take time to prepare so turn on the roots reggae, cancel all your appointments, and roll up your sleeves. You'll impress your guests with the tantalizing combination of flavours that are present in Caribbean cuisine. (My fiance was impressed not only with the pizza and patties but Taymer Mason too.) So if you're afraid that vegan versions of your Caribbean dishes could be bland, no problem! CARIBBEAN VEGAN lets you have your rum cake and eat it too.

Taymer Mason, author of CARIBBEAN VEGAN

THE KIND DIET by Alicia Silverstone
Break out the granola and dust off your guitar, as we sit on the grass and feel the sunshine. In comparison to SKINNY BITCH, this invitation to veganism is a teddy bear's picnic. In THE KIND DIET, you too can see the "unicorns and rainbows" and enter the hazy sunny glow of Woodstock without LSD or marijuana. This book is three in one: cookbook, vegan nutrition guide, and enviro/ethical guide for daily living. Alicia Silverstone (and her research team) won me over to try veganism with an easy going approach unlike SKINNY BITCH in a conversational manner unlike the journalistic FAST FOOD NATION. More like a nuzzle in the ear by a holstein cow named Bessie. In THE KIND DIET, there are three levels of vegan: flirting (a meal here, a day there vegan), vegan (where I'm at), and superhero (macrobiotic hardcore vegan). With honesty, personal tales, and grainy photographs, THE KIND DIET is simple and had me trying new foods like kabocha squash, shoyu and tamari sauces, and umeboshi. The foods are light, easy, quick to prepare, and very California with a Japanese flare. Big ups to the rustic pasta, pecan-crusted seitan, veggie tempura, peanut butter cups, and pumpkin bread (with carob and macadamia nuts... mmmmm). According to Silverstone, you can take or leave veganism but at least give it a try because you'll probably like it. Note: The bean croquettes/fritters which Alicia Silverstone thought were the brilliant invention of her friend are actually widely eaten in West Africa (often called akara, yum yum!) and are a cousin to Middle Eastern falafels.