This week on Twitter the hashtag #whyiread was popping up all over the place. I hope my students love to read because they love the stories, the characters, the emotions, and the information in books. After recently reading Reading Reasons by Kelly Gallagher though, I understand we may have to explicitly help them realize why we read to motivate them to read.
I have told my students countless times that it is important to read, but in the last two years I have worked towards showing my students why I read. I truly believe in being an exhibit of a real-life reader or a “reader in the wild” as Donalyn Miller recently said. A real-life reader wants to expand his or her world – books give a reader access to fiction or non-fiction, stories he or she can relate to or unfamiliar stories to let us gain perspective in our lives, places on a map or places from an author’s imagination.
Expanding my world as a reader means stretching my brain as I share in injustices and triumphs, learn about myself, and annotate my beliefs. I’d like to illustate specifically how my life has been directly impacted by what I have read this year as an example of how what we read shapes who we are.
In March, I listened to Fat Cat by Robin Brande. It’s the story of a girl named Cat who is an unhealthy eater and overweight because of it until she picks a photograph of a caveman that she has to use as the catalyst for her science project. Not sure what kind of science project she can work on that centers around a caveman, but determined to do something that will outshine her classmate and former-best-friend-turned-adversary, Matt McKinney, she decides to adopt the lifestyle of a caveperson to study the changes her body will undergo. She vows to eat whole foods versus the highly processed foods she was eating like candy bars and pop and she won’t allow herself to use modern technology like cars, phones, or computers.
As I read this book, it made me realize how true it is that we eat so many foods that do not resemble real food any more. I loved reading about her transformation. Not only did she eat more nutritious foods but she realized she had more energy and started working out more. What struck me most was that by changing her habits she felt better about herself in a multitude of ways. After the book ended, there was a discussion with the author and Colleen Patrick Goudreau, a vegan activist and cookbook author. This was a classic example of connecting fiction with non-fiction. I had to explore Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s website and cookbooks, where I have found my favorite vegan recipes.
After Fat Cat, I saw an interview with Jonathan Safran Foer on Ellen. He talked about his quest to find out where his food was coming from after his son was born. This idea so closely tied in with the ideas from Fat Cat that I immediately wanted to read Foer’s book, Eating Animals. I wasn’t sure I could handle the gross descriptions I expected to find in his book, but I did. He describes factory farming. While reading, I had a profound revelation that there was no way I could ever allow my son to eat chicken nuggets again. I remember hearing my husband and son playing upstairs while I read until I had to go upstairs and explain how horrified I was to learn of how animals are treated and how food is handled. My husband had heard of such practices before when it came to animals and the meat we eat and responded by turning away and telling me he didn’t want to hear what I had to tell him. He said we wouldn’t eat fast food as much, but begged me to not tell him the details of what I was reading. It struck me that he could disconnect himself from the truth and that I had done the same for so long…but no more. I made the decision to not be a meat-eater any more and made the switch to vegetarianism.
Determined to be a healthy vegetarian, like Cat, I started reading as much as I could about vegetarianism. I found Alicia Silverstone’s book The Kind Diet. This book shared similar information that I found in Eating Animals and other books, but Alicia has an interesting perspective on eating. She explains the importance of veganism (no animals or animal by-products) versus only not eating meat. She proclaims that if everyone tried to at least stop eating as much meat as they are, it would be a good thing. She encourages flirting with veganism, being a vegan, and being a super-hero, who eats a macrobiotic diet. The idea of flirting was one my husband could be on board with; he has since been more conscious of choosing meatless food options. I told myself I would try to be vegan and see how I did. I have been able to eliminate eggs and dairy products from my diet now since August.
Then, in October I read Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby. I picked this book up because the protagonist is a deaf girl. I am always on the lookout for books with deaf or hard-of-hearing main characters because my students are deaf or hard-of-hearing. I thought it would be a heart-warming story about a girl who never knew sign language until she meets this sweet chimpanzee who signs…until the adorable chimpanzee finds herself sent to a compound where they conduct animal testing. I started questioning household and personal products we use until my husband was asking me to stop reading books already!
Last weekend I watched Food, Inc., the documentary on factory farming. The film did a good job of sharing information about factory farming and the tremendous power the industry has. It complemented what I had read about in Eating Animals and The Kind Diet. What struck me again was how disconnected our society is from what goes on in factory farming. The slaughtering of animals bothers me, but even more than that, the exploitation of the animals and the complete backwardness of how factory farming works simply to make money crushes my heart. I was so disheartened after watching that movie. I felt betrayed by the society I live in. Watching TV now is hard because ads keep popping up that just have my blood boiling.
On Monday night, I finished the third book in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. I (like so many other people) eagerly awaited its release while at the same time I dreaded that the series would end. Katniss Everdeen, the main character, is subjected to the unthinkable as she participates in the Hunger Games. It was intense to read how horribly used she was by the leaders of the capitol and the rebels alike. That’s when it hit me: the realization of the parallel between Katniss’ world and the attempts to manipulate and brainwash consumers in my own world. The serene, slow-chugging-tractor farms depicted in ads, on labels, and in restaurants don’t even begin to represent the inhumane factory farms that exist and monopolize the meat industry.
Looking back, I'm proud of the changes in my lifestyle. My eating and shopping habits are clearly different than they were a year ago. Sometimes my husband complains that it would be nice if we could order one pizza versus a pizza for him and our 3-year-old (the baby just barely started on baby food) and a cheeseless pizza with veggies for me but we have learned to adjust. Without these books, I seriously doubt I would be who I am today as a consumer. It is very common now for me to have to talk about the choices I have made in what I eat and buy because people are curious and sometime skeptical. I know I still have a lot to learn and I don’t claim to be an expert or a poster-child for veganism BUT I do feel that I understand and can justify my choices and articulate my reasoning thanks to the books I have read.
One reason #whyiread is to be a more educated member of society. I don’t want to be in the dark when it comes to the decisions I make. I don’t want to live my life not knowing the consequences of my choices. I don’t want others manipulating me or taking advantage of my naivete.
My sole purpose in sharing this is to reflect on how reading has shaped my life recently. I, obviously, am proud of my decision to embrace a vegan lifestyle as much as I can and I welcome any questions or comments (although positive comments make me much happier than any others...). I don’t aim to convince anyone to change their ways, but I do recommend all the books I have mentioned in this post.