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Posts tagged ‘poverty’

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Image via the English at Katikati College blog.

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Author: Sherman Alexie

Year of Publication: 2007

Genre Keywords: belonging, cartoons, First Nations, high school, popularity, poverty, teen, tragi-comedy, young adult.

Summary: Arnold Spirit – known on his Spokane reservation home as ‘Junior’ – is a smart guy. He knows he’s not quite strong enough to fit in with the other kids on the reservation, and he knows he’s never going to survive, much less succeed, unless he gets away. So he takes the first step: he asks to transfer to the nearby “rich white kid” school, Rearden High. He does a lot better there, making friends and even finding a girlfriend, and he’s a lot more likely to get a worthwhile education that might one day mean he can live his dreams of being a cartoonist. But the more he fits in at Rearden, the more unpopular he is back home, with people who think he’s sold out big-time. Is Junior strong enough to survive the judgment and rejection of his own people – and even if he does, will it give him a shot at rising above the crushing tragedy of Native American life?

Who’ll Love It: If you’re fed up with syrupy inspirational stories about ordinary people battling great odds, you may find this book refreshingly realistic. While most such stories focus entirely on whoever’s beating the odds, they tend to ignore the systemic problems that made the odds so darn bad in the first place, and they barely even glance at everybody else left below. But this is as much a story about other people’s failures as it is about Junior’s struggle to succeed, and it doesn’t shy away from depicting the hard knocks of reservation life: violence, poverty, alcoholism, and child abuse are just a few of the problems Alexie takes on through Junior’s eyes. I particularly loved the spin he puts on the familar “sports grudge match” sequence we know from the movies: does it really count as winning when you come from the team who has every advantage and your opponents probably couldn’t afford to eat breakfast?

The Real Story: The heartbreaking poverty in this story is a real and persistent problem for actual families and individuals living on reservations in North America. Spotlight on Poverty offers up an article on the topic, and the Property and Environment Research Center looks at some government-related problems that keep the problem alive. If you’re American, you can find the reservation nearest where you live on this interactive map. (Nothing nearly that nifty for Canadians, but at least we’ve got a list of bands available.) It’s strange to think that this level of poverty, comparable to what you find in Third-World nations, exists within a couple hours’ drive of where you’re sitting in front of your computer screen.

The Practical Charity Santa

Santa Claus

Image via Turn Back To God.

There’s a holiday tradition in my family. Ever since my husband and I met, we’ve made children’s charities a part of our Christmas celebration by purchasing and donating brand-new toys to children living in poverty. In fact, the tradition has been going on since before I met him: I started to secretly donate toys around the holidays as a teen with the proceeds from my part-time job. So I have a decade-long history with charity-giving for children.

And yet I’ve never had a year when the gift-giving process has been as difficult (or as satisfying) as this Christmas.

The reason seems simple to me. I’ve spent the last couple of years learning a lot about the needs of children – physical, social, intellectual, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and developmental – and I wanted to take those things into account as I picked gifts for my Christmas Children. I’ve learned a lot about what shapes the way we each think and feel about ourselves. Some of it has been intellectual “book-learning”, but a lot of it has been experiential. I’ve watched children grow. I’ve looked at myself more deeply. I’ve considered what trends in my past have shaped me into the person I became.

Even more so, though – most likely because of the recession looming over us – I’ve also spent a lot more time thinking practically about the conditions of real life for those who have substantially fewer financial resources to fall back on. That left me second-guessing a lot of the gift-giving possibilities at my disposal. Gift-giving with the poor child in mind is not the same as shopping for well-to-do kids. There’s a lot to think about.



Waste by Tristram Stuart

Image via Bookchanging.

Title: Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal

Author: Tristram Stuart

Year of Publication: 2009

Genre Keywords: agriculture, conservation, corporate, environmentalism, equality, government, health, malnutrition, policy, poverty, social problems.

Summary: Can you imagine? We live on a planet where people die from starvation and malnutrition every single day . . . but they don’t have to. The wealthy produce and consume more than enough food to ensure everybody’s thriving. In fact, the amount of food we waste as a matter of course could feed all the world’s hungry if we were only more careful about how we use it! Tristram Stuart takes a penetrating look at the ways British supermarkets, food suppliers, restaurants, farms, fisheries, and families all contribute to the problem of waste. Obviously we can’t send our near-spoiling tomatoes to West Africa to alleviate starvation . . . but with foresight, we could stop producing more food than we can consume, liberating land to use for crops that can actually help the global poor to get fed.

Who’ll Love It: If you’ve got a head for facts and figures, it’s fascinating reading. But even those who are less mathematically inclined (self included) will get the vivid picture Stuart paints of the shocking travesty of human wastefulness and the ways we can combat it. For anybody interested in reducing their environmental footprint – or, for that matter, spending less money at the supermarket – the book is full of information that will teach you how to consume more sustainably.

How Can I Make A Difference? A lot of the large-scale wasters in Stuart’s book are corporate: big supermarkets, agri-business, and commercial food producers. But there are ways to save even on the individual level. Even the most frugal of people – and I come from a long line of very frugal people – can learn from Tristram Stuart’s eco-friendly ideas. Nor do you have to go as far as he does to cut back your wasteline. (Stuart describes dumpster-diving for perfectly good food that’s been tossed out by wasteful businesses instead of purchasing his meals.)  Some less extreme suggestions for trimming your waste and  your budget:

  • Write a shopping list while you’re still at home, so you can check for forgotten items in the back of your fridge, cupboard, and freezer.
  • Don’t shop hungry! People who buy groceries after having eaten are less likely to impulse-buy unnecessary items.
  • Plan your menus so you can use up leftover cooking materials.
  • Stick to your list: don’t be seduced by marketing schemes trying to get you to buy more.
  • Wasted groceries

    Image via InfoChange India.

    Get a big freezer. It’s an economical way to make it possible to buy bulk meats or produce near the end of its shelf life and save it until you’ll be able to eat it. You can also freeze bread to keep it from going stale.

  • Visit farmers’ markets, where you can buy knobbly-looking produce that often gets rejected by fussy supermarkets.
  • Do your homework, and refuse to buy food from companies that use unsustainable practices . . . just like when people began avoiding tuna that wasn’t dolphin-friendly or started favouring brands of chips that cut out trans fats. Now it’s a marketing feature!
  • Eat the crusts off your bread. Alternatively, turn them into breadsticks, bread crumbs, and croutons. Whatever you do, don’t just toss them in the trash!
  • Skip the step in the recipe that tells you to peel potatoes, carrots, parsnips, apples, or pears. It’s often not necessary and it stretches your food purchase – you paid for that apple peel!
  • Learn more about what best-before dates really denote. Food that’s “expired” usually isn’t. It may have passed its absolute freshest point, but it’s a very long way from being inedible.
  • Cut back on your meat consumption, and consider using parts of the animal considered unconventional in the Western world. There are some great recipes available if you’re willing to look!
  • Teach children about where their food comes from (that’s the land and the people who grow it, not the supermarket shelves) so they learn to respect it as a product of somebody else’s hard work, not an inexhaustible and free resource that they can waste with impunity.
  • Don’t force guilt on people for failing to overeat: that’s a waste, too. Instead, learn (and help others learn) to take no more than what you’ll eat, finish what’s on your plate, and take what’s left over to work or school as a hot lunch instead of fixing a sandwich. Or serve it as leftovers in place of the next night’s cooking.

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