Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Review: Year of No Sugar

Eve O. Schaub would like you to know that She and Her Family Survived a Year Of Limited Sugar Consumption. But they're okay now.

Schaub was inspired by the research and lifestyle changes of Robert Lustig, a professor at University of California, San Francisco, who convinced her in a 90-minute video that sugar was poison. She did her own research, found resources, and in turn convinced her family to spend a year not adding fructose to their diets. (Her children are in elementary school, so she made exceptions.) At the end of the year, everyone was relieved and the experiment was over.

She blogged about it, and she turned her blog posts into a book titled Year of No Sugar: A Memoir. I'm sure her blog was fine, but the posts didn't succeed in creating a successful, readable memoir.

I didn't enjoy the book for a number of reasons.

As a memoir, Year of No Sugar was written in too casual a tone. The language was chatty, the vocabulary colloquial, the humor forced. In smaller doses (maybe blog entries) it probably was easier to read, but as a book-length manuscript, it was tedious. Her sentence structure, use of casual spelling of interjections and sentence fragments felt slouchy. (She didn't mind adding punctuation, extra vowels to words or using all-caps to support a point: "waaaaay," "oooooo!" and "LOVE," for example. She even made an entire paragraph out of two exclamation points or wrote a paragraph in which a "sentence" was constructed of single words followed by periods. So. Annoying. And. Immature.) She spoke about not taking photos of herself with a sugar-free hero by lamenting she didn't even take pictures "of the bum outside" the restaurant. She discussed "poop." She included "related" excerpts from her daughter Greta's journal, which didn't contribute to the overall text.

She wrote that she is not exceptionally entertaining or loquacious in person, which I can understand, but her writing was not much different. Her bumping into Jason Jones was intended to be funny, but it was just painful. There was little dialogue, which would have nicely broken up the heavy text blocks. Her introspection showed her riddled with doubt throughout the experiment, which explains why she  made so many exceptions that I wasn't sure if the family's actions counted as a year-long experience.

Much of my dissatisfaction with the memoir is that, in the end, she remained mostly unchanged by her experiences — aside from losing her penchant for sweet desserts and reading labels at the grocery store. Schaub revealed that she was a pescetarian for a while, but reverted back to eating meat, et. al., because she "felt better" after eating it. As best I can tell, she became a vegetarian for ethical reasons, but later eschewed that practice because she considered animal consumption part of the Circle of Life. Plus, she felt better. (Full disclosure: I've been an ovo-lacto vegetarian since 1988, so I have opinions about this.)

Finally, she was pretty whiny during the entire book. It was hard. Not having gelato in Italy? Hard. Not having s'mores at a campout? Hard. Christmas without cookies? Hard.

You know what? She's right: living a lifestyle outside popular culture is a challenge. Most people dabble in it, from time to time, like my co-worker who gave up "sugar" one December. It wasn't a long-term activity and there wasn't a specific goal, and when she wanted to, my co-worker began eating birthday cake again. I expected more long-term commitment and lifestyle change to someone who, early in her book, explained, "Agave syrup may be 'natural' and 'raw, but, you know, so is arsenic."

If she could shrug off this huge lifestyle change with little long-term impact, just how important was it in her life? As best I can tell, now the experiment is over, she tries to cook with dextrose from time to time and she eats only a few bites of sugar-laden desserts, but that's about it. I was hoping she had a more life-altering experience, that the impact was so great that her family continued to want to be sugar-free, that she kept up the good fight. However, there was no follow-up, as if she just finished last week and wrapped up the manuscript for the printer at the same time. (Whew! Done with that! What's next?)

As noted above, I am a vegetarian. I also don't drink alcohol. Those two decisions have allowed me to understand sacrifice, decision-making in the face of popular culture and reasonable expectations. I had hoped to find a kindred spirit, someone who also was waging a battle against the absurdity of the "typical" American diet. What I found was someone who tried a sugar purge almost as if she needed a reason to write a blog (which often garners a book deal these days).

In the end, I finished the blog-book with great disappointment.

Have you read it? If you liked it, please tell me: what did I miss that could have made this book more enjoyable to read?

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