Monday, June 28, 2004

Windward Community College librarian Brian Richardson bones up on "Fast Food Nation."

Can a book bind together
a community?

In the olden days of the 1960s, television easily united the country with common experiences, whether it was the somber funeral of John F. Kennedy, or the newest pop sensations the Beatles, delivered to your living room courtesy of Ed Sullivan.

The mass media has lost its dominance to niche programming and publishing, so these days, you can't be sure of what's on your neighbors' minds -- a little home improvement and travel here, C-SPAN and stock charts there ... The only recent phenomenon that got everyone talking was "American Idol."

On a smaller scale, Windward Community College is aiming to get everyone on its campus, and interested members of the community, on the same page this fall -- through bonding over a common book. But which book would it be?

Nominations were taken in April from the faculty, staff and students, and when votes were tallied, Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal" was the winner.

The book describes how the food industry's drive for consolidation, homogenization and speed has transformed America's diet, landscape, economy and work force, often in destructive ways.

"(Reading the book is) totally voluntary, but we want to get everyone in the college talking about the book," said WCC librarian Brian Richardson, one of the Common Book Committee members, who admits he's read only portions of the book sporadically since its 2001 release, although he's close to finishing it.

The slow summer months offer some time to read in preparation for fall semester events -- films, talks, classes and discussions -- connected to themes in "Fast Food Nation." You do want to sound smart when the time comes, don't you? Participation in the program will be worth one University of Hawaii credit.

Most common book programs tend to be built around works of fiction, so "Fast Food Nation" was an unlikely choice, but Richardson said it ties in with many subjects, from genetics to microeconomics. He said philosophy professor Erik Gardener intends to use the book as a text for his course in "Morals and Society" because there are many questions raised in measuring the moral and environmental impact of eating meat and genetically altered foods.

"It's such a huge topic now," Richardson said. "A lot of people said they had read about it and wanted to read it but wanted a reason, and that sort of fits into one of the 'Fast Food Nation' themes.

"Everybody's multitasking, everyone's way too busy, which is why we go to these places to eat. People organize their time so they don't really have time," Richardson said.

"With the Internet, we're getting our information in disjointed paragraphs here and there; it's fast information rather than real information. Understanding is simplistic, and even wrong information gets regurgitated over and over."

Now, that's worth talking about.

The program's inaugural event will take place Sept. 8, with primary events taking place Wednesday nights through December. For information, call the WCC library at 235-7338.

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