10 June 2015

A Kick Up the Balkans

An expanded version of A Kick Up the Balkans has been published as an ebook and is available online from Lulu.

Originally published in serial form on the blog A bit of Bruce, the ebook compiles and expands the existing online texts, alongside additional material and a selection of photographs.

'A Kick Up the Balkans: A Diary of a Year of Change, Bulgaria 1991-1992', by Bruce Marsland, is a first-hand diary account of life in Eastern Europe in the period immediately following the end of the Cold War.

Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

6 September 2012

Word for thought: nutrition

A few years ago, during the so-called 'McLibel' trial in Britain, the concept of 'nutritious' became a point of contention. Advertising that used the phrase 'nutritious food' was defended on the basis that this referred simply to foods that 'contain nutrients'. Recently, a couple of uses of the word 'nutrition' have reminded me of these arguments.

First of all, while making efforts to gain and maintain fitness, it becomes clear that a number of people in the health business do not talk so much about 'food', but rather about 'nutrition'.  This is natural. They are focusing on the benefit that the body can gain from its intake.  It seems, in some ways, more scientific to describe the 'nutrition on your plate' rather than the 'dinner on your plate'.

The second instance of usage that stuck out recently was in a different context. An episode of the television series Sapphire and Steel, first aired in 1981, features a woman from the future speaking in derogatory terms about the 'food' of the present and bemoaning a lack of supplies of 'nutrition' from her own period. The comparison in this attitude is clear.  The word 'nutrition' is referring to something that is virtuous, clean, and sustaining.  This is in contrast to 'food', which is a little dirtier, a little more dangerous, and - as implied to the television audience - a little bit more fun.

The debate arising from McLibel challenges the idea that all food is nutrition. The attitude from the future in Sapphire and Steel begs the question of whether all nutrition is food.  Linguistically, we must be aware of the implications if we substitute one word for the other.

nutrition, n. (1a) "the process of providing or receiving nourishing substances",
(1b) "food, nourishment"
(Oxford English Reference Dictionary, 2nd ed. revised, 2002)

2 September 2012

Word for thought: harvest

I was brought up with the word 'harvest'. After spending my youth in a small market town, there is nothing unusual about the word as part of my vocabulary.  Farmers 'harvest' the wheat or barley and then the community celebrates the 'harvest festival'. Job done.

However, a couple of recent examples of usage have started a train of thought in my mind. The first of these occurrences was on the coast in Japan, while I was admiring the local oyster nets. A young voice behind me asked what those people were doing. A man, whom I assume to be the father, replied that they were "harvesting the oysters".

Something did not ring true with me. Yes, we 'harvest' grain in the fields, but don't we usually 'catch' fish? Should we categorise oysters as closer to fish or closer to arable crops? Do we 'harvest' eggs, or chickens, or sheep?

It occurred to me that our usage of the word might be something to do with our individual world view. If we 'catch' fish or chickens, then do we somehow acknowledge that there is an instinct in them that does not want to be caught? We at least somehow acknowledge that we are not in complete control, and that we do not have absolute rights to the product. On the other hand, something that is, perhaps, not sentient, and that we have cultivated for our own purposes, can certainly be harvested.

As far as I am concerned, this still leaves a grey area surrounding oysters and eggs. A neutral word would be 'collect' or 'gather'. I have heard many people talk about 'gathering' mushrooms. We can carry out such an action in the wild, without the same overtone of dominion over the natural world.

I was fairly content with this analysis, to the extent that I was starting to think that I was being over-sensitive.  Sure, if we collect oysters in an oyster farm, then that is a form of harvesting. Maybe salmon in a salmon farm can be harvested, too.

At this point, though, I came across the second usage of the word to perturb my sense of vocabulary. On this occasion it was a news article referring to the 'harvest' of human organs.

Taking my prior thought process into account, I felt a deep discomfort about accepting this phraseology. Even just using the word in this context seems to suggest that human organs might be something that we could have the right to collect, en masse, as a type of crop.

This has pushed me back to my original position.  I feel that the use of the word 'harvest' reflects a philosophy about what we have a right to control and collect.  Vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores may possibly use the word differently with different subjects. That would be a collocation study for the future.

harvest, n. (2) "the season's yield or crop", v.tr. (1a) "gather as a harvest"
(Oxford English Reference Dictionary, 2nd ed. revised, 2002)