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Dublin: 1 °C Sunday 19 January, 2020

Sitdown Sunday: The coffin business is booming in Central America because of gang violence

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

Image: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. The Aldi effect: how one discount supermarket transformed the way Britain shops

(The Guardian, approx 33 mins reading time) 

When Aldi arrived in Britain in April 1990, Tesco and Sainsbury’s were sure they had nothing to worry about. Fast forward to 2019… now, they know better. 

As anyone who has tried navigating a ram-packed Aldi on a Saturday afternoon will know, you still don’t go there for the ambience or relaxed shopping experience. “Aldi panic” at the till endures in the electronic age thanks to a simple innovation that allows for instant scanning of goods. Packaged products in all supermarkets come with a barcode, which the checkout assistant will locate and scan. But look closely at a packet of Aldi toilet rolls and you will see not one but four barcodes: two long ones down the sides, and one on each large flat surface. 

2. What animals can teach us about politics

(The Guardian, approx 17 mins reading time)

After decades of studying primates, Dutch primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waal has argued that animal politics are not so different from our own. 

 Emotions structure our societies to a degree we rarely acknowledge. Why would politicians seek higher office if not for the hunger for power that marks all primates? Why would you worry about your family if not for the emotional ties that bind parents and offspring? All our most cherished institutions and accomplishments are tightly interwoven with human emotions and would not exist without them. 

3. The devastating allure of medical miracles

(Wired, approx 42 mins reading time)

Sepsis forced the amputation of Sheila Advento’s hands. She ended up on a long medical journey in the years to follow. 

To lose a hand – or, God forbid, both – is a catastrophe that inflicts physical, emotional, and psychological consequences that, as one paper on the ethics of hand transplants put it, “are notoriously difficult to overcome.” 

4. The coffin business is booming in Central America due to gang violence

(Bloomberg, approx 13 mins reading time)

In El Salvador, a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates, Jucuapa is home to dozens of small factories that churn out coffins. 

Cárdenas, like several other coffin factory owners around Jucuapa, acknowledges discomfort with profiting from his country’s biggest problem, but says it’s the only thing keeping him fed. “If all of a sudden the gangs were to stop killing, our business would be very affected,” he says, and besides, 16 competitors ensure he’s making a profit of only $10 to $20 per económico. “We’re not rich here.”

5. The female chef making Japan’s most elaborate cuisine her own

(The New Yorker, approx 22 mins reading time)

Japanese cuisine, at the high end, is virtually all made by men. This is how Niki Nakayama made a name for herself in Los Angeles. 

Nakayama compared her creative process to playing a game like Candy Crush—each new menu increasing in difficulty and complexity, in a never-ending competition against herself. 

6. The girl who was never meant to survive

(BBC, approx 11 mins reading time) 

When Haven Shepherd was a baby, her father detonated a suicide bomb intended to kill the whole family. She survived. 

When Haven reflects on her dramatic start in life, she says she feels no resentment towards her biological parents.She says she uses her extraordinary story of survival as an inspiration.“I definitely see that circumstance as a real reason why you shouldn’t just be moping around your whole life.”


In 2001, The Atlantic featured a story which delved into college admissions and the unexamined prejudices fueling the “elite” admission frenzy. 

(The Atlantic, approx 28 mins reading time)

I had no idea what I was in for—no idea that the confident, buoyant students for whom I’d had such great affection when I encountered them in the classroom would so often turn into complete neurotics the moment they crossed the threshold of the college-counseling office. Or that their parents, who had always been lovely and appreciative when I was teaching their children, would become irritable and demanding once I was helping them all select a college. 

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