Sunday, January 20, 2008

The silence of the yams

Since reading Barbara Kingsolver's book last summer about eating locally (click to read my post about it), I've been on something of a kick with other *food* books when I come across a new one. Deb's recent post on the subject, in which she shares her doubt about the viability of eating only locally grown products where she lives in Minnesota, made me feel a bit better about the difficulties I have in doing the same here - and let's face it - the growing season in NJ is considerably longer than in Deb's home state. Farmer's markets here typically run from May through October only.

At any rate, I borrowed
Skinny Bitch from a friend, mostly to see what all the fuss was about. I've never read a diet book in my life, and this one read a bit too much like one for my taste, but if you can get past the shock value of the language and past their insisting that vegan is the only healthy way to eat, you might just find something useful there. I could easily be vegetarian, but give up eggs and cheese and ice-cream? Well... I'm not there yet.

I've just about finished Michael Pollan's
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto and find his measured approach a bit more helpful and, dare I say it, affirming of the food choices I regularly make. The crux of his *manifesto* is that we should eat food, but not too much of it, and mostly plants. The first two-thirds of the book are spent defining what *food is not* and explaining how the typical Western diet and our current focus on nutrition have caused so many of us to be unhealthy.

I don't want to give away all of the gems of this book, but these are a few things that have really hit home with me:

*Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
*Avoid food products that are unfamiliar or unpronouceable.
*Don't eat anything incapable of rotting!
*Shop the edges of the supermarket and avoid the middle where the *food-products* shout at you with their health claims, while the kale and carrots sit in silence on the periphery.
*Shop at farmer's markets or CSA's (
click for a list) whenever possible. Shake the hand that feeds you.
*Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
*Eat well grown foods from healthy soils. Just as food sustains us, soil sustains everything that grows in it. Everything that is put into the soil should nurture and support its ability to give and sustain life.
*Pay more, eat less. Better food costs more to produce. Food needn't be cheap, fast and easy.
*Try not to eat alone. A shared meal is part ritual, part culture.
*Only eat when you're truly hungry and then eat slowly!
*Prepare your own food and plant a garden, however humble.

I'm not so inclined to recommend books, but this one is worth noting, I think, in that it offered me an eye-opening look into the food industry and how deliberately we've been led astray from what's really good for us.


Susan Gets Native said...

I don't know what made me laugh more, your post title or the title of that book!
Skinny Bitch....hee hee.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

The advice you listed from Pollan's book reminds me of the core concept of the Paleo diet.

I'm not into dietING, but I do believe in the importance of diet. Our bodies weren't designed to survive on Cheetos, and what we eat really does matter.

If one eats a varied diet that is close to nature and mostly unprocessed, a lot of health problems can be avoided. You'll also be giving your body the tools it needs (vitamins, micronutrients) to fight any problems that can't be avoided.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I love that title... The Pollan book sounds good to me. Sounds like he has a balanced approach.

Anonymous said...

The book sounds good. Up here in Maine, the same goes on local produce. The summer is fine, we grow a lot of our own, but the winter can be tough.

Growing up with a frugal mom from a European family, this is how I learned to eat.

Ruth said...

That is an excellent list food suggestions. Our farmers' markets are open all year in our area (cold Ontario!) I can get local foods as well as imported items at a good price.

MojoMan said...

I enjoy Michael Pollan's books, like "Botany of Desire.". I just noticed "Manifesto" a couple of weeks ago and hope to read it soon. Isn't it too bad common sense is so uncommon these days? Did you read his other recent book, "The Omnivores Dilemma"? Do you 'note' that one too?

Anonymous said...

Oh, mojoman is so right about common sense.
I, too, am a really big fan of Barbara Kingsolver. Think I will take your recommendation and find a copy of In Defense of Food. Thanks.

TR Ryan said...

Thanks for the great recommendations. I've moved back to Oklahoma (with Barbara's book in hand) and I have never had so much challenge finding something to eat that is a "whole food" item and does not have a huge carbon footprint attached to it. The August farmer's market had three booths - all selling only tomatoes and okra. The produce manager in the upscale market refers to Chard and Kale as "specialty items" that might be available during Christmas. Worse, I moved from Santa Fe where I could walk to a Whole Foods, the farmers market and a coop. I now drown my sorrows in a bucket of mac and cheese and eat chicken fried steak for breakfast. Help!

Anonymous said...

Great post, and timely. A friend brought a can oc some off-brand wild cherry diet soda a couple of days ago - I don't drink soda at all, so it sat in the fridge. Yesterday, beind desperately thirsty for something, I opened the can and poured this bright red stuff into a glass. I sat there contemplating if I wanted to drink it, and tossed the can in the trash. There was a red stain on the counter, from dripped soda. The can was only on the counter for a few minutes, but it took about five to clean that stain! I dumped the soda, too. What was in that stuff??

robin andrea said...

Great reviews, laura. I had Pollan's book on my wish list at the local library, unfortunately it arrived when I had already left for California. I hadn't heard about Skinny Bitch. I'll have to put that on my wish list too. Our goal has been to grow as much of our own food as we can, and freeze enough for winter. Maybe wintering in places where food still grows isn't such a bad idea! Snowbirds with a purpose!

Mary said...

Great recommendations. It is more costly to eat healthy - something I've been preaching to my own daughter. Our local foods have diminished since November, also. We've slipped off the healthy wagon lately :o( Soon to be on the right track.

Great post, Laura. And yes, I chucked at "Skinny Bitch".

Crayons said...


This is my first visit. I like the relaxed and non-strident tone of this post. I, too, am exploring the world of sustainable living, but change comes slowly, and always in the context of all the demands of this frenetic lifestyle.

I want to read the Kingsolver book, but I think I'll read the POllan one first.

entoto said...

Michael Pollan's book is incredible. A must read, I think. Thanks for posting about it.

Susan said...

I'm with you, Laura - vegetarian isn't too hard (I'm almost there), but vegan would just be too restrictive for me to handle.