Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Food for Thought

You know that eating has become complicated when we need manifestos and exposes to help us through dinner. North Americans, despite our apparent diet consciousness, rely too heavily on fast and prepared foods and have as a result, according to Fast Food Nation: the dark side of the all-American meal by Eric Schlosser, become increasingly and alarmingly obese. Schlosser describes a marketing machine which has made Ronald McDonald only slightly less recognizable to children than Santa Claus. This expose of the fast food industry created shock waves when it was published in 2001, with many of its readers vowing never to eat in a fast food restaurant again.  So what to do? We've grown accustomed to the taste and the convenience.

 In In Defense of Food: an eater's manifesto by Michael Pollan he counsels "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Pollan takes exception to the practice of eliminating entire food groups wholesale and complicating eating with nutritional analysis. Among his recommendations is if it doesn't rot, don't eat it; if you can't pronounce the ingredients, don't eat it. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Purchase your food from the perimeter of the grocery store.  Not that simple apparently since his has also published a companion Food Rules: an eater's manual.
According to the publisher, "Michael Pollan, our nation's most trusted resource for food-related issues, offers this indispensable guide for anyone concerned about health and food. Simple, sensible, and easy to use, Food Rules is a set of memorable rules for eating wisely, many drawn from a variety of ethnic or cultural traditions. Whether at the supermarket or an all-you-can-eat-buffet, this handy, pocket-size resource is the perfect guide for anyone who would like to become more mindful of the food we eat."
Pollan advocates looking at meat as a side dish, rather than as the main focus of the meal inviting the age-old debate of vegetarians vs meat eaters. Proponents of vegetarianism have been well-represented in recent years. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safron Foer explores the culture of factory farming and meat consumption. While not an attack on meat-eaters, it is a book that raises moral and ethical issues associated with meat-eating that will force discussion and re-consideration.  In other words, he doesn't pull punches about the reality of factory farming. On the other side of the issue, humans have been consuming meat for a long time.

In The Shameless Carnivore: a manifesto for meat loversScott Gold discusses the 31 different kinds of meat he ate in 31 days.  His position is that meat eating/hunting/tracking got us to our present state of brain development, so we might as well continue. He has a live and let live attitude and feels that folks should eat what they want as long as it falls within the law (no pets or people, please!). He does take exception to vegetarians and vegans who wish to change his behaviour, however. He approach is light-hearted and makes a fun read whether or not you agree with him. He advocates for discernment in meat-eating, respect for the animals and for carnivores to go the full mile and to hunt their dinner for the full carnivorous experience.

So, not only do we have to consider veggie vs. carnie, but we also have to think about
how far our food as traveled to reach our plates. Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon discovered in The 100 Mile Diet: a year of local eating that much of our food has traveled 1500 miles to reach us with serious implications for the planet.  In an effort to off-set this they vowed to eat food only grown withing 100 miles of their Vancouver home. They said goodbye to sugar, flour, and beer, but found such delicacies as turnip sandwiches. The project took single-minded determination. Although they did have a social clause, allowing them to relax when out with friends, their time appeared to be absorbed by thinking about food, acquiring food, preserving food and learning new food preparation techniques.

To some extent Mark Bittman tries to bring all this together in his Food Matters: a guide to conscious eating. He believes that the food we choose should not only be respectful of our waistlines, but should also not sacrifice taste and presentation.He is in favour of sustainable agricultural practices, slow cooking, a balance of diet and exercise and an awareness of where your food comes from and how it is prepared. In essence, he says that eating more vegetables and whole grains, and less meat and processed foods with improve your health and life on this planet.

If it's all too much, and you want to throw gastronomical caution to the wind consider
Horsemen of the Esophagus: competitive eating and the big fat American dream by Jason Fagone. "Fagone’s trek takes him to 27 eating contests on two continents, from the World Grilled Cheese Eating Championship in Venice Beach, California, to Nagoya, Japan, where he pursues an interview with the legendary Takeru Kobayashi, perhaps the most prodigious eater in the world today, and to the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island, the sport’s annual grand finale, where Kobayashi has eaten more than 50 dogs in 12 minutes. Along the way, Fagone discovers an absurd, sometimes troubling subculture on the make, ready to bust out of its county fair and neighborhood-fat-guys niche and grab a juicy piece of the big-time television sports/Vegas spectacle jackpot.  Fagone meets promoters like George Shea, the P. T. Barnum of the International Federation of Competitive Eating (aka IFOCE, “the governing body of all stomach-centric sport”) and enters the lives of three “gurgitators”: David “Coondog” O’Karma, a fiftyish, six-two house painter from Ohio who’s “not ready to become invisible”; Bill “El Wingador” Simmons, the Philly Wing Bowl legend who is shooting for a fifth chicken-eating championship despite the fact that it may be killing him; and Tim “Eater X” Janus, a lean young Wall Street trader who takes a seriously scientific and athletic approach to the pursuit of ingesting mountains of food in record-breaking times. Each in his own way feels as if he has lost or not yet found something essential in life, and each is driven by the desperate hope that through consumption he may yet find redemption, that even in the junkiest of America’s junk culture, true nourishment might be found. After all, as it says on the official IFOCE seal: In Voro Veritas (In Gorging, Truth)." - publisher

1 comment:

  1. I love Michael Pollan's writing-both for its content and its style. I've read or listened to audiobooks of several of his titles. (Scott Brick - an award-winning audiobook narrator - is the voice of most of Pollan's audiobooks and does a remarkable job). Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma is must reading for anyone who has thought about the politics of eating. Lots of great ideas and information without being at all preachy.

    He has a number of other books on topics related to nature, including the wonderful Botany of Desire a plants eye view of the world, where he looks at four common plants, their place in the human world and how human's have impacted the plants. Really interesting mix of science, history and sociology.