Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
Barbara Kingsolver
Harper Perennial (April 29, 2008)

I’ve long been a fan of Kingsolver’s fiction and was happy to see this memoir. The author and her family spent a year only eating food that was produced locally. Each family member was allowed one indulgence not found locally, so they did keep a bit of coffee, chocolate, and spices around, but other than that, they strictly adhered to their mission. If they didn’t grow or raise it, or their neighbors didn’t grow or raise it, then they didn’t eat it.

Reading the book, I realized how much I had taken for granted. If I needed a tomato in February, I could choose from fresh or canned at the grocery. Kingsolver denied herself this option. If she wanted tomatoes in February, she needed to can them in the summer herself or hope that a neighbor was industrious with their summer crop.

This book showed me that it is possible to truly live locally and spurred on my desire to grow a garden and learn to preserve produce. While you still might find a banana in my shopping cart, you will also find me canning tomatoes at summer’s end.

Book Review: Nourishing Traditions

Nourishing Traditions:
The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats

By Sally Fallon
NewTrends Publishing 1999

My friend Jan gave me this cookbook. I love it. It doubles as a reference book. It’s loaded with well-referenced material seemingly debunking many of the current trends in nutrition. This book is for the person who is ready to change their diet and is willing to put the time into doing so.

Nourishing Traditions arose from the writings of Dr. Weston A. Price. He was a dentist in the 1930s and conducted extensive, in-depth studies of people, all over the world, eating traditional foods. Price had the good fortune to be able to study groups of people who lived solely on traditional diets and compare them to people who had adopted a modern diet. He was able to examine multiple generations and siblings, some of which were born and raised on modern diets, and compare them to family members who were raised on traditional diets.

A dentist, Price focused on each group’s susceptibility to tooth decay and dental-arch deformities. Price found that in the groups who adopted a modern diet that included white flour and refined sugar, dental caries and dental malformations increased dramatically and their overall health decreased.

Nourishing Traditions uses Price’s findings as a starting point and adds to it copious amounts of modern research to develop the recipes.

This book asks you to dispense with the notion that saturated fat and cholesterol are bad for you. This is a hard one for everyone who, for the last 20-plus years has been taught the opposite. I think her facts are compelling and since saturated fat makes most things taste better, I’m all for it.

Nourishing Traditions also does a hard sell on foods that have a high “ick” factor. There is a whole chapter on organ meats. I haven’t been able to stomach anything except for the liver pate, but she has convinced me that organ meats are good for me.

Enzyme-rich, lacto-fermented foods are of particular interest to me. Making a pickle without a drop of vinegar seems like magic to me!

Book Review: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

If I had to name one thing that most influences my cooking, it would be reading. I’m an avid reader and in the last few years I’ve been eating up many a food-related book. Not only do I find them entertaining, many have completely changed the way that I eat.

I’ve always considered myself a healthy eater. Over the years, my idea of what I considered to be healthy has changed and books have been an important part of that change. I’ll be posting reviews of books that have influenced my eating. Here’s the first one.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
By Michael Pollan
Penguin 2006

The Omnivore’s Dilemma was a “gateway drug” for me. I blame it for igniting my real-food quest, which was a slipper slope to a full-blown obsession. It’s a must read for anyone who eats. After I read it, I bought multiple copies and gave them as gifts. I thought it was enlightening and important to share.

Pollan traces the origins of four meals. The first meal is from McDonalds. This takes us through a commercial feedlot and ends up in a cornfield. Apparently, just about every bit of processed food can trace at least some of its ingredients back to corn.

The next two meals are organic. One leads us to large-scale commercial organic farming operation and the other to an innovative, self-sustaining farm, where we meet Joel Salatin of Pollyface Farms, quite the character.

The fourth meal is one that Pollan hunted, gathered, and grew himself. He takes us hunting for wild boar in California and shows us the secretive world of morels and chanterelles foragers.

This book challenged that way that I looked at food. It brought to light some of the more unseemly practices of industrial food and made me keenly aware of how political food is.