The SkywalkerSwartz Blog

Monday, October 22, 2007

The World's Healthiest Food for Thought

My friend Bryan is fanatically devoted to a book called The World's Healthiest Foods. You can preview author George Mateljan's list of healthy foods on his website. Of course, I'm more concerned about taste, and thus prefer The New Best Recipe, which I tell my friends is like "being given the answers to the test ahead of time."

This war of cookbooks points out what I think is a larger trend (as noted by David Kamp's United States of Arugula and Mark Bittman's excellent NY Times Magazine article) that eating and cooking--both for health and pleasure--has become a national obsession. Some interesting reading on the subject:

  • Real Food

    Nina Planck, a farmers' market organizer, has become a proponent of "Real Food"...which means not only eating local/non-processed food, but also eating meats and other animal products (including lard!). She used to be a vegan, and her book largely chronicles her journey from only-olive-oil-and-lentils to a wider range of "real" foods. A brief interview gives you the gist of her thesis, as can a longer video of her speaking in Seattle. An obvious criticism is that poor people cannot afford the free-range organic meats that she promotes, but her thesis is still compelling.

  • Pollan's Polemics

    Michael Pollan seems to be making a career out of food politics, including a thought-provoking article on "Nutritionism", what he calls the obsession with eating nutrients instead of--you guessed it--real food. The article likely excerpts from his new book, In Defense of Food. Also interesting is his shorter article on how the Farm Bill should really be called the Food Bill, which will make you even more angry that the Democrats squandered a chance to finally reform food subsidies.

    Pollan's best writing may be in the highly popular Omnivore's Dilemma, which poses the question, "What should one eat"? Among its very interesting chapters is a critique of, and defense of, eating animal products. Essentially, he comes to the same conclusion as Nina Planck: that perhaps there is much evil in industrialized farming of animals, but eating traditionally raised animals can be completely ethical and even humane. If you enjoyed Fast Food Nation, you'll also enjoy this book. Parts of it are a bit pretentious and overwrought, but the interesting subject matter and thoughtful conclusions are worth the occasional ramble. One of his early points, that (heavily subsidized) corn is the cash crop behind much of the "food" in the supermarket, is featured in the movie King Corn.

    Both Pollan and Planck have the same dietary message: forget the health fads of the 20th and early 21st century. So long as you eat "traditional" foods that your (or somebody else's) great-grandparents would eat, you'll probably be alright.

  • Foodstuff Fanaticism

    Trevor Corson's The Zen of Fish, a fascinating tell-all about sushi, got me curious about what other foods have books devoted to them. A cursory Amazon search yielded books chronicling the complete history and anthropological significance of sugar (and another one), salt, potatoes, corn (and another), bananas, olives, peanuts, tomatoes, lobsters, oysters, cod, caviar, chocolate (and another one), honey, nutmeg, saffron, curry, coffeee (and another), milk, rum, tea, and no fewer than three books on vanilla. Several other books group several foodstuffs: Pollan's The Botany of Desire discusses apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes; Spice: The History of a Temptation covers various spices; Seeds of Change discusses quinine, sugar, tea, cotton, cocoa, and the potato while its sister book Seeds of Wealth discusses wine grapes as well as inedibles tobacco, timber, and rubber; A History of the World in 6 Glasses goes into beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. all we need is the "untold story" about how haggis "changed the world"!

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