Saturday, March 08, 2008

real food- book review

I read a lot of books about food. I love the entire subject- history, nutrition, science, restaurants, trends, even fad diets. I'm obsessed with it. I read cookbooks like novels. So as an avid food junkie, I thought I would start book reviews on Food, Glorious Food.

The best book I've read in some time is The Omnivore's Dilemma-- I'd like to read it again and will review it at that time, but today I want to focus on Real Food: What to Eat and Why, by Nina Planck. I bought it in the airport last Tuesday and finished it Thursday night (there's really not much else to do in Salt Lake City). Planck grew up on a farm in Virginia and started the first famers' market in London (impressive!) and the premise of her book is that real food is good for you (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, grass-fed beef, raw milk); industrial food is bad for you (corn syrup, hydrogenated palm oil, white sugar). Her definition of real food is foods that are old (been around for thousands of years), and foods that are traditional (butter is real food; margarine is not).

While I whole-heartedly agree with Planck's general belief that the industrial food boom is responsible for our concurrent weight epidemic (there's a reason America is the only country where poverty is linked to obesity), vitamins from said food are better than synthetic supplements, and slow food is healthier than fast food, I had a few negative reactions to her book.

1. She sang way too many praises for fat and cholesterol. Of course some fat is good for you. Your body needs it to survive. It makes you feel full and keeps your skin and hair pretty. I eat more than my fair share of it- in the form of nuts, seeds, olive and sesame oils, plants, and cheese (glorious cheese)- but I don't see any nutritional reason why humans need to drink whole milk after childhood, or why I should buy and strain my own pig lard. Her opinion (based on her research of 1- herself) is that vegetarianism is bad for you. She claims to have been heavier, flabbier, and more sickly when she didn't eat meat. Barring anemia, which is certainly a valid caution for female vegetarians- there is really no reason a vegetarian can't get above-adequate nutrition from a plant-based diet. If one does choose to eat meat- I agree with her that it should be small-farmed (not industrial) without hormones or antibiotics, but there's really no reason to eat it at every meal, or in more than 4-6oz servings. She repeatedly states that ancient man didn't have heart disease or high cholesterol and pretty much all they ate was meat- and my rebuttal is A) how do we know that? and B) ancient man didn't live long enough to develop any degenerative diseases.

2. Her book was way too opinion-based.* She used selective facts to support her argument. For one example, she wrote about the Clara Davis baby experiments from the late 30s, where Davis gave babies 33 foods to choose from and let them eat whatever and however much they wanted. Planck noted that one baby who had been diagnosed with rickets reached for the cod liver oil (high in vitamin D, which is a cure for rickets) every day until his rickets were gone, and then never touched it again. I searched the internet for information and read up on the Clara Davis experiments and what Planck didn't tell you is that there were 3 babies in the study who had rickets; the other 2 babies did not receive cod liver oil and they all passed their rickets in almost identical timing. I felt like every other sentence in her book started with "in my opinion," "I feel the reasoning is," "it could be that," "what this surely must mean," etc. While (obviously) one's writing is always opinion-based, I feel (hee!) that she presented her book as scientific but her writing was based in opinion.

3. I think the mantra to steer clear of industrial foodstuffs completely is unreasonable in our current time and space. Unless every family in America owns their own farm, it's just impossible. I'm not saying it's great or even preferable, but the average American can't just bebop down to the corner store for a gallon of whole, raw milk or have access to fresh produce grown 100% free of chemicals. I was almost in a state of despair as I was reading-- I am probably going to die from those dried soba noodles I bought from the Asian market last week-- surely since they are processed they are bad for me!! Baby steps, American foodies.... unprocessed food IS better for you than processed. You SHOULD choose steel-cut oats instead of instant oatmeal and buy organic when it is available and you can afford it. I DO believe you should buy fresh, in-season produce from as close to home as you can possibly get, and that corn syrup is practially liquid Satan. But we are a country of over 300 million people- we have to feed them industrially. There is no way around it. And while I agree with all of Planck's statements that pollution in our food is killing us, we also have air pollution, soil pollution, and water pollution- so growing your own vegetables and raising your own meat is not a cure-all.

In summary, I enjoyed Planck's book but wouldn't use it as a textbook of hard scientific knowledge. Use her presentations as a guideline for your diet and be responsible in your choices. I had a Kashi frozen waffle this morning- yes, it was processed in a factory- but I ate it with an organic egg from a free-roaming California chicken and a California-grown clementine. I can live with that. And I'll probably live healthier and more socially responsible than most.

*Yes, pot, the kettle and I ARE both black. But this is my BLOG, not a self-help book.

On deck on Food, Glorious Food: my version of Orangette's version of the Nigella's granola, and Krysten's birthday dessert (surprise)!!!

1 comment:

Cameron said...

Bring on the Omnivore's Dilemma review! That was fun chatting about it at lunch. We should do lunch in the city some time.

Have you picked up In Defense of Food yet? I need to.