Thursday, May 21, 2009

Two book reviews, and one movie review

Lest you start to think we're all about the cleaning products, we're a full-service blog here.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
I've been meaning to read Michael Pollan's work for a while now, and I don't know what was delaying me. A New York Times journalist, Pollan writes about nutrition without promoting a specific diet, and with these three maxims to guide us: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. As the sleep-deprived mother of an active toddler, it takes quite a lot for a work of non-fiction to hold the attention of my addled brain, but this book did the trick. It's very readable, and it left me wanting to know even more about how our food is grown and raised, and how it gets to our table. The book taught me that eating organic, local food is not just a matter of doing something good for the environment, but also for our own health. Pollan highlights the inherent problems with how the government brings nutrition information to us, due to the nature of powerful lobbies from agricultural industry. This is the kind of book that has me reading in bed late into the night (despite my sleep-deprived status, even) to poke my husband in the shoulder and start a one-sided conversation beginning with "Did you know...?!" Most of all, the book left me with a strong desire to have a long conversation with my grandmothers and great-grandmothers about how they fed their families.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, thanks to books like The Poisonwood Bible (one of the few books I will read repeatedly, and it gets better every time) and Pigs in Heaven. Already thinking she was brilliant, I hesitated to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for several reasons: I didn't want my idealistic vision of the Kingsolver I knew and loved to be tarnished by what could be a mediocre work of nonfiction (see my proviso about nonfiction, above). I didn't know if I wanted to know more about "locavorism," the art of eating locally, since I live in Minnesota and I didn't want to be depressed by my limitations. But an interview of Kingsolver on Krista Tippet's radio program "Speaking of Faith" , along with several enthusiastic reviews from friends, provided just the impetus that I needed to read it. And oh, how I'm glad I did. Another late-night poke-to-the-husband's-shoulder read, the book details the resolve of the Kingsolver's family to eat locally for one year in rural Appalachia. Neither Kingsolver nor Michael Pollan are vegetarians, and Kingsolver does a beautiful job of explaining her family's decision to eat (ethically raised) meat. She and her family even raise poultry (and eggs) on their small farm. Kingsolver is a poet in the best sense of the word, and her writing is gently convincing, making the reader want to adopt her lifestyle, or at least her ideals. I have a black thumb, a tiny yard (taken up by two dogs), and a neighborhood full of aggressively hungry raccoons, but the book still instilled a desire in me to grow my own food. For now, my efforts will be focused on tending our small herb garden, one tomato plant (promised by the farmers' market vendor that it's the kind that does well in a pot), and making the most of our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) bounty this summer.

PS - This book has so infiltrated our lives that last night, when I asked my husband if we could get a heritage turkey for this year's Thanksgiving feast (to be ordered in the spring for the upcoming November), he said, "Just not a live one. Please."

PPS - There is a website (linked to the right) for Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. All the links and recipes listed in the book are on the site. Check it out.

Super Size Me (2004)
I know, I know. Until a few weeks ago, I was the last person on the planet that hadn't seen this movie. I should have seen it ages ago. But I finally sat down and watched it, and I was impressed. Morgan Spurlock, the protagonist of this documentary, and he undertakes to eat at McDonald's for three meals a day, for one month. At the beginning of his experiment, he undergoes a battery of tests by physicians, nutritionists, and personal trainers to assess his overall health and fitness level. He is deemed healthy and fit. These professionals urge Spurlock not to undertake the experiment, but they are rather lukewarm about it at first, thinking that a month of McDonald's won't do much harm to this robust, healthy individual. A few weeks in, however, they are all begging him to quit, due to the quantifiable damage he is doing do his body. This is not the most scientific of experiments (one subject, reporting subjective feelings most of the time), but it is powerful. His data about the fast food industry, obesity in America, and the food industry in general, are strong reminders of how our eating influences our health. I would give the movie two thumbs up, with the exception of the vomiting scene on one of the first days of the experiment. I don't do vomit. For those with weak stomachs, just fast-forward when he starts talking about getting the "McSweats."

As you can see, I've been on a binge (forgive me) of books and movies about nutrition lately. Why now? Well, for one thing, I think I was finally ready to start absorbing some of this material. I need to lose some pesky baby weight. We're signed up for our CSA this summer, and I wanted to give myself somewhat of a pep talk to eat all the vegetables coming our way. I've been feeding our baby organic food since he started eating solid food last summer, and we've gradually been changing our diets as well. The CSA starts in a few weeks, and I think I can safely say that I'm psyched up to try the harvest, and proudly so, after my recent reading and viewing.

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