Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What I've been reading- Food Edition

I am a fiction reader. I like to read young adult fantasy, hard sci-fi, time travel, steam-punk, or pretty much anything that isn't modern-day, normal life Earth. But when I do get in the frame of mind to read non-fiction, I tend to do so obsessively. I'll get every book by an author, or binge on a specific subject. Most recently, I've been on a real food kick.

For Christmas, Guy and I received a copy of Cooked, by Michael Pollan. I read through it cover to cover in about a week. There are some fascinating tidbits in Cooked; the theory that cooking food was the development that allowed us to grow our big brains and become what we are today, for one. Pollan takes the reader through different methods of preparing food using key recipes intermingled with stories of how he learned them, the people he met in the course of his research, and a liberal amount of philosophy. His main theme seems to be that it is worth the time and effort to cook and eat together- he makes several mentions of how his Sunday afternoon cooking time became a way to bond with his teenage son.

I enjoyed reading Cooked enough that I downloaded two more of Pollan's books from the library- The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. It's been a few weeks since I read those, and they are mixed up in my mind, partly because there's a lot of territory covered by both books. In Defense of Food is where Pollan sets out a "diet" that I would actually follow (and usually do): Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants. He talks in both books about the difference between food and the food-like substances that most Americans live off of; the hundreds of products made from industrial corn and soy, including the meat we eat (corn and soy diet), the calories we drink (soda), and the unpronouncables in all of our processed food. He talks about the damage that industrial farming is doing to the farming economy, the environment, and our health. Both interesting reads, and I did learn some things I hadn't known.

While reading through those, I also read through the archives of 100 Days of Real Food, a blog about one family's challenge to remove all processed food from their lives for, well, 100 days. It has some great recipes and tips for those trying to make similar changes, and the author, Lisa, is humble and honest about how little she knew starting out. She does have her soapbox moments, though!

Finally, I looked up another book I'd seen on my locavore parents' bookshelf- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The author and her family (who also contributed to the book) spent a year eating only food they could get locally (with a few exceptions. Coffee- I get it.) It may be because I was reaching the end of my food-related reading binge, but this one dragged for me. My loan from the library expired before I finished it, and I had to download it again. I did enjoy the book, on the whole, though I got pretty bored during the long explanation of the evils of Big Corn (which I had just read in The Omnivore's Dilemma). I finished the book with a sense of relief and am currently deeply ensconced in- what else- a young adult fantasy.

So, to the meat of it (Hah! Food pun!) Did what I read in any of these books change how I eat and feed my family? Not a whole lot. Fact is, these authors were preaching to the choir. I already try to avoid processed foods, cook as much as I can, and eat lots of plants. We eat together as a family every night that Guy is home- four or five nights a week- and I'm not going to make him feel guilty for the nights he's not here because he needs to make money so we can buy food.

As far as eating locally, I would love to. As soon as the Farmer's Markets open up, I'll make a point to go there for the bulk of our produce if I can. But milk and meat are a little trickier. Our current dairy is local, but not organic. I've looked for an organic alternative, but not much is out there. Meat is just out of our price range. According to Michael Pollan, Americans on average spend about nine percent of their income on food. Ours is more like thirteen percent, which still doesn't sound like a lot, but we don't have any wiggle room in the budget right now.

What changes have I made? Well, I'm not quite ready to give up Costco Taquito night, but I have eliminated my emergency canned soups pretty much entirely. I use even less refined sugar than I used to, swapping for honey or maple syrup or eliminating it all together from some recipes (We put sugar on top of the pancakes! do they need it inside, too?) I've started bringing lunch to school every day, and packing for Kai as well. The school provides free lunch but I want better control over what we eat, and I was underwhelmed with their menu. And that's probably about as far as I'll take it for a while.

Thanks for reading all the way through! Here's a picture of Kai learning to sew.  He stuck with it for about three minutes and then decided cutting up the fabric and making designs was way more fun.

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  1. Maia, What a thoughtfully written blog. I read all that you write and enjoy everything. I'm your mother (the locavore), so of course I would.

  2. I loved this post, that you have done all that reading and thinking, and of course the picture of Kai, who sounds more like a quilter/fabric artist than a seamstress (what an odd word, that) just like his Jemma. --Wes