by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Books

Jul 27 2018

Weekend reading: Amy Trubek’s Making Modern Meals

Amy Trubek.  Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today.  University of California Press, 2017.

Amy Trubek, an anthropologist (who also trained as a chef) at the University of Vermont, turns her attention to the meaning of cooking in our current era.  Cooking is, as she titles her chapters, at once a chore, occupation, art, craft, and means to achieve health.

She approached these topics as an anthropologist, using participant observations of bakeries and interviews with city and rural participants about their thoughts about cooks and cooking.  She uses this research as a window on contemporary life.

So, what of the dominant narrative that cooking is in decline because home cooks don’t cook…Can we trust this assumption?  Not really….Perhaps the culprit is the organization and structure of modern life.  In multiple discourses (occurring in cookbooks, historical and contemporary media, interviews with cooks, etc.) there exists a pervasive sense of lack and loss as to what we can and should do in our domestic lives.  Almost seventy years ago, Avis DeVoto complained that she did not have time to cook…In this narrative, home cooking is much more episodic than in earlier times because it needs to be, given the expansion of daily demands, and skills and tasks related to meal preparation are given up so that cooking can be fit into modern life [pp. 106-107].

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Jul 20 2018

Weekend reading: Paul Greenberg’s The Omega Principle

Paul Greenberg.  The Omega Principle: Seafood and the Quest for a Long Life and a Healthier Planet.  Penguin Press, 2018.

This is the third installment of Paul Greenberg’s fish trilogy (the previous two are Four Fish and American Catch, both also well worth the read).

This one sounds like a book about nutrition—a nutrient—but it’s not.  It may have started out that way, as a book about omega-3 fatty acids whose principal dietary source is fish, but Greenberg soon figured out that claims for the miraculous health benefits of omega-3s don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Instead, he uses omega-3s as an organizing framework for discussing how we use and misuse fish for industrial purposes.  To do this, he travels.  He goes to the Mediterranean to examine what happens to anchovies, Peru to see what happens to anchoveta, to the Antarctic to see what happens to krill.

His point?  If we destroy the bottom of the seafood chain to make fishmeal or fertilizer, we destroy the ecology of fish higher up on the food chain.

Greenberg is a lively, entertaining writer who tells great fish tales in pursuit of a serious message: if we want food in our future, we need to eat lower on the food chain.

And the book comes with recipes.  My favorite: Roulades of Antarctic penguin breast.  It begins: “Never make this recipe, please.”

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Jul 6 2018

Weekend Reading: Food Citizenship (I’m in it)

Ray Goldberg.  Food Citizenship: Food System Advocates in an Era of Distrust. Oxford University Press, 2018.

As should be obvious from this cover, I have a special interest in this book.  For more than 20 years, I’ve been attending an annual meeting of food industry executives, entrepreneurs, and a sprinkling of advocates, government officials, and academics brought together by its author, Ray Goldberg, to try to encourage mutual understanding if not agreement.

When the meeting started, Ray was an agribusiness professor at the Harvard Business School.  After his retirement, the meeting moved to the Kennedy School of Government.  It still continues.

This book consists of Ray’s interviews with dozens of people who have attended this meeting over the years.  Ray interviewed people with an enormous range of involvement in food as well as of opinion about what should be done to improve food systems.

If truth be told, I always felt like a spectator at this meeting, and I am enormously surprised and honored to see that my interview comes first in the book, and that Ray mentions it in his introduction and conclusion.

I think the book is worth reading.  Or, as it happens, watching.

Oxford has posted the videotaped interviews online.  Here’s mine.

May 4 2018

Weekend reading (and cooking): Sam Kass’s Eat a Little Better

Sam Kass was, of course, the Obamas’ personal family chef and Michelle Obama’s policy person in charge of Let’s Move.  This is his first book, part memoir of his culinary background and time with the Obamas in Chicago and Washington (riveting), part food philosophy (even small steps toward eating count for a lot), and part recipes (delicious, easy, and my kind of food).

Also, the photographs of Sam, his family, and the food are gorgeous.  This is one stunningly produced cookbook (thanks to Clarkson Potter Publishers).

My cousin, theater director Robert Moss, took a look at it when staying at my apartment.  He ended his thank-you note with this comment:

P.S.  I loved the Sam Kass book–made me want to cook now!

Me too.

 

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Feb 16 2018

Weekend reading for kids: Eat This!

Andrea Curtis.  Eat This!  How Fast-Food Marketing Gets You to Buy Junk (and how to fight back).  Red Deer Press, 2018.

This, amazingly, is a 36-page toolkit for fighting marketing to kids, with endorsements from Mark Bittman and Jamie Oliver, among others.

As I read it, it’s a manual for teaching food literacy to kids—teaching them how to think critically about all the different ways food and beverage companies try to get kids to buy their products or pester their parents to do so.

The “fighting back” part takes up just two pages, but it suggests plenty of projects that kids can do:

Do taste tests of fast food and the same thing home made.  “Which one is more delicious, more expensive, more healthy?  Which creates the least amount of waste?”

Watch your favorite show…Mark down how many times you see product placement.”

“Quick: think of all the fast-food mascots you know by name…Who are the mascots aimed at?”

The illustrations are kid-friendly as is the text.  I’m guessing this could be used easily with kids from age 8 on.

 

Feb 2 2018

Weekend reading: Eating Ethically

Jonathan K. Crane.  Eating Ethically: Religion and Science for a Better Diet.  Columbia University Press, 2017.

Image result for Eating Ethically: Religion and Science for a Better Diet.

I did a blurb for this one:

This entertaining and provocative book draws on biblical and philosophical sources to argue that eating is an act of ethics, and that we would all be happier and healthier if we adhered to the Bible’s dietary advice—eat enough, but not too much.  Anyone interested in food will be fascinated by the stories Jonathan Crane tells here.

Here’s an excerpt, to give you a taste of what it’s about:

I call this kind of discussion eating ethics.  Its ethics are not confined to philosophical schools of consequentialism (where the ends justify the means) or deontology (where an act is moral to the degree it complies with a preconceived duty or principle).  Rather, its ethics lie in the truth that eating is in and of itself an ethical enterprise, no matter how one thinks about it.  Just as eating is an inherently ethical enterprise, food itself is similarly an ethical construct: it is socially defined and defining, as demonstrated by conversation in dietetics…it directly impacts me the eater and the eaten, not to mention the contexts in which this eating occurs, inclusive of humans, other sentient creatures, the environment, and more, as food ethics readily explains.

The book ends with this statement:

For all of these reasons, how and why we eat are two of the most urgent and pressing ethical enterprises of our very existence, and they lie daily in our own hands and mouths.

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Jan 19 2018

Weekend Reading: The New Bread Basket

Amy Halloran.  The New Bread Basket: How the New Crop of Grain Growers, Plant Breeders, Millers, Maltsters, Bakers, Brewers, and Local Food Activists are Redefining Our Daily Loaf.  Chelsea Green, 2015.

Image result for the new bread basket

I missed this when it came out, but Chelsea Green just sent me a copy.  I’m happy to have it, because it starts out by talking about the people behind the Community Supported Bakery (CSB) program I belong to in upstate New York around Ithaca: Stefan Senders’ Wide Awake Bakery and Thor Oechsner who grows and mills most of the grain for that bakery.

Halloran interviewed many local and national people in the various categories of her book’s subtitle.  If you want to know how and why there is now so much fabulous bread available in so many places in America, her book explains all.

Bread lover that I am, I am grateful to all of them.

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Jan 12 2018

Weekend reading: Diet and the Disease of Civilization

Adrienne Rose Bitar.  Diet and the Disease of Civilization.  Rutgers University Press, 2017.

Image result for Diet and the Disease of Civilization

I did a blurb for this one:

Bitar’s fascinating thesis is that diet books are ways to understand contemporary social and political movements.  Whether or not you agree with her provocative arguments, they are well worth reading.

I also took some extra notes because the publisher wanted a particularly short blurb.  As you might suspect from my brief comment, I have some quibbles with some of Bitar’s arguments, but the book is interesting, well written, and worth a look.

Bitar deals with four categories of diet books: Paleolithic, faith-based, South Seas paradise, and detox (this last category strangely includes Michael Pollan’s and my work).

Here’s a sample from the chapter I thought strongest, the one on Paleolithic diets.  It refers to classic images of man arising from apes, and then degenerating into obesity.

These images suggest what is much more explicit in the text—that the diet is a story about humanity, about evolution, about civilization and dis-mankind.  The body of the individual dieter is situated in a long, deep history of mankind.  The dieter is biologically indebted to the Paleolithic Era and, in turn, the coming generations will be indebted to him.  Everyday body practices of the individual—eating, sleeping, walking—are elevated to symbols of mankind’s ascent or descent, failures or triumph, in the grand narrative of progress (p. 41).

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