by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Books

Mar 19 2012

New books on ways of eating, American and not

Jonathan Deutsch and Natalya Murakhver, editors, They Eat That?  A Cultural Encyclopedia of Weird and Exotic Food from around the World, ABC-CLIO, 2012.

The editors, both graduates of my NYU department, got their students, colleagues, and friends to write short essays about nearly 100 foods considered weird, at least by someone.  The list includes foods that are anything but weird in other cultures—seitan, durian, nettles, haggis, huitlaloche, vegemite, but also those hardly ever available to even the most serious eaters.  On that list I would put camel, cavy, iguana, and walrus flipper.  As for what I would eat, stinky cheese, yes.  Urine, no way.  The entries put the foods in cultural context and provide references.  Most come with recipes.  This book is fun.

Tracie McMillan, The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table, Scribner 2012.

McMillan followed the footsteps of Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed) and went to work at low wage jobs.  She has plenty to say about how hard it is to do them and how little they pay; she provides balance sheets to prove it.  Like Ehrenreich, she’s a good writer and her stories are compelling.  Eating well in America, she says, is difficult—bordering on impossible—for people who don’t have much money.

Mar 16 2012

New books on farming, urban and not

Atina Diffley, Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works, University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

I blurbed this one, with much pleasure: “Turn Here Sweet Corn is an unexpected page-turner.  Atina Diffley’s compelling account of her life as a Minnesota organic farmer is deeply moving not only from a personal standpoint but also from the political.  Diffley reveals the evident difficulties of small-scale organic farming but is inspirational about its value to people and the planet.”  The book comes with an insert of glorious photographs illustrating the history she recounts.  The political?  The Diffley’s fought to keep an oil company from running a pipeline through their property—and won.

David Hanson and Edwin Marty, Breaking Through Concrete: Building an Urban Farm Revival, University of California Press, 2012.

Wonderfully photographed visits to a dozen urban farms all over America from Seattle (P-Patch) to Brooklyn’s own Annie Novak’s Eagle Street.  The authors asked hard questions and got honest answers.  This is a great resource for anyone who wants to get started, and the beautiful farms and farmers are well worth a look.

Jennifer Cockrall-King, Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution, Prometheus Books, 2012.

Cockrall-King went international.  She visited cities in the U.S., England, France, Canada, and Cuba to see what urban farmers were doing to create alternative food systems.  They are doing plenty.  This looks like a great excuse for ecotourism, dropping by, seeing for yourself, and getting to work.

Mar 14 2012

New books: the farm bill and farming

It’s spring and the books about food and farms are flooding in.  I’ll start with these.

Daniel Imhoff, Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill, Watershed Media, 2012.

Michael Pollan and Fred Kirschnmann introduce this new, gorgeously illustrated edition of Imhoff’s lucid explanation of the farm bill and the vast number of issues it covers.  I’m not aware of anything else that comes close to explaining this most obscure and obfuscated piece of legislation.   Congress is fussing with the bill right now.  If you want to understand what your elected officials are fussing about, start here.  I will use this book in my NYU classes and will borrow the stunning illustrations for talks.

Jim VanDerPol, Conversations with the Land, No Bull Press, 2012.

This is a book of personal reflections on farms, farming, and farmers.  VanDerPol talks about the weather, people and communities, and better ways to produce food and to live.  From his base in Minnesota, he gives his thoughts  about the way agriculture has changed and what can be done to make it better.

Feb 25 2012

Why Calories Count: The First Review!

From The Scientist: Magazine of the Life Sciences, February 2012.

Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics

by Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim
University of California Press, April 2012

Nutritional science guru Marion Nestle’s new book, Why Calories Count, seeks to crack open the inscrutable nature of the calorie. Think of the book, cowritten with Cornell University nutritionist and biochemist Malden Nesheim, as a diner’s elemental guide to eating. Nestle and Nesheim deconstruct the calorie—the bane of many a belly in the developed and developing worlds—to its barest components as a humble unit of work or heat before reassembling it and discussing its implications for disease, obesity, politics, and modern marketing.

From the strict chemical definition of a calorie to the 25-year quest by the Center for Science in the Public Interest to require nutritional labels, including calories, on alcoholic beverages, Why Calories Count weaves scientific and social tales into a rich portrait of the American diet and the laws that have shaped it.

By thoroughly burrowing into the meaning and impacts of calories, the authors intend to bestow a more relaxed yet active state of mind upon the reader. “Get organized. Eat less. Move more. Get political,” they suggest. Sounds like the most succinct diet book ever written.

Feb 14 2012

The Prince’s Speech—On the Future of Food—is now a book

I’ve just received my copy of the book based on the speech given by Prince Charles at a conference I attended in Washington DC a few months ago.

The tiny, 46-page book (published by Rodale and available online and at your local Indie) reprints the speech along with color photographs and a foreword by Wendell Berry and Afterword by Eric Schlosser.

Grist asked me some questions about it.

What sticks out to you most in this speech/book? What surprised you? What do you most hope the reader comes away with?

I attended the meeting at which Prince Charles spoke and was impressed at the time by his broad overview and understanding of the problems inherent in industrial food and the implications of those problems.  He described himself as a farmer, which was not exactly how I had imagined him.  It’s impressive that someone of his stature cares about these issues and is willing to go on record promoting a healthier food system.

Most Americans are probably not aware that Prince Charles is an organic farmer and long-term advocate of sustainable food. What do you think the ultimate value of hearing such an urgent message about the need to change our food system from him? In other words: Do you think it will have more weight/reach coming from him than say Michael Pollan or Alice Waters?

Americans in general love royalty.  Whether food movement participants care about royalty is a different matter.  I can’t imagine anyone in America having more weight than Michael Pollan and Alice Waters but it’s great to have Michelle Obama and now the Prince on our side.

On a related note, the food movement has been working to free itself of the “elitist” charges for years? How do you think inviting one of the true elite (i.e. he grew up in a working castle!) to speak about these issues impacts the discussion.

I don’t know anyone in the food movement who isn’t actively concerned and working hard to make healthy food available to everyone, rich and poor alike.  I see the food movement as an important player in efforts to reduce income inequities.  People will care whether the Prince has anything to say about this or not depending on their feelings about celebrities in general and royalty in particular.

In the book, Prince Charles says “farmers are better off using intensive methods and where consumers who would prefer to buy sustainably produced food are unable to do so because of the price. There are many producers and consumers who want to do the right thing but, as things stand, “doing the right thing” is penalized.” What, in your opinion, would it take to reverse this predicament?

This is a matter of public policy.  Our agricultural support system rewards big, intensive, and commodities like corn and soybeans.  It barely acknowledges small, sustainable, and “specialty” (translation: fruits and vegetables).  Policy is a matter of political will and can be changed.

Prince Charles also suggests that it’s time to “re-assess what has become a fundamental aspect of our entire economic model…Because we cannot possibly maintain the approach in the long-term if we continue to consume our planet as rapaciously as we are doing. Capitalism depends upon capital, but our capital ultimately depends upon the health of Nature’s capital. Whether we like it or not, the two are in fact inseparable.” What role do you think can food play in “re-assessing this economic model?

Food is such a good way to introduce people to every one of these concepts: capitalism, depletion of natural resources, and climate change, for that matter.  At NYU, we explain what food studies is about by saying that food is a lens through which to view, analyze, and work to improve the most important problems facing societies today.  I can hardly think of a social problem that is not linked to food in some way.  That’s what makes it fun to teach.  It’s also what makes the food movement so important.

Jan 25 2012

Books worth reading

I’m at the Emma Willard school in Troy, NY today and will miss the noon USDA conference call announcing new school nutrition standards.  I will post on them tomorrow.  In the meantime…

Sarah Wu (aka Mrs. Q), Fed Up With Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth About School Lunches–and How We Can Change Them!  Chronicle Books, 2011.

I did a blurb on this one:

Only someone who has actually eaten what our kids are fed in school—every day for an entire school year—could write so convincing an expose.  Mrs. Q did not set out to be an activist, but her book is a compelling case study of what’s wrong with our school food system and what all of us need to do to fix it.  Her account of what one person can do should inspire every parent to advocate for better food for kids in school as well as out.

Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal.  The Essential Urban FarmerPenguin, 2011. 

This book is a must for anyone interested in growing food plants in urban environments.  Carpenter wrote Farm City about her own inner city farm in Oakland, CA and teams up with the founder of City Slicker Farms, also in Oakland.  They cover everything you can think of, from dealing with contaminated soil to growing enough food to start your own business. 

They illustrate the how-to with photos, diagrams, and line drawings that make it all look easy.  Urban farming IS easy, at least in miniature (tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, and blueberries flourish on my Manhattan terrace).  It doesn’t have to be a big deal.  Go for it!

 

 

 

Jan 12 2012

Some thoughts on high rates of child malnutrition in India

The New York Times reported a shocking statistic yesterday: about 42% of children under age 5 living in India suffer from malnutrition and are “wasted” (low weight for height). 

The figure comes from the Hungama survey of 73,000 Indian households conducted by the Naandi Foundation.  It reports an even more troubling statistic: nearly 59% of Indian children under age 5 are “stunted” (low height for age).

The Hangama report holds one hopeful note.  Rates of childhood malnutrition in India fell by 20% during the past 7 years.

But have they? 

According to a more detailed analysis in today’s New York Times

Despite the recent boom years of the 1990s and 2000s, there has been little improvement in overall nutrition in India, according to United Nations data. About 20 percent of India’s over 1 billion population remained “undernourished” during that time, meaning their “food intake regularly provides less than their minimum energy requirements.” The most recent”Global Hunger Index” shows that two-thirds of the 122 developing countries studied had reduced hunger levels in recent years, but that hunger levels in India have increased.

Ending malnutrition is a matter of political will.  If India wanted to address childhood malnutrition in any serious way, it could. 

How?  Feeding programs are emergency measures.  Long-term solutions require institution of social programs:

  • Promote breastfeeding,
  • Educate and empower women
  • Build toilets
  • Clean up water supplies
  • Eradicate worms
  • Reduce income inequality    

Two recent books summarize the research behind these ideas and explain what causes widespread hunger and what to do about it.  They make it clear that eradicating childhood malnutrition should be a first priority for any government:

  • Olivier De Schutter and Kaitlin Cordes, editors: Accounting for Hunger: The Right to Food in the Era of Globalisation (Studies in International Law), Hart, 2011.
  • Per Pinstrup-Anderson P and Derrill D. Watson II: Food Policy for Development Countries: The Role of Government in Global, National, and Local Food Systems, Cornell University Press, 2011.  
Dec 2 2011

Recent books about hunger and obesity: quick reviews

John Cawley, editor.  The Oxford Handbook of the Social Science of Obesity, Oxford University Press 2011.  The editor says this book is intended to be a “Rosetta Stone, …….that explains how different disciplines are approaching the same topic.”  Its 47 chapters come from contributors from different social science disciplines, each approaching obesity from their own perspectives: demography, anthropology, psychology, sociology, economics, and fat studies, for example.  Other sections of the book deal with the causes and consequences of obesity, available data for studying it, and policy approaches to prevention and treatment such as community intervention, drugs and bariatric surgery, food taxes, advertising, and behavioral techniques.   This book is a good entry point to the literature on a vast array of subjects related to obesity, but it does not get much into the biological basis for obesity or weight control or the biological reasons why maintaining a healthy body weight is so difficult.

Sasha Abramsky, Breadline USA: The Hidden Scandal of American Hunger and How to Fix It, PoliPoint Press, 2009.  Abramsky is a journalist who set out to report on hunger in America, its political and economic causes, and its tragic consequences.  The personal stories are heartbreaking and infuriating and should inspire readers to do something to address income inequities.

George Kent, Ending Hunger Worldwide, Paradigm, 2011.  I first heard of Kent’s work when I was researching articles and books about the right to food. Then a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, Kent has been writing about the right to food, nutrition, and hunger for many years.  This short book is his manifesto, clear and to the point:

People commonly ask how it will be possible to feed future generations.  The question is insulting.  Why ask how people are to be fed, as if this had to be done by an external agent?  Most people are motivated to provide for themselves, and only need decent opportunities to do that….Who, when not deprived of the means, would not feed themselves and their families?

 

Tags: