"In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" was my first taste of Michael Pollan. Pollan asserts that Americans are "orthorexics," or people with an un"In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" was my first taste of Michael Pollan. Pollan asserts that Americans are "orthorexics," or people with an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Having lived in Japan and traveled frequently to the UK, I can agree with this assertion. I remember years ago when England finally got some decent coffee shops (serving real coffee), and I asked for skim milk. The barista looked at me as if I had two heads! (Things have changed since then, thanks to Starbucks.)
Pollan gives us a slew of information about the science of "nutrition," and the ways that government and the food industry have created and endorsed a series of "frankenfoods" over the years, depending on the slant of the latest health study and the deep pockets of the food and farmers' lobbies. He talks about how Americans had early interest in scientific eating, reflecting their discomfort for "immigrant food," which was viewed as weird, smelly, and mixed up. Americans have always been drawn to scientific data, and we are a nation obsessed with the pursuit of perfect bodies...we jump on any bandwagon, as long as it is telling us it will help us get skinnier. As Pollan illustrates, nutritionists, the USDA, and the food industry have led down all sorts of various paths over the years, none of which has helped Americans get fitter or healthier.
Reading Michael Pollan makes me feel suspicious of my nonfat milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese. How about the calcium-enriched orange juice we give to the children? Is it all bad?
What I liked most about the book was the final third, in which he gives clear advice about what we should eat, and why:
Eat foods. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Okay, easy enough, right?
Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
This makes total sense when considering Yoplait Gogurt, full of high-fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, natural and artificial flavors, etc. But what about Stonyfield Farms' organic YoKids squeezers, containing organic strawberries, colored with beets, and not containing any artificial ingredients? Yes, it does have sugar. But the reality is it's healthier than Gogurt. And in a busy family, it is nice to have reasonably healthy food that can be eaten on the run.
Avoid food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number, or that include high-fructose corn syrup.
Good suggestions, although the guidance to avoid anything with more than five ingredients I will take with a grain of salt. For example, for the sake of convenience, I will continue to eat my organic boxed or canned soups, which have more than five ingredients.
Avoid food products that make health claims.
Pollan attacks the Food and Drug Administration and the American Heart Association for agreeing to approve or endorse products that make dubious health claims. He cites an example of the FDA approving a health claim made by the corn oil industry, along with the American Heart Association's stamp of approval on Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, and Trix Cereals.
Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
Some of the healthy food is in the middle of the store (for example, whole grains), and some of the unhealthy foods (like at the meat counter and dairy case) is on the periphery. In general, this is a good rule but should be applied with flexibility.
Get out of the supermarket when possible.
Great advice. Pollan endorses shopping at the farmers' market, buying food in season, and trying out unfamiliar foods (as happens when you subscribe to a Community-Supported Agriculture [CSA} share. "Shake the hand that feeds you, and accountability becomes a matter of relationships instead of regulations or labeling or legal liability."
Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
For years food scientists have tried to extract the beneficial nutrients out of plants so that Americans don't need to eat so many plants. But the bottom line is that eating the plants themselves, instead of trying to get the nutrients in other ways, is the best choice. Period.
You are what you eat eats too.
If you choose to eat meat or fish, choose wisely. "The diet of the animals we eat has a bearing on the nutritional quality, and healthfulness, of the food itself." Pollan recommends seeking out meat from animals that have been fed on grass rather than seeds.
If you have the space, buy a freezer.
It will allow you to buy pastured meat in bulk and stock up at the farmers market when produce is in in season.
Eat like an omnivore.
Spice up your diet a little--try new foods. Don't stick to the same things at all times. Our diets, like our farming practices, need biodiversity to thrive.
Eat well-grown food from healthy soils.
It doesn't necessarily have to be organic, says Pollan. Many local farmers grow food in highly sustainable ways. Ideally, eat food that hasn't been transported miles across the country--eat organic and local.
Eat wild foods when you can.
Wild fish and animals are healthier than their farm-fed cousins.
Be the kind of person who takes supplements.
Pollan is conflicted about advising people to take a multi-vitamin. First he says that we should "be the kind of person who would take supplements (because they tend to be healthier), and then save your money." However, he does acknowledge the need for aging bodies to benefit from vitamins from fish oil.
Eat more like the French, or the Italians, or the Japanese, or the Indians, or the Greeks.
Traditional ethnic diets are more than the food itself--they also contain a cultural dimension, or how the food is eaten (for example, the French eat vastly smaller proportions than Americans do). But "regard nontraditional foods with skepticism" (such as soy products enhanced with "soy protein isolate," "soy isoflavones," and "textured vegetable protein." Apparently Americans now eat more soy than the Japanese or Chinese do--because the food industry injects soy into so many products. Also, "don't look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet." it might not necessarily be one ingredient that helps those cultures be healthier--it might be the combination of foods, or other factors.
Have a glass of wine with dinner.
Alcohol appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, but red wine especially appears to have unique protective properties. Drinking a little every day is better than drinking a lot on the weekends, and drinking with food is better than drinking without it. Experts recommend no more than two drinks a day for men, and one for women (otherwise you could increase your risk of cancer or other illnesses).
Pay more, eat less.
The cheaper the food, often the less healthy it is. Also, if you pay more, you're more likely to eat less of it. Pollan realizes that not everyone has the resources of paying more for their food...but many of us do. Especially if people examine how much they are paying for broadband, cable, and cell phones for everyone in the family.
Sitting down together as a family. Eating the same things. Enough said? Pollan also advises doing all your eating at a table, and a desk does not count. I will take this with a grain of salt, because I eat my lunch at my desk at work. It's healthier for me to do so than to eat out every day.
Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.
Gas stations sell processed, unhealthy foods. Don't buy them.
Try not to eat alone.
This is easy for me to do (except when I'm eating alone at my desk at lunch time), but not as easy for single people. I see his point, however. "When we eat mindlessly and alone, we eat more."
Consult your gut.
Stop eating when you are full. Or before you become full.
Eat with pleasure.
Cook and, if you can, plant a garden.
Since my husband and I embarked on implementing healthier eating habits for our family at the beginning of this year, we have eaten out less. It's much easier to eat more healthfully when you know what is going into your dishes. In particular, it's easier to feed our children healthy kids when we stay away from kids meals, which are often loaded with saturated fat and sugar, even in healthy restaurants.
I think I might not have been in the right frame of mind when I picked up this book. Perhaps because I had just finished the very dark "The Road"; whoI think I might not have been in the right frame of mind when I picked up this book. Perhaps because I had just finished the very dark "The Road"; who knows? I found myself scanning through some of these pieces...and I'm not much of a scanner.
The book was beautifully assembled, with black-and-white photos and essays by several women singer-songwriters such as Shawn Colvin, Sheryl Crow, Sarah Maclachlan, Jewel, Lucy Kaplansky, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Roseanne Cash, Suzanne Vega, etc.
The most valuable part of the book for me was to learn about some new singer-songwriters to discover. It was interesting to learn more about their background and how music has touched their lives. But I'm glad I got it out of the library....more
Norville's hypothesis in this book is if you are a more thankful person, you'll realize the following benefits:
You'll be more optimistic. You'll exerciNorville's hypothesis in this book is if you are a more thankful person, you'll realize the following benefits:
You'll be more optimistic. You'll exercise more. You'll think more creatively. You'll bounce back from adversity faster. You'll be less intimidated by challenges. You'll have higher immune response. You'll be more alert and interested. You'll be more adventurous. You'll live longer. You'll be more likely to help others. You'll be more likable. You'll be more tolerant. You'll be a better boss or team leader. You might do better on a test.
I think Norville does an admirable job of proving her hypothesis through citing studies and anecdotes. It's a very accessible book, and although I am generally an optimistic person, it was a good reminder of how I need to focus more on counting my blessings and less on getting distracted by things that are not going my way.
Here are some basic "thank you power" suggestions culled from the book:
Make a point to say thank you to someone today. List three things for which you are thankful--each day. Write a gratitude letter to someone. Say thank you to someone overdue to hear it. Focus on something of beauty, and share it with someone else. List three mundane things that enhance your daily life. Think about what's not necessary. Rent a funny video, or play with the puppies at the pet shop. Spend 5 minutes listing as many positive life events as possible. Envision the life you'd like. Find a blessing in something bad. Cut the whine. Focus on a bad situation and how you turned it around. Do something for someone else--no thanks expected or accepted! What good deeds for others have you witnessed? Use your creative side--if you have a hobby, do it! If you don't, find one! Make or bake something, and share it with someone else. Embrace your enemy. Look around--what's right with your world? Make a list of five people to connect with. Help someone outside your comfort zone. What do you stand for?
She has a final chapter for "people of faith," and non-Christian readers might find her occasional references to God jarring. This is a simple read, and I found it interesting to learn about the overlooked benefits of finding more opportunities in my life to be grateful. ...more
As a feminist for over 25 years, it's surprising that I arrived so late to The Vagina Monologues. I had heard about the play for years, but have neverAs a feminist for over 25 years, it's surprising that I arrived so late to The Vagina Monologues. I had heard about the play for years, but have never seen it. Recently at a women's music camp, one woman performed one of the sketches and I found it hilarious, shocking, and illuminating.
I scanned through the Goodreads reviews and found it interesting to note how many people strongly disliked this book. They are judging it as literature, but it's not literature. It's performance art; it's a play. You can't judge it like you would a novel or a nonfiction book. Although I found the book fascinating, I know I need to see it performed.
This is a ground-breaking piece of work. Eve Ensler is brave, as are all the women out there who perform this play...and the women (and men!) who attend.
One of my favorite parts was in the introduction, when Gloria Steinem wrote about the design of traditional churches and cathedrals imitating the female body...and her desire to reclaim these patriarchal religious structures. "There is an outer and inner entrance, labia major and labia minora; a central vaginal aisle toward the altar; two curved ovarian structures on either side; and then in the sacred center, the altar or womb, where the miracle takes place--where males give birth." I will never look at a cathedral the same way again!
The Vagina Monologues have been a rallying cry for women of all ages everywhere. Just let it be. Get worked up. Sit back and enjoy. Or just be quiet. Let them reclaim a part of themselves that has been hidden away and shamed. ...more
Recently I got my sons watching "The Brady Bunch" and was feeling nostalgic, so I checked out Maureen McCormick's recent memoir. It was like cotton caRecently I got my sons watching "The Brady Bunch" and was feeling nostalgic, so I checked out Maureen McCormick's recent memoir. It was like cotton candy...sweet, but ultimately not very satisfying. McCormick briefly talks about her life as Marcia, but mostly the book is about her wild life and dysfunctional family.
Post-Brady, McCormick dabbled in cocaine, bulimia, promiscuity, and spousal abuse. She comes across as a bit of a spoiled brat at times. At the same time, her mother was tortured because she had contracted syphillis at birth and bore horrible shame throughout her life. One of her brothers essentially went wacko and took over her father's life, while shutting out Marcia and her brother. Granted, McCormick does endure some sad experiences.
But. Much of the book is filled with self-pity. Her husband is long suffering. She spends a good deal of her life cursing her Marcia role...and also feeling sorry for herself because she can't get any good acting work. After portraying Marcia, she felt that Hollywood wouldn't give her a break.
At the same time, I kept reading for nostalgia sake. I loved "The Brady Bunch" as a kid...even though viewing it now, I see it is such a throw-back! Apparently McCormick was embarrassed to be on such an uncool show, especially when the much cooler "Partridge Family" came out (also a fave of mine)!
Some inconsistencies and gaps were obvious. In the photo collection, she has a photo of her family with the Clintons in the White House, but doesn't mention this incident in the book.
Overall, though, I enjoyed parts of the book and was not inclined to put it down--even though I was a bit embarrassed to be reading it!
I discovered Susan Isaacs when I googled her name, expecting to find the web site of the novelist Susan Isaacs (not the same one). Instead I stumbledI discovered Susan Isaacs when I googled her name, expecting to find the web site of the novelist Susan Isaacs (not the same one). Instead I stumbled upon Isaacs' great blog (Gray Matter). She is one funny and snarky Christian.
At the church I attend (which is a Lutheran-Catholic community, one of a kind in the world as far as we know), we like to joke about the fact that Catholics are not the only ones who experience guilt. Susan Isaacs' "snarky but authentic spiritual memoir" proves that point. Isaacs was raised as a Lutheran and over her adulthood sampled a wide variety of Christian flavors, which in the end turned her off to Christianity, at least for a time.
The book cleverly intersperses Isaacs' accounting of her childhood (including that awful Kirsten in her Lutheran school who made her life a misery!) and subsequent life trying to make it as an actress and writer, with her "marriage counseling" sessions with God (the Father), and the saintly Norwegian Jesus in that famous painting.
Along the way, she dabbles with anorexia, bulimia, and alcoholism, and as she says, she became a slut (by sleeping with two guys). She feels great guilt over everything, even for feeling guilty--because, after all, aren't her troubles middle-class white girl troubles? I CAN relate to that--feeling guilty about feeling sorry for myself.
I too grew up Lutheran, belonged to the Luther League (even though my Luther League was full of nerds like me, unlike Isaacs I loved it!), and my freshman year at PLU dabbled in 7/11 churches full of "James Dobson mix tapes" until I attended a bible study, where the other girls told me my Jewish friend would go to hell. That was when I walked out and never went back.
I too had a dark night of the soul when I had to throw out "God the Father" and a spiritual moment when I realized I needed to replace him with a different version of God (which, in my mind, was a Creator God).
I enjoyed this book--Isaacs has a refreshing style of writing--but I did feel sorry for her, wasting so many years on SO MUCH GUILT...and on an angry "God the Father." I can understand how she felt empty being with men who didn't really understand her, but to feel so much guilt about premarital sex? As even God said (in her counseling session), 40-year-old women are not meant to be celibate!
I also couldn't relate to Isaacs' image of a marriage with God, and feeling that she needed to love God more than anything or anyone else in her life. I know that's what a lot of (especially fundamentalist) Christian churches say, but for me, I experience God through the love of others. They are not mutually exclusive. God is not a big white man up in the sky for me--he is not someone I'm married to or need to go to marriage counseling with. I don't need to love God more than I love my husband, children, family, and friends. They are one in the same, for me.
Ultimately, though, Isaacs' memoir is funny, snarky, and real. I'm glad she found happiness and contentment (in the epilogue)!...more
I really enjoyed this collection of essays by a Korean-American woman who grew up in LA with her crazy family. It made me feel that my own family is rI really enjoyed this collection of essays by a Korean-American woman who grew up in LA with her crazy family. It made me feel that my own family is really boring!! I especially loved her stories about her stuffed animals, her parents forgetting her birthday, traveling in Korea with her mom, visiting her awful grandma, and her mother's bout with breast cancer. Choi has a great narrator's voice and a wonderful way of making fun of herself and her lovable family, in an affectionate way....more
I was drawn to this book because of my own German background, and also the fact that my parents lived in Bavaria (where Bradley was from) before I wasI was drawn to this book because of my own German background, and also the fact that my parents lived in Bavaria (where Bradley was from) before I was born. I've never actually been to Germany, although I studied German in high school and college.
Bradley perceptively lays out some of the differences in German and American culture, and she clearly struggled with some of the decisions her parents made during her childhood.
Bradley is haunted by her family's possible connections during the war, and decisions made by her fellow Germans. I found it interesting because I too have often wondered about myself what I would have done had I been living in Hitler's Germany. I would hope that I would have been one of those sheltering and helping Jews, but it's hard to imagine living in those desperate, dangerous times.
Bradley was a fiercely independent and strong woman in her youth (she left Germany and became a flight attendant for Pan-Am when she was 21 years old), and dedicated herself to her career and profession so that she could establish her own identity separate from her family.
She described her bout with breast cancer sensitively...the most touching scene in the book was when she was trying on a suit in a department store and explained to the store clerk that she wasn't sure how it would fit because of her prosthesis, and the clerk told her she too was a cancer survivor and had reconstructive surgery done. They went into the dressing room and showed each other their breasts for comparison. This is such a great story about the way that women can rapidly move from strangers to intimacy in a matter of moments.
I did not previously know much about Bill Bradley, but given his support of his wife during her bout with cancer, and the way he raised his daughter, I'm sure he would have been a compassionate and principled president.
WAIT!!! UPDATE!!! I take back that last paragraph. I just read about Bill Bradley on Wikipedia, and I discovered that he left Ernestine in July 2007! I can't find out much more information on the web except that later last year he was frequently seen with a blonde woman who had just divorced her husband. What a disappointment after having just finished the book! So much for being a compassionate and principled president......more
This is only the second Bill Bryon book I've read, the first being A Walk in the Woods, which I read three years ago. Bill Bryson lived in England for 20 years after marrying a British woman, and before moving to the United States, he took a 6-week trip traveling around Britain and chronicling his trip. I read this for my book group, and we had a great evening discussing the book, especially as we have a British woman in our book group. It's a love story to Britain--even though it was published in the mid-1990s, so much still applies. Here are some memorable thoughts from the book:
--The charming way the British react to tea and a plate of biscuits: "ooh lovely!"
--Bryson writes about how unfortunate it is that communism was left to the Russians instead of the British, who "clearly would have managed it so much better." He talks about their ability to go without, how they are great at pulling together in the face of adversity for a perceived common good...how they "queue patiently for indefinite periods and accept with rare fortitude the imposition of rationing, bland diets, and sudden inconvenient shortages." He goes on about how they are "comfortable with faceless bureaucracies, tolerant of dictatorships (as Margaret Thatcher proved), will wait uncomplainingly for years for an operation or delivery of a household appliance." They have a "natural gift for making excellent, muttered jokes about authority without ever actually challenging it...they derive universal satisfaction from the sight of the rich and powerful brought low...most of those above the age of 28 already dress like East Germans. Britain would have done it properly, taken it in stride, with good heart, and without excessive cheating."
--He says that the British are easy to please: "They have so little idea of their own virtues, and nowhere is this more true than with their own happiness. Easy to please...like their pleasures small...so many of their treats are cautiously flavorful...they are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake...offer them something genuinely tempting (a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates), and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest throshold is vaguely unseemly. 'Oh, I shouldn't really...'"
--In the late 1980s the European Union issued a directive about standards of ocean-borne sewage on beaches, and nearly every British seaside town failed to come anywhere near the minimum compliance levels. So instead of cleaning them up, the Thatcher government decided that Britain would not have any "beaches." Nowadays, they are labeled beaches, but they still have a serious sewage problem. I'll remember this next time we go to a British seaside!
--One of my favorite anecdotes was when he visited a pub in Glasgow and couldn't understand a thing the bartender was saying...such as "D'ye hae a hoo and a poo?" "D'ye nae hae in May? If ye dinna dock ma donny." "Doon in Troon they croon in June, wi' a spoon."
I actually enjoyed the anecdotes and thoughts about Britain and the British more than the traveling bits. Bryson gets a bit grumpy at times, but it's clear that he really loves Great Britain. He ends the book with this:
“Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain - which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad - Marmite, village fetes, country lanes, people saying 'mustn't grumble' and 'I'm terribly sorry but,' people apologizing to me when I conk them with a nameless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, stinging nettles, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays - every bit of it.
What a wondrous place this was - crazy as fuck, of course, but adorable to the tiniest degree. What other country, after all, could possibly have come up with place names like Tooting Bec and Farleigh Wallop, or a game like cricket that goes on for three days and never seems to start? Who else would think it not the least odd to make their judges wear little mops on their heads, compel the Speaker of the House of Commons to sit on something called the Woolsack, or take pride in a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy? ('Please Hardy, full on the lips, with just a bit of tongue.') What other nation in the world could possibly have given us William Shakespeare, pork pies, Christopher Wren, Windsor Great Park, the Open University, Gardners' Question Time and the chocolate digestive biscuit? None, of course.
How easily we lose sight of all this. What an enigma Britain will seem to historians when they look back on the second half of the twentieth century. Here is a country that fought and won a noble war, dismantled a mighty empire in a generally benign and enlightened way, created a far-seeing welfare state - in short, did nearly everything right - and then spent the rest of the century looking on itself as a chronic failure. The fact is that this is still the best place in the world for most things - to post a letter, go for a walk, watch television, buy a book, venture out for a drink, go to a museum, use the bank, get lost, seek help, or stand on a hillside and take in a view.
All of this came to me in the space of a lingering moment. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I like it here. I like it more than I can tell you.” ...more