One of the most interesting and important books that I have ever read. This should be required reading for every eater and food lover everywhere. I daOne of the most interesting and important books that I have ever read. This should be required reading for every eater and food lover everywhere. I dare you to read this and look at a supermarket the same again. Not just this century's The Jungle, though it is a loud call of alarm against our increasingly industrial way of life, but also a fantastic look at another way of producing food that embodies an appreciation for the complexities of nature and the sacred nature of our relationship with the Earth and its inhabitants.
Pollan is a fantastically talented author whose gentle approach to contentious topics serves not to bash the reader's mind against the brick wall of Truth, but rather to illustrate three different ways of producing food and ask the reader to take from each what they will according to their own personal values system. Of course, he also asks the reader to challenge that value system to see if it is worthwhile, but every good author should do that.
I've already passed my copy on to another friend and (if it is ever returned to me) know of a dozen more that I want to have read it....more
A rather handy book and one that I'll likely remain reading for quite some time. It's definitely whetting my appetite for getting out of the desert anA rather handy book and one that I'll likely remain reading for quite some time. It's definitely whetting my appetite for getting out of the desert and back into a climate where I'm capable of growing something (note to desert lovers: I'm not saying that things are incapable of growing in the desert, just that I'm not capable of making things grow).
From handy ideas for growing potatoes to how to can and preserve various crops this is a nice fount of information for someone like me who has little experience in most of these arenas but would like to change that. I'm sure as the years go by and I get more familiar with the techniques that I'll put this down and move on to more advanced homesteading lit, but for now this helps spark my imagination and get me excited about the possibilities for living self-sufficiently in that most unsustainable of environs, the city....more
It may seem a little gauche to be talking about the real cost of food while in the midst of complete economic armageddon- these days my budget has beeIt may seem a little gauche to be talking about the real cost of food while in the midst of complete economic armageddon- these days my budget has been broken down to beer and rent- but Michael Pollan is nothing if not a man on a mission. With 2006's Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan looked into the industry of food- from commercial farms to mass organics to local self-sustaining farms- with often disturbing results.
With In Defense of Food, Pollan tries a different route to the consumer's stomach by looking at the "science" of nutritionism and the various food fads that have engulfed grocery aisles and the diet shelves of many a bookstore. Looking at the claims put forward by industry about low-carb, no-fat, high-fat, pomegranate-enhanced, antioxidant-bearing chemically-created foods he shows first that there is no solid evidence that any of these things on their own can help one lead a healthier lifestyle and secondly that due to all of these competing claims about each new miracle vitamin or mineral, consumers have little to no clue what to eat or why.
Fortunately he provides a few good rules of thumb to follow. I would call these rules mere common sense had he not spent the previous 180 pages explaining that, when it comes to food, we no longer have any common sense. Our senses have been tricked by chemical additives, increased sugars and advertising to think that a McDonald's hamburger (easy target, I know) is not only "food" but a delicious meal. It basically comes down to buying whole foods rather than premade meals or anything containing ingredients with more than 12 syllables.
While I found the book interesting and it helped reignite my love of my garden (come Autumn all I can think of is how much a pain in the ass it has been to take care of for the past 6 months), I didn't find it as gripping as I did Omnivore's Dilemma. This is undoubtedly personal bias on my part- I'm exceptionally interested in the industry of food but get bored to tears when discussion turns to healthy living or how much Vitamin D a person needs. My wife, on the other hand, grew bored with Omnivore's Dilemma within the first 50 pages but flew through In Defense of Food in but a few days.
Different paths to reach the same result: the way in which Western civilization produces and consumes the basic nutrients for life has been completely divorced from an actual relationship with the soil or the farmer's who produce food for us. This has led to a massive increase in the spread of so-called Western diseases such as heart disease and diabetes and the pillaging of ecosystems in exchange for monoculture crops and vast feedlots. It's undoubtedly more expensive, the biggest factor in my eyes at this moment, to eat locally and more fresh foods but Pollan does a decent job of looking at the long term costs of eating the "cheap" foods and the future medical bills this implies to show that, while it may hurt the pocket in the present, the lifetime savings more than make up for it....more
One of my favorite aspects of being a die-hard bibliophile is finding just the right book to read at the time that I would be most receptive to its suOne of my favorite aspects of being a die-hard bibliophile is finding just the right book to read at the time that I would be most receptive to its subject matter. I received an arc of this book several years ago but, due to the various exigencies of daily living, it sat on my to-read stack untouched and gathering dust until I rediscovered it while cleaning a few weeks back. What a timely rediscovery this was! While it's been said so many times that it has become a cliche, I find a lot of truth in George Santayana's statement that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." As the movement to address climate change gathers steam and activists once more take to the trees in direct actions to confront those who value profit over the well-being of our landbase, understanding the motives, tactics, successes and failures of those whose footsteps we are following is essential if we are to avoid their mistakes and advance the movement.
When I moved to Eugene, Oregon, at the turn of the century I was a young and naive firebrand from North Idaho whose activism had been honed in the conflicts against the Aryan Nations white supremacists that inhabited my hometown and the logging industry that had kept the region employed since most of the mines had been tapped out. I had first heard of the ALF and ELF through my family's dinner table conversations- my mother had been employed for a time doing worker's compensation evaluations for injured loggers and this was where I had first heard of activists spiking trees to protect the endangered spotted owl in old growth forests. My father was employed by a government agency that had frequently been the target of activists, I remember one night when he had just returned from a round up of wild horses in Utah only to learn that a band of activists had released the herd back into the wild shortly after he had left. Even at my young age I remember being satisfied at this news, thinking that wild creatures deserve to be free and that the land was better off as home to these herds rather than as more grazing land to be stripped by cattle. As I grew older and found myself finding peace among the company of centuries-old trees away from the noise of the city, my resolve to protect these forests solidified and I made myself many promises. Around this time I also became aware of the resistance of environmental activists in Eugene, particularly the action on June 1st, 1997, where activists climbed into a stand of the town's oldest trees that were to be cut down to make way for a new shopping center. My mind was made up, Eugene was where I needed to go to lend myself to these efforts.
What I found when I arrived was a community tearing itself apart with paranoia and fear. Comrades were rotting in prison for refusing to cooperate with grand jury witch hunts (an event that is already happening again here in the Pacific North-West), houses were being raided by the FBI on a regular basis, and no one knew just how far the feds were willing to go to portray the environmental movement as deadly terrorists, despite the fact that in all of their actions the ALF and ELF had never harmed a single human. The specter of the COINTELPRO actions of the seventies hung heavily over everyone. Needless to say, strangers who had just arrived in town asking questions were immediately suspect and my welcome was none too warm. This was the lasting legacy of Rod Coronado and his quest to end fur farming in the United States.
A militant activist who had cut his teeth sinking whaling boats in Iceland for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Coronado was one of the first in the United States to adopt tactics of direct action to protect animal life. After working closely with hunt saboteurs, a tactic in which activists fill the woods during hunting season and harass hunters in order to protect wildlife, Rod turned his attention to the fur industry. First going undercover as a farmer thinking about starting to breed mink, Rod filmed the conditions that mink were raised in and the skinning process for an above-ground group that was trying to use shock video to persuade congressional reps to pass more restrictive legislation. When these efforts yielded nothing but despair, Rod turned to more direct methods, recruiting like-minded activists to destroy research facilities at schools in Oregon, Washington, and Utah, and prompting a backlash from frightened fur farmers whose effects we are still feeling today.
It is easy to paint Coronado as a naive idealist, a man searching for an identity who threw himself into causes to make up for a spiritual emptiness within, and author Dean Kuipers does not hesitate to show Coronado with all of his flaws, but I feel that this only makes the story more compelling. He was one man, flawed yet beautiful, who loved life so much that he was unable to sit idly and see it destroyed. While many of his actions can be derided (Really, dude? Stealing from the Crazy Horse monument on a whim?), none should doubt the passion that he, and many others, have for preserving wild life.
It's sad that his lasting legacy is the expansion of the definition of terrorism to include property destruction to make a political statement, an expansion that is still being used to punish radicals while those who wreak havoc upon the very land that we depend on for survival are heralded as pillars of the community. As resistance becomes more ever-present on the streets of America and we hurtle faster and faster toward what can only be a reckoning between capital and sustainability, it is important to know where we have come from and to know the forces that are arrayed against us. Kuipers' book is a great start....more
“For us to maintain our way of living, we must tell lies to each other and especially to ourselves. The lies are necessary because, without them, many“For us to maintain our way of living, we must tell lies to each other and especially to ourselves. The lies are necessary because, without them, many deplorable acts would become impossibilities.” -Derrick Jensen
People cannot talk about their food choices without resorting to a narrative, and I’m no different. Food is so intensely personal; we relate to it on such an elemental level, that it’s easy to understand. The foods we eat are part of the mythos we use to delineate our identities. We eat kosher or halal because this is part of the cultural heritage that we are either born into or adopt as our own. We have our comfort foods and guilty pleasures and food phobias and all of these help inform who we are. My own narrative is none too exciting:
I stopped eating meat at fifteen as a bet with a very intense (self righteous?) vegan and animal rights activist friend of mine and just sort of never stopped. I have to admit that videos of slaughterhouses and feedlots disseminated by PETA (regardless of my current feelings about them) played a large part in my continued change of diet- I love the taste of animal flesh, but cannot agree with the way in which it is culled. If I’m going to be eating an animal then I am going to be the person who raises it, cares for it, kills it and prepares it and I want to honor its sacrifice as best as possible. Since my laziness precludes that active of a relationship with my food, I’ve stuck with my current diet. Along the way I’ve slipped up- sushi while living in Hawaii (who am I to say no to that?) and goulash while living in the Czech Republic (because there’s really only so much fried cheese a person can eat) - but I’ve always come back to the fold. To this day I still don’t call myself a vegetarian because I grow easily tired of people trying to find some hypocrisy in my actions, as though a failure to adhere to doctrine on my part would make the entire case of animal rights a moot point. Instead I just tell friends that “I don’t eat meat.” This is both a good way of circumventing any sort of new age stereotypes they may hold about vegetarianism as well as paving the way for a positive (read: non-adversarial) discussion as to my various reasons for it.
Suffice to say that when I heard that Jonathan Safran Foer, revered author of both Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, was penning a book about his lifelong debate about whether or not he should eat meat, I was sold. Fast-paced, impeccably researched, witty, heart-breaking and infuriating, this book did not disappoint. There’s relatively little that is ground-breaking or new here, the literature on animal rights has been dittoed for decades now. What makes this book so remarkable is Foer’s voice. Foer is an author able to evoke the most fragile of emotions from some of the most embittered hearts and to have the opportunity to look into the world of slaughterhouses and feedlots with one of the few authors to reduce me to a shuddering wreck was like looking at the world through less jaded eyes.
Rather than use the horrific realities (and they truly are horrific) of factory farming to attempt to shock the reader, a tactic that I would have taken much umbrage with, Foer presents the sad facts in a straightforward, almost clinical, tone: “At a KFC ‘Supplier of the Year,’ Pilgrim’s Pride, fully conscious chickens were kicked, stomped on, slammed into walls, had chewing tobacco spit in their eyes, literally had the shit squeezed out of them, and had their beaks ripped off” (Pg. 182). Rather than minimizing the impact these facts would have, this allows the reader’s imagination to fill in all the gory details, which cannot help but be far more persuasive. This book isn’t a rant, it’s a conversation. It is a conversation about our existence in relation to other beings and the level of respect that they should be afforded. It’s a conversation about the dehumanizing effect brought on by our near-complete divorce from the natural world. Foer just makes his points in as straightforward a manner as possible and lets the reader pose the question themselves: “Now that you are aware of what goes into making your food, what are you going to do?” When ignorance is stripped away what can be left but to change or be reduced to flimsy excuses and hardened hearts?
The solution, as solutions invariably are, is not a simple one. There is not one hard and fast answer to what we should do, though I’ve had many discussions with animal advocates who claim that making the mass slaughter of animals illegal would spur a massive increase in the number of vegetarians in the world. Ignoring the fact that such pie-in-the-sky utopianism is simply never going to happen (sorry, Obama, systemic change does not come from within), it also neglects the true cost of the farming of soy, the protein replacement choice of millions of vegetarians.
Every day some 200 acres of Amazonian rainforest get bulldozed so that their mineral-scarce soils can be used as beds for another crop of soy. American farmers alternate growing vast fields of genetically modified corn with vast fields of genetically modified soy, never allowing a field to lay fallow for a season or two and recapture the necessary nutrients for growing, which leads to the addition of dozens of petrochemical fertilizer cocktails to spur it on. In short, the problem of farming animals is a symptom of a far larger problem, one which activist and author Derrick Jensen has been writing about for years: civilization in and of itself is a ravenous self-sustaining cancer bent on feeding desires that it hasn’t even thought of yet. It is the uncontrolled id to our Prius-driving, Trader Joe’s-shopping, plant-a-tree on Earth Day, National Geographic-subscribing ego. No story that we spin for ourselves will change the fact that our individual impact on slowing this destruction will be nil.
This is also why I don’t get down on myself for my cheese addiction (yes, addiction is the correct word. I will fight a strung-out tweaker in Thunder Dome for a block of cheddar and perform far more unsavory acts for just the promise of a good muenster). The problem of is huge, probably insurmountable, but to not even attempt to change is to tacitly approve of the system as it stands. An activist hoping to make a difference can be easily overwhelmed by the sheer scope and interconnectedness of the problems facing us. When confronted with just how much suffering goes into our comfortable First World living it’s easy to suffer an empathy overload and just be rendered numb to new atrocities. As the Buddhists like to say, all of life is suffering. It is up to us to determine just how much we can bear on our consciences. The trick is finding a level of compromise that you as an individual can live with. It could be as simple as beginning to cook vegetarian once or twice a week and making more conscious selections when in the grocer or it could be as extreme as eschewing all animal products, from steak to gelatin to leather- or any middle ground in between. Even the smallest step is still forward momentum. ...more