Although there are times when Pollan's focus begins to wander (in the forest collecting mushrooms, no less) I find it overall a well-written book, and...moreAlthough there are times when Pollan's focus begins to wander (in the forest collecting mushrooms, no less) I find it overall a well-written book, and a good introduction to the subject. Eric Schlosser’s "Fast Food Nation" may contain a wealth of facts and figures, but it lacked the personal (and therefore, the moral) touch. Here, in "The Omnivore's Dilemma," I feel that Pollan has tried his best to be as honest with himself and with the subject as he can.
I recall reading "Diet for a Small Planet" when I was in my mid teens. I was living in Lebanon, and combined with my Greek origins, the truth is that at the time I didn’t quite understand what the anti-meat fuss was all about. The culinary heritage of both nations is grain/legume/vegetable-based, with meat being considered a festive (ie, ritual) exception to the daily regimen. It wasn’t until I moved to the USA that I understood what’s wrong with the “Western” food culture, and why books like "Diet for a Small Planet" were important.
I wish Pollan would have investigated the concept of 'western' capitalism in agricultural production to a greater degree. Although I personally don't care to make political distinctions, the term is useful in differentiating what's wrong with 'biotechnology' and other scientific so-called advancements, when they are justified in their application to agriculture according to 'capitalist' notions of progress. Pollan does explain how so-called ‘organic’ agriculture in the U.S. is no longer ‘ethical’ or ‘environmentally conscious’. But he doesn’t analyze in-depth how both conventional and organic agriculture in the US is not a matter of cultural tradition, of history. It's a matter of 'science' and that is a western (capitalist?) concept that has prevailed, unlike other nations where history & tradition have not lost their currency. It's sad to read that farmers like Salatin are considered renegades or pioneers against mass-scale monoculture; they are in my mind simply re-creating, re-learning forgotten wisdoms, that in other parts of the world has survived as 'traditional' knowledge. If Pollan had ventured beyond the N. American borders I think he would have understood this first-hand. So it's not simply a matter of individuals, and individual farms resisting industrial agriculture, it's also a matter of entire cultures resisting the progression of the biotechnology/chemical machine. There are voices beyond the U.S. who speak louder than the 'quaint' Joel Salatin about this.
It’s regrettable to see how large corporations (Whole Foods) are monopolizing the market share to the detriment of ‘local’ co-ops (having worked in one), thereby enforcing consumer realities which are contrary to the slow-food and carbon-neutral ideals. But again, this ‘trend’ is not a fait-accompli. Alternatives thrive elsewhere, beyond the N. American borders. The diametrical opposite, the ‘ideal’ Polyface Farm is not a unique notion; I am surprised that Pollan doesn’t make the connection of the methods used by the Salatin family with the biodynamic model of agriculture. In fact, Pollan only mentions the word once, without defining it for the reader. That is a shame, because now that we know ‘organic’ certification has been hijacked by industrial agricultural concerns, it may be that the ‘biodynamic’ certification can provide a viable alternative to better gauge the ethical treatment of animals used in ‘organic’ agriculture. I have been purchasing biodynamic-certified foods (Demeter) whenever possible, and it seems to me there is a palpable difference in the quality of the flour, eggs, cream, etc. over the merely ‘organic’ products. Could it be that the biodynamic-raised animals are less stressed than their ‘organic’ cousins?
Pollan describes his own personal journey of discovery of the slow-food culture. He could say a lot more, or say it more forcefully, about what this type of consumption entails. It’s not a ‘personal’ choice to switch; the concept of slow food exists as a norm beyond the N. American domain. In my mind, it's a matter of culture, not just a matter of 'capitalist' market forces or the 'military-industrial' complex controlling the production, and then a matter of individuals resisting this by looking for small-scale alternatives elsewhere. He makes it seem as if the choice to resist is a personal one, but in fact the entire society is involved. In Europe, for example, people en masse have spoken loudly and clearly, and have been successful in convincing both their national govermnments and the EU central bureacracy to resist GMO's, BGH, etc.
To be 'American' (vs. being 'Asian', 'African' 'Greek' etc.) is, in my mind, defined by possessing very few culinary skills, no knowledge of that nation's culinary tradition. The contrast between Angelo Farro and Michael Pollan is not merely that one is skilled in foraging, hunting, preserving etc while the other is not. The contrast is that Angelo is Italian, and to be Italian presupposes that this particular national identity includes a mastery of specific knowledge about food and food production that would be a matter of having a 'hobby' or a 'profession' for an American individual. What I'm saying is that being 'American' does not require any complex knowledge about food, there is no cultural/personal history that one acquires as part of that particular national identity. I grew up tri-cultural, a Greek living in Lebanon and attending an American school. When I came to the U.S., it puzzled me to see that there is no national/cultural concept of 'food' in the way that there is in Lebanon and Greece. To be either of those two nationalities, one must learn specifics of food, in terms of what the food is, how it is made, and how it is consumed. Furthermore, in both of these cultures, the provenance of each food staple is of primary significance. Olive oil from Tripoli or olive oil from Saida; each Lebanese has their own preference as to which is 'better' or 'more appropriate' for a specific use (cooked or raw). Feta from Mount Parnassos or feta from Mout Taygetos, which is richer in flavor; that's the question each Greek consumer ponders at the cheese counter. These are concepts that any person, regardless of economic standing or educational level is bound to have an opinion on; it's not a matter of being a food writer, a chef, a connoisseur or a gourmand. (less)
Anthony Bourdain is always a pleasant read. Even though this book is, by his own admission, a haphazard collection of "varietal cuts, usable trim, scr...moreAnthony Bourdain is always a pleasant read. Even though this book is, by his own admission, a haphazard collection of "varietal cuts, usable trim, scraps and bones" it's his force of character which comes through in the end - a man passionate about the pleasures of life - besides the culinary arts - & always willing to express his gut responses and his opinions in a brash, yet oftentimes sensitive, manner. Because Bourdain does sincerely believe in a strong work ethic, in a dedication to doing the job that needs to be done as best as one can, I was intrigued by a discrepancy, and several typographical errors in the printing of this book. On p. 288 it reads ...Pierre an Tunnel closed its doors... [should read...Pierre Tunnel closed its doors...:] (Pierre Tunnel oysters is on W 46th St. NYC) And in the last segment of the book, "A Chef's Christmas" Bourdain writes "What was that line in Taxi Driver? 'Someday a big red tide is gonna come and wash them all away'?" I don't have a copy of the film handy, but I seem to recall the line actually spoken by Robert de Niro is 'Someday a real rain will come and wash the scum off these streets.'(less)
I found this to be an honest memoir, and anyone who has been to the Greek isles knows how bare and simple the life is. It is not easy to create a dens...moreI found this to be an honest memoir, and anyone who has been to the Greek isles knows how bare and simple the life is. It is not easy to create a dense and complex narrative with the scarcity of raw materials a writer has to work with. If there was more I would have accused Tom Stone of being florid with his prose, as other better-known travel writers have a tendency to indulge in. Also, I found his descriptions of the Greek characters, and the motivations of each person, right on the mark. In my mind I could conjure up similar figures I have met on my visits to my ancestral village in rural Greece. And in the city I have a neighbor who is the spitting image of the grande dame "Mrs. Busset" (and yes, my neighbor also is an Egyptiotissa!). If there is one thing I clench my teeth for when reading books about Greece by non-Greeks, it is the 'obligation' these writers feel they must quote from the classics (Homer, Sophocles, Euripides) and Cavafy & Kazantzakis from the moderns. I expected that Tom Stone, being a man of the arts and having spent so many years in the country, would have familiarized himself with additional sources. ...Papadiamantis, at the very least. I don't mind the inclusion of the steak au poivre, curry and carbonara recipes, as tavernas in touristy areas tend to have a foreign dish or two on the menu (pizza, spaghetti bolognese, hamburger, bon filet) in addition to the Greek fare. Youvarlakia Avgolemono is as homestyle Greek as you can get, and I also recommend a meal menu consisting of Keftedakia, Tzatziki, Horta, and Tiganites Patates (fried potatoes, best cooked in olive oil, of course!). You can replace the Keftedakia with deepfried whitebait or tiny sardines, a grilled pork chop, or simply an omelet. The combination of a meat/fish plate plus fried potatoes, Horta and Tzatziki is classic. Kali orexi! (less)
This is more of an encyclopedia/ reference book than a cookbook. It's over 800 pages, to begin with. In addition to the recipes, there are countless s...moreThis is more of an encyclopedia/ reference book than a cookbook. It's over 800 pages, to begin with. In addition to the recipes, there are countless sidebars and panels with valuable information - quotations, anecdotes, techniques, lists of fruit and vegetable varieties, wine selections, etc.
There is also a wealth of information on how to set up your kitchen - what tools to purchase, what ingredients to stock up on. And you'll learn the basics of several ethnic cuisines - Moroccan, French, Italian, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Thai, etc.
I found myself using this as a research manual rather than actually preparing recipes, although several of them have indeed become 'basics' in my cooking repertoire - the pie crust, tomato sauce, corn chowder, california sandwiches, caesar salad dressing, carrot cake, etc. (You must absolutely try out the Carrot Cake! If you're too lazy to make it yourself, you can find it ready-made at Barbara's Food Company in Athens. Actually, Barbara admits to relying on recipes from Julee Rosso's & Sheila Lukins' The Silver Palate Cookbook.)
But there are soooo many variations and fusions, sometimes I wonder if the authors are more keen on showing us their expertise and their ability to invent trendsetting combinations than teaching us the 'basics'. It's all about having fun in the kitchen, yet sometimes I'm just looking for a simple, fool-proof recipe.
One of the best cookbooks on Eastern Mediterranean cooking I happen to own. I just wish I could find as sensible a cookbook for Greek cuisine as this...moreOne of the best cookbooks on Eastern Mediterranean cooking I happen to own. I just wish I could find as sensible a cookbook for Greek cuisine as this one is. There are good explanations of techniques and ingredients for the "Western" cook who may not be familiar with many of the Middle Eastern staples, such as tahini, vine leaves, bulgur, clarified butter, etc. There's also a simple recipe for making natural yogurt that I have prepared many times. Many of the recipes here are very similar to Greek (especially 'Politiki'), Armenian, or Lebanese dishes, so if you like any of these cuisines, you may discover many of the Turkish recipes in this cookbook are familiar. (less)