Friday, May 18, 2018

What I've Been Reading: Winter/Early Spring 2018 (Part Two)

Aaaugh, I cannot keep up with reviewing all the books I’ve been reading! Here is my backlog of the most notable books I read in late winter/early spring. Two and a half of them were read in a three-day span when I had a raging fever. It also helps that we recently switched from TV shows on DVD from the library to old-fashioned Netflix where you only get one movie in the mail per week (we’ve been watching a lot of Akira Kurosawa films). It’s amazing how much reading time is freed up when you have no TV shows singing the siren song.

Anyway, here’s what I was reading... a couple months ago!

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

You guys. This book. It made me feel simultaneously outraged, duped, and fiercely liberated from cultural expectations. My mind has been hacked! Your mind has been hacked! We have all been hacked! (Not that I wrote a three part blog series on this, of course.)

Anyway, the book is a detailed history and analysis of the processed food industry— from soda and candy to cereal and “diet food”— showing how they have manipulated the public in every conceivable way, from using scientific research to engineer food with the highest possible “pleasure point,” to lobbying politicians about federal food policy, to creating stories of nostalgia or wholesomeness around their products through advertising. 

Despite my strong response to the book, the author approaches the topic in a fairly evenhanded and compassionate way, showing that the people responsible for these advertisements are real human beings who don’t have any intention of causing harm. However, Moss points out the great problem with the industrial food complex: it is driven by the constant reach for more, more, and more, and we can only eat so much food. 

Another takeaway from this book is that while government policy change can be helpful, only major changes in the food industry can occur as a response to consumer demand. We, the eaters, can change things from the bottom up. I highly recommend that anyone who eats processed food read this book. 

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber

Eccentric and radically-local gourmet chef Dan Barber takes on the food system in this delightful book of stories. He chronicles his adventures in trying to figure out what a truly sustainable agricultural system looks like, and it takes him to some surprising places: the Iberian penisula of Spain, where he learns about the symbiotic farming of hogs and meets a wacky farmer who raises foie gras without force-feeding the geese; nearby in Spain, where fishermen and fish farmers stand in the middle of a massive global debate about the future of seafood; both east and west US coasts, where he looks at heirloom crops and carefully-chosen hybrids; and his own restaurant in New York, where learning how to cook truly sustainable food is often difficult, sometimes embarrassing, but always worthwhile.

If I had read this book when I was first starting out on my journey to agricultural consciousness, I would have been overwhelmed— “What do you mean it’s not as simple as creating more farmers’ markets?!” However, if you’re fairly familiar with the issues that we face in our food system, this book shows that the way forward will be messy, diverse, and somewhat unexpected— and we can use all the help we can get.

Kiss the Ground: How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body and Ultimately Save Our World by Josh Tickell

I loved, loved, loved this book. It’s a fairly standard format of “Save the world through better agricultural” kind of books, but it’s brand-new so a lot of the information was very current. If you want an overview of various pressing issues, such as desertification, increasing pesticide use, or food safety, this is a great resource. Tickell writes with passion and enthusiasm, insisting that we can still save the world if we act now. (Are you noticing a theme in the books I’m reading?)

The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More by Annie Raser-Rowland with Adam Grubb

What a joyful book this is! Based on the premise that joy and intense pleasure can be found in everyday moments of life, this is a delight to read. It’s broken down into mini-chapters that cover different aspects of how to master Frugal Hedonism, such as, “Create Your Own Normal,” “Hate Waste,” “Beware Fake Frugal,” “Grow Your Own Greens,” and “Don’t Be a Snooty Bum Bum.” (I love Australians.) This book makes me want to break free of cultural norms and lay in a field watching clouds go by all day. Click here to read an excerpt that gives you a feel for the style and insight.

Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do about It by Anna Lappé

This is a follow-up book of sorts for Lappé’s mother’s book, Diet for a Small Planet (which I’ll admit I haven’t read yet). It’s about how agriculture affects global warming. It’s a great primer for the basic tenets of the agricultural/environmental connections, but most of the material I’ve already covered in other books. However, her chapters focused on bioengineering and GMOs, while a bit outdated, give an excellent comprehensive argument against them. After so many inflammatory articles using the phrase “frankenfood” way too many times, I was pleased to read some actual science-based arguments that explain in detail what the negative effects are. Worth reading.

What have you been reading?


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