Sometimes I feel like the best way to describe me is: A Food Moron. I grew up in a metropolitan area, in an era when convenience foods were the new miracle of the food industry, and dinner came more often from a can or a box or even a window than it did from the ground. Now that I am in our lovely community here in Provo, I have felt often that I have a huge amount of catching up to do. So many people around me seem to already have a grasp on how to grow your own food and put it on the table for your family without any cardboard boxes involved at all! And while I don't feel like I have the benefit of a lifetime of knowledge of good food practices, I am trying to learn now as an adult so that I can improve my life and the lives of my family.
But food is becoming an increasingly tricky subject, almost as perilous to navigate in social settings as politics and religion. You can find as many different opinions on food practices as there are people in the room. The publishing industry reflects this trend as well, with a new food-related book coming out almost every day prescribing one method or another.
While I don't claim to have any more answers than the next person, I have read several interesting books recently that have helped me to learn about the food industry, and more importantly, that have inspired me personally to make changes. Which is why I've spent the last two months digging through the dirt in my backyard, pulling up roots, hammering and drilling: things I never thought I'd be doing when I was growing up!
My yard in February 2018
Versus April 2018
I heartily support anyone who's trying to make their life better with better food practices, whatever they are! But these are the books that have educated me and inspired me to get out the shovel and do something.
Michael Pollan has been a critical player in our national conversations about food for the better part of two decades. While he's written many important books on the subject of the environment and agriculture, Cooked was a culmination of sorts where much of his knowledge and research was encapsulated in practical application.
This book takes an in-depth look at major players in the food industry, and examines how research and development of their products is done to help it become as desirable as possible to consumers today. It's a fascinating look at how food products are specifically designed to keep people eating ("bet you can't eat just one") while no real attention is paid to nutrition unless it can be used as a market appeal.
While part of this book covers similar ground as the book above, Schatzker takes it another step further to examine agricultural practices over the last century as well. Many varieties of grown food have been bred for decades for its resistance to disease and bigger yields, but practically no consideration for taste. As a result, many grown foods have lost much of their true flavors and intensity, and people increasingly turn to the processed food industry to provide flavor, at the expense of nutrition.
Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family moved from Tuscon to Virginia to live for one year eating only what they produced themselves or what they could find locally produced. Kingsolver's mindfulness of the world around her and passion for responsible eating are incredibly inspiring. I haven't yet found someone who wasn't motivated to make even a small change after reading this.
Written by the renowned chef of the Blue Hill restaurant and one of the original chefs of the farm-to-table movement, Dan Barber explores the evolution of American food, its effect on our environment, and most importantly the environment's effect on food. This is a fascinating discussion of true sustainability, and how the practices that will benefit our environment the most will also help to provide us with the most delicious food possible.