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Monday, 19 July 2004
The Best Think I Ever Tasted: The Secret of Food - by Sallie Tisdale
Topic: Books - Food
This is such a wonderful book. It's like she knew me, all of us. The author takes us from the 50s she knew growing up where everyone was enthralled with 'quick' foods. With convenience foods. With convenience appliances. Where no one really thought about what they ate but just ate what they told was good. Wonder bread. Bisquick. Hamburger helper.

She wanders through the years from medieval, and even before, to today and talks about why people eat what they eat. She talks about how we took ethnic food and made it bland and took the rough food of poor people and were told that now we could eat like rich people and have white bread and white sugar.

Most of all, though, she talks about how little knowledge we have of how we get our food and when we do know we try to not know. We don't want to know where our food comes from, we just want what we want, when we want. Most people in western nations never know what it is to be hungry, the natural rhythm of life not that long ago. Abundance and hunger. It's like we still have that craving for more and more that's never satisfied.

She talks about diets, her diets, other people's diets and how demoralizing they are as we struggle to not eat our abundance and yet can never not think about food. I know that's true. I was so smug in my skinnyness until I quit smoking and hit menopause and gained weight. It seems like since then I spend so much time thinking about food and what I want to eat, and can I eat it, and what should I eat but what I really want to eat. It is so pathetic. We starve ourselves in the midst of abundance because fat used to be a sign of wealth only now everyone can be fat so being anorexic is the new status.

I was never really hungry, but I know what it's like to not have much choice in what to eat, both when I was a child and money got tight and when I was a single mother. I remember how orange juice was such a luxury to me when my children were little and I couldn't afford pop or potato chips, but we were never hungry. Now I buy too much because it's such a pleasure to buy fruits and wonderful vegetables and all the meat I want. So I buy it and it rots because it's too much but I go out and do it again like I can't just buy enough.

Tisdale leads us down the roads of food and all it's meaning and angst, disgust and yearning, what we think food should be and what it actually is. She deflates our high opinion of our worldly cuisine.

Good book!

Posted by rachela at 8:47 PM MDT
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Sunday, 4 July 2004
Against the Grain - by Richard Manning
Topic: Books - Food
This is a great book. I kept going "yes, yes". Manning takes us from prehistoric humans to current days and shows how agriculture has always lowered the level of living for the vast majority of the people wherever it goes. He doesn't have a romantic view of hunter/gatherers but sees how when agriculture came in most people's health plummeted, tyranny arose and people lost control of their lives and their food.

Yes agriculture gave us "civilization" which gave us many wonderful things but most people's health and quality of life suffered. One of the big things is that they quit eating meat (shades of last post), probably not by choice and the variety of their diet became extremely restricted. He mentions the IceMan they found in the alps who had sixty types of plants in his gut when he died. That was one day's intake. We have maybe a dozen, if we're lucky and with most people it's not the most healthy dozen.

He then gets into the strangle hold that a few companies have on the food supply and how they use this to drive out family farmers and control what we eat. One example he gave is the ubiquitous corn sugar which is now in everything. I've tried to buy products without it and couldn't. This hidden sugar is making us a nation of fatties without us knowing why and all the increase the profits of a few companies who can make millions off corn sugar.

Through the book I'm agreeing and thinking he's right but at the same time I'm in favor of free enterprise and wonder what can be done without violating that. Not that much of the food industry is really free enterprise, but privilege bought from every administration, democrat and republican, including Mr. I'm so pure and righteous Carter. It's ok for him to tell us we're too stupid to fill out a ballot correctly but he has no problem with taking money to give farm subsidies which help, not the farmer, but the food companies, which he knew when he did it since it was the food companies that gave him the money. As they gave it to the Bushes and to Clinton. Not a one of them turned it down and it was substantial. One person in the industry that Manning talked to admitted that they give to both parties and both parties take it gladly. Well, we've just found where our politicians are non-partisan.

I digress, I was wondering what I could do and the author says to quit eating food that goes through the big companies. To buy food at farmers markets and even organic food from organic food stores as the fact that it's organic almost without exception means it didn't go through the handful of large food companies. This is what I'm doing anyway. Yeah! I even bite the bullet and try to buy as much of my meat from farmers markets or health food stores since the animals are raised without additives and often free range. There is one farmer's market where I can get free range beef, chicken and lamb. Unfortunately its early on Sunday morning, clear across town and one mile beyond the bus, but I do get to it when I can. Good stuff!

Another thing the farmer's markets have is a wider variety of little seen varieties that don't ship well but are so much fun to try out, and are in danger of being lost forever. This is also one reason I buy beans and such from Native Seed Search who is trying to preserve the wide variety of beans and other desert varieties. Yesterday I got a Sharlynn melon at a local store which will be fun to try. I enjoy eating purple potatoes and yellow tomatoes and strange squashes. I usually by my bread at a local bakery which has such yummy stuff. They make a rosemary bread that is fantastic. It is so good with peanut butter. I kid you not.

Yes this way is more expensive but it's just me and I can afford it if I'm careful. After reading the book I looked in my cupboards and found all kinds of food that I've bought and never eaten. I could probably exist nicely on just that for a month, but I do have a goal to get through a bunch of the stuff in the cupboard corners also. It's good stuff. I just stick it in the cupboard and forget it's there. This way of eating means taking your lunch to work but I usually do anyway.

Manning also hunts and picked up a bison from a bison farm, but I don't think I'll go that far. For one thing I don't know that I would trust myself with a gun and it's really expensive to get all the stuff you need to hunt. I'll stick with supporting the small farmers who are raising range fed animals and treating them decently and not just medicating them.

Posted by rachela at 10:06 AM MDT
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