Monday, July 12, 2010

Reading/A Book Review: Marion Nestle's What To Eat

I think and write a lot about food. And then I think and write a lot about the issues that I think are associated with food -- body politics, health, fat, fitness, intuitive eating, etc. I'm no expert, but I think and write and read a lot about this stuff because I find it interesting and because I want answers. I really have no fucking clue how to eat.

The abridged version: dieted for years, bad, bad, BAD disordered eating behaviors, stopped dieting, started researching/reading, started running and understanding food as fuel. Still completely and hopelessly confused. And totally insecure in my abilities to make decent food choices.

A friend recommended Marion Nestle's book, What To Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating. I absolutely loved this book and would put it on my "must read" list. It covers the same issues as a lot of Michael Pollan's books, but is much more accessible and well, funny.

The book is organized by grocery section, and Nestle tackles all of the issues -- taste, nutrition, health, social, environmental, and cost -- associated with each. After tackling these issues and in some cases, looking at the politics behind them, she talks about how how she, herself, eats and tackles her own food choices. I loved this. I felt it was informative and really not preachy.

Overall, I didn't learn a lot about what I should be doing more of (eating more fruits and vegetables, less processed foods), but I did learn about all the food myths and misinformation out there, and I learned a TON about how to properly read food labels. I thought I was relatively good at this, but I was sorely mistaken. There are so many sugars that I didn't really know were sugars. I also got a better understanding of why it is such bullshit to place the burden of safety and health on the consumer rather than the producers.

And don't even get me started on the chapters on marketing food to children. I've recoiled in horror in recent years when I started noticing products like "Diet Pepsi with Vitamins" or "Iron-Fortified Cookie Crisp," but that's mainly because I like my processed foods exactly that way -- processed, HFCS-ed up, and completely devoid of nutritional value. But that was before I became a parent. I nursed Zygote until she was almost a year old, so I didn't have to think too much about what I was feeding her. When I started feeding her solids, I found that I was grabbing snacks that were labeled "start healthy" or "made with whole grains" because they sounded nutritious, but I wasn't really reading the labels. With the exceptions of a few jarred foods, only a handful of toddler snacks contain ingredients that children should actually be eating. Just an example, I have something called a "lil' crunchies baked whole grain corn snack" in front of me, and the ingredient list is: whole grain yellow corn meal, corn oil, whey, tomato powder, ticalcium phosphate, sugar, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, citric acid, spices (basil, black pepper, fennel), mixed tocopherols (for freshness), natural spice flavor, alpha tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), zinc oxide, elctrolytic iron. What the hell is all that? Just because it sounds healthy and it's marketed as such doesn't mean it actually is.

Nestle comes out in favor of organics, mainly because you can get food that is certified and regulated. I get that argument and respect it, but personally, I find it hard to choose organic strawberries from thousands of miles away, when I get can get local, conventionally grown strawberries from the Farmers' Market down the street, where they will be fresher and didn't use a ton of fuel to get here. My choice, but I feel like it's an informed one.

I'm hoping that this book will have more of an impact on our day to day cooking and shopping, and will help me put some of the beliefs that I have about grocery shopping and eating into real practice.

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