Friday, February 18, 2011

Reading Food and Guilt

I do read non-fiction from time to time, and often find myself steered toward books about food, since I bake and garden as hobbies, as well as being an adult convert to semi-vegetarianism. The reading experience for this genre of books varies, but often comes with a helping of guilt for me, and I imagine for most readers. In this blog post I will rate the book for how I liked it and how guilty it made me feel.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four MealsThe Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

Rating: 5/5 stars
Guilt Rating: Well, this is a strange one. I think he does well in making you reconsider assumptions you may have made. Is it really about eating organic, or is eating local better for the environment? Is meat really bad? I did make the change of only buying vegetarian, cage-free, grain-fed eggs from that point forward, like my original review said.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food LifeAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

Rating: 5/5 stars
Guilt rating: Actually, low on guilt, but high on inspiration. She doesn't even begin to suggest that most families could/should do what her family did and live only on food available in a 100 mile radius. But I felt inspired to grow my own food, to learn about heirlooms, and to shop more locally, and I really have. Last year we gardened full throttle and still have a lot to learn, but the resources in this book really helped us get started.

Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America EatsTwinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats by Steve Ettlinger

Rating: 5/5 stars.
Guilt: Oh boy. I wasn't raised eating a lot of processed food, not even carbonated beverages except on special occasions. Ironically, becoming a vegetarian has increased my processed food consumption by leaps and bounds, what else is meat substitute made out of anyway? After reading this book, I still can't drink a Frappuccino. I just think "cotton makes this texture" the entire time. If you don't want to know, don't read this book. It was startling and disgusting but also kind of cool, if I'm being honest. Yay science.

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American MealFast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

Rating: 5/5 stars
Guilt Factor: If you eat fast food, you might never again. McDonalds does have some tasty beverages, but after reading about their impact on potatoes and eggs and the dairy industry, and how egg consumption ends up in cows being treated, well, fast food becomes a rather tougher pill to swallow. He also shows how science gives you the impression of eating food when what you're eating is engineered nothingness. Fascinating but definitely high on guilt. That was his goal, I think. :)

Eating AnimalsEating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Rating: 3/5 stars, maybe because at this point I felt like I'd heard it all before
Guilt: Oh yeah. Except I'm immune, a bit, to hearing about factory farming when I already don't eat meat. I wish he'd spent more than his brief mentions talking about fish farms, since I think we get mixed messages about what fish we should buy - wild fish are said to be bad for the environment, but farmed fish don't sound very spectacular in his encounter. I just wish he'd had some solutions other than not eating animals at all.

CodCod by Mark Kurlansky

Rating: 4/5 stars
Guilt: Well, you'll feel bad any time you eat fish, because they are practically endangered species!

I think it is interesting to note that Pollan followed The Omnivore's Dilemma with In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, a book that looks interesting but I haven't had time to read yet. I think he was potentially wanting to steer away from the guilt-food read too. Anything else I should be reading to balance it all out?


  1. There's the German writer Karen Duve who wrote a book apparently similar to "Eating Animals" called "Eating Decently" where she researches tries out different "eating lifestyles" from omnivore to fruitarianism. Apparently she's been on a book tour with Jonathan Safran Foer and has been a vegetarian ever since writing that book. I don't think there's an English translation (yet or ever), but it would fit nicely in this selection. I haven't read any of these books so far, partly because I haven't gotten around to it and partly because a small part of me is afraid I might not like what I'll read, but they're definitely on my list.

  2. Anne- That sounds good. I'll keep my eyes out for a translation.


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