As is the case with many food bloggers, I read a lot about food. (Thank you Captain Obvious!) Over time, I have started to move away from cookbooks to more referential works, such as On Food And Cooking, by Harold McGee, which explains the science and history of ingredients, Michael Ruhlman’s books about chefs and chef training, and works by Barbara Kingsolver, Catherine Friend, and Michael Pollan. And, of course, I also read blogs (shocker!) such as Honest Meat and Bitten, among others. Not all of my reading has been non-fiction or editorial. My Year of Meats, by Ruth Ozeki, is a quirky novel that some might find as a modern day or cross-cultural version of The Jungle, exploring the relationships of people, food production, and choices.
As I have become more aware of industrial food production, and that the industrial production of meat produces significantly more greenhouse gases than transportation (an amazing fact to most people), I find that it is difficult to ignore the politics associated with food production. Disclaimer: The fact that I married a Political Scientist makes it easier for me to find politics in more parts of life. I live in a relatively rural area of the Midwest, where I pass farms that grow corn and soybeans on my way to work as a software engineer. I regularly see the tanker cars of ADM’s High Fructose Corn Syrup going by while I wait at railroad crossings. The health conflicts and the economic conflicts of industrial food production that Pollan and others discuss hits home harder when you can see the ironies and how they affect you and your neighbors, instead of viewing them as issues “for those people in the big states in the middle”. I think this is why I’ve become interested in groups such as Food Democracy Now!, as well as Slow Food in the US.
All this reading has changed some of my behavior, and the foodways of our household. I am much more aware of what I’m buying, and I do make an effort to buy locally produced food products. (Which frankly I haven’t found difficult to do. I am lucky in where I am situated in this regard.) With a large freezer, and access to local farmers, we can now buy meats from producers we’ve gotten to know, who feed their ruminants grass rather than grain, etc.
I understand that the “locavore” model that I can adopt is not an option for everyone, and that going local won’t replace the need for the large food distribution networks that have been developed to feed our nation. I realize that I can willingly spend more on food than some others can, and that I choose to spend time doing the research or “discovery” necessary to support these habits. I also don’t have children, which means more of my time is my own.
While I have not bought any of his cookbooks, I do own a copy of Mark Bittman’s Food Matters, A Guide to Conscious Eating. A cynic might call this book a rehash of Pollan and a rehash of How to Cook Everything recipes, to capitalize on the latest food craze. I find this book to be a concise guide to the major issues we face producing food in the world today, and a guide to eating more consciously and healthfully in the same way. Given the other reading I’ve done, there are no real surprises for me in Food Matters, but like the Artisan Bread in Five book, Bittman provides a framework for eating more healthfully within the constraints of our modern age. Bittman lives in the city, so his shopping tips and cooking tips can fit the urban and suburban lifestyles of most Americans. The only real constraint is that you need to be willing to spend some time cooking, rather than buying prepackaged, ready to eat foods.
Since I am a cook, none of this looks hard to me. I could easily adapt to cooking a lot of grains and beans at once, or in a slow cooker, and putting them in my freezer, so I can have them to combine with other ingredients at mealtimes. This might be harder to do if you have a life that is very unplanned and unpredictable, or if you are not someone who likes to plan at all. Like the Five Minute a Day bread, the work ahead makes things convenient for later. Freezer management is an excellent skill to develop.
I’d recommend this book to friends who are new to cooking, or want to make more conscious food choices for health reasons. The sample meal plans and recipes can help. Remember, your choices DO matter, not only to you, but to the world and markets around you. Just as low demand this holiday season made electronic prices drop, changes in how you eat will affect the food industry, as well as your health. For worse and for better.