For every $25 you
spend in the store,
you will receive one
Great Books on Socially Conscious Consumption
by Pablo Neruda
(pg. 90, $12.95)
Like the art of good eating, it sometimes seems like the art of romancing has been sadly neglected as of late. I avoid television as much as humanly possible, but even so I am all too aware of the superficial bachelor and bachelorette shows, the crude tracking of the ups and downs of celebrity couples, and the hostile, flippant relationships that pass for love on dramas and sitcoms. Enough with fast food, synthetic romance! As Valentine’s Day approaches, opt out of commercialism and take it as a signpost to remember real love.
For direction, Pablo Neruda’s tiny pink book of love poems is like a map back to the centre of the heart. Take “In You the Earth” for example:
Little rose,/ roselet,/ at times,/ tiny and naked,/ it seems/ as though you would fit in one of my hands,/ as though I’ll clasp you like this/ and carry you to my mouth.
Or, from “The Queen:”
I have named you queen/There are taller ones than you, taller./ There are purer ones than you, purer./ There are lovelier ones than you, lovelier./ But you are the queen.
Born in 1904 in Chile, Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 and has widely been called one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. This collection of love poems are based on a love affair he had while staying on the island of Capri. The poems are deeply impassioned, sexual, and yet, quite gentle. There is a true love of women, as well as of the island itself, conveyed —and sometimes his love for each seem inseperable: “we have grown together/ but we did not know it/ The sea knows our love, the stones/ of the rocky height/ know that our kisses flowered/ with infinite purity.” Everything about the love he writes of is raw and pure and organic.
Personally, I’d rather spend an evening curled up with this book than with any simile of romance one might find on a screen. Why a book of poetry in Barbara Jo’s cookbook shop, you might ask? Well, there’s a whole table of them actually, because as you probably know, like good books instruct us toward the art of good eating, they can also provide recipes for the art of romancing.
Reviewed by Katie Zdybel
by Michael Pollan
It is easy to imagine that Pollan, after the wildfire success of his previous two books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, would spend a lot of interviews being bombarded with questions on what and how to eat. In an article he wrote for The Huffington Post last month, he explained that his idea for the compact Food Rules is in response to such questions. Readers, parents, and even doctors and healthcare professionals were urging Pollan to share his findings in pamphlet-style as a more user-friendly, condensed version of his books.
Seeing this as a way to “preach beyond the choir,” as he put it, Pollan obliged by choosing the sixty-four most important rules of thumb to live by when choosing what to eat and writing them in small book simply titled Food Rules. In a way, Food Rules is the Cole’s Notes for those who don’t have the time or inclination to read the entirety of In Defense of Food. It is a perfect little gift for that certain friend or peer or family member in your life who you wish would get on board with real food and yet you know will never read a full-length book about it. It is also a handy reminder for the already-converted, to slip into your pocket when going out for dinner, on vacation, or to the market.
The rules are simply stated, such as Rule #11: “Avoid foods you see advertised on tv” or Rule #17: “Eat food cooked by humans, not corporations” and followed with brief, but informative paragraphs that flush out the rule and its reasons. Pollan has a knack for coining phrases and memorable mottos (his famous opening to In Defense of Food “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much” has been stamped on t-shirts and posters by supporters) and some of the best rules are most effective because of Pollan’s wordsmithery. Take, for example, Rule #36: “Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.” Easy to remember, paints a vivid picture, and makes a whole lot of sense. One of the best rules to remember is to question anything that your great grandmother or grandmother would not recognize as food. A whole rainbow of “edible food-like substance” (another great catchphrase, coined by Pollan) fall under this category. Anytime I have an urge for a Twizzler (my personal fake-food vice), I imagine the look on my nana’s face and put it back.
If you already live by these rules, chances are you still have a few friends that don’t. Food Rules can be read in an hour and is written with a good sense of humour as well as sensible logic. And who knows? Maybe a taste of the wildly practical food philosophy sampled in Food Rules will hook a few new eaters into the real food movement.
Reviewed by Katie Zdybel
Apples to Oyster: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms
By Margaret Webb
It all started with a carrot, lovingly tended and eaten straight from the ground. It tasted as electrifying as its vibrant orange colour. Margaret Webb was hooked on a quest to find farmers that are returning to traditional farming methods. In Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms, Webb takes readers on a cross-Canada adventure to celebrate quintessential Canadian foods and their dedicated growers, producers and harvesters.
Apples to Oysters features eleven Canadian foods in their respective regions across the country. Each chapter explores the origins, history and significance of the food at hand. Webb embraces each of the featured farmers with zeal and recounts each farmer’s relationship with the food and terroir. Webb reveals the true essence of a more artisan, often more labor intensive approach to farming. As readers get to know each of the insightful farmers, it’s no wonder Webb fondly refers to farmers as “chefs of the soil and the sea” and “tractor seat philosophers.” A broad range of recipes included in each chapter provides readers with a taste of each region.
Apples to Oysters also serves as a personal memoir. As Webb travels and eats her way across Canada, she reflects on life on her own family’s farm. She recounts her relationship to her farming family and the eventual fate of her family homestead, a fate not unfamiliar to many farms across the country.
Webb weaves an interesting and vibrant tapestry of Canada’s agricultural community through her insightful, passionate and often humourous storytelling. She includes fascinating facts and statistics while maintaining a light and often riveting tone. After reading Apples to Oysters, one gains much respect and admiration for the men and women who nurture and produce the land and bounty of Canada.
Apples to Oysters is a timely read as we are facing a looming global food shortage. While food and shipping costs increase, we are faced with appreciating and turning more to local and sustainable farmers and food producers. Apples to Oysters inspires readers to do just that.
Reviewed by Barb Wong
|A Movable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization|
By Kenneth F. Kiple
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? What was ordered first? Chicken fricassee or fried over easy? Now while the questions are engaging, and eye-rollingly simple, the answers and enigma that Professor Kenneth F. Kiple poses and addresses in A Movable Feast, his ambitious treatise on the history of food globalization, are far-reaching. Each movement in our growth as an animal, from primate to homosapien, is addressed in relation to the movement of food products.
From the opportunistic “discoveries” of the plants and grains we found on the plains, to the animals that crept to the first glow of the first campfire or were captured to provision us with food in the future, food is the original economy. Food is the original “demand” from which all societies and all empires have grown.
Each chapter is headed by the most meaningful and compact of titles that define the staggering 70, 000 years of food evolution, spaced out in steps long enough to span from prehistory to the present. The settling of the fertile crescent in the near east; animal husbandry; food preservation; the age of exploration and expansion; modern petrochemical agri-business; genetic modification: all these subjects and more are up for discussion.
Professor Kiple’s work is the effort of a career that has explored humanity’s relationship with food, often times stating the obvious that so often is overlooked, unappreciated, forgotten, or ignored. This thoroughness and attention to detail must be considered somewhat due, to Professor Kiple’s role as editor to Cambridge University’s milestone two-volume treatise, The History of Food. For example, Kiple ties human theological advances to the success of agriculture, arguing,
“It did bring profound change to every aspect of human existence, in no small part because of the rigorous demands of an agricultural way of life [and] the uncertainties inherent in planting and harvesting crops led to religious rituals aimed at removing some of those uncertainties. The production of agricultural surpluses meant that not everyone was needed for agricultural labour and most likely those first freed from it were individuals with explanations for the forces of nature and the gods. Formalized religion, then, grew out of the Neolithic just as surely as the crops that it gave rise to.”
Every new faith: in humanity, science, technology, democracy, economy leaves an imprint on how we eat, what we eat, and what we may eat. Kiple talks of the effects of food in the past and in the present; while he speaks in a chronological narrative, there is never distance between practices of 3, 000 years ago and today (technological improvements aside). It is like reflecting upon breakfast at the end of the day. As a result it is remarkably readable for such a comprehensive and informative book. This makes A Movable Feast all the more accessible, and all the more portable. It is a remarkable feat to record the legacy of food’s importance in lives of each and every one of us, each and every day, for the last ten millennia. Kiple’s masterwork unifies the many separate strands of the human experience within a context that all can and need to understand.
Reviewed by Tony Peneff
|Terra Madre: 1600 Food Communities|
By Slow Food Editore
"If you do not interfere with the busy season in the fields, then there will be more grain than the people can eat; if you do not allow nets with too fine a mesh to be used, there will be more fish than they can eat; if hatchets are permitted in the forests on the hills only in the proper season, then there will be more timber than they can use. This is the first step along the Kingly way."
- Menicus, translated from the third century B.C.E. Chinese by D.C. Lau
"Isn't it curious how in so many of our pastimes and hobbies we play at supplying one or another of our fundamental creaturely needs--for food, for shelter, even clothing?"
- Michael Pollan, from The Omnivore's Dilemma
"Let no one underestimate the small tangible things these outstanding human beings are capable of achieving. At a moment in time in which distorted development is proving itself unsustainable, the food communities are a dam capable of checking the menace of an envioronmental disaster already foretold. Terra Madre recounts the small gestures of thousands in harmony with nature and the envioronment."
- Carlo Petrini, from the introduction to Terra Madre
In early October 2006, as mists fell from the mountains to settle in the valleys, over 5000 grastronomes, academics and agriculturists descended on Turin for the second Terra Madre convention. Legions of like minds from different countries and careers came together to share information and embrace the diversity and distinctiveness of traditional food economies. In a broad sense, then, this book is a catalogue in fact, as it chronicles and archives over 1600 food communities throughout the world and their contributions to the unique regionality of food.
Divided into continent and country, each grower, each artisan, and each foodstuff is meticulously described. Consider the Chattanooga Hog Breeders, who are attempting to preserve traditional breeds and curing methods, the Sorghum producers of Nyakinama, Rwanda and the dizzying array of beverages they draw from this one plant, or the Andean potato presidium that is introducing pre-conquistador, high-elevation varieties of potatoes to Andean farmers. Each entry speaks of an individual story and of human history.
Terra Madre does not only chronicle, but also initiates and educates local food communities that are threatened by the intoduction of international commodity crops, or are being alienated from their own culture and history by the homogenization of food markets. The quixotic efforts of individuals and small communities are valiant in their hope to hold onto traditions and resist the enticements of the urban and urbane. This asserts the vitality and importance of Terra Madre's efforts to preserve and promote food products that attest to the places they come from but whose environments and inhabitants they do not degrade.
Throughout Terra Madre, the assertions and aspirations of the Slow Food movement are voiced through a variety of speakers and settings. It is a chorus to the philosophy that food is not insular or isolated if it is local. Food must rather be, as Carlo Petrini extols, "buono, pulito, e giusto." Food should be good and it should be well-prepared. It should be pure, untainted, and uncontaminated. Also it should be justly raised, without exploitation of workers, and with regard to the integrity of both humanity and our envioronment.
Studded with enriching photographs and covering a huge breadth of topics, Terra Madre is a riveting read. Like Peter Menzel's Hungry Planet, it is an enriching travel machine offering food for thought through its descriptions of food. For food lovers, both amateur and academic, Terra Madre is a window on "mother earth," the world we inhabit and those people who raise and prepare the food we eat. It's an indulgence from a conference with a conscience well worth taking home.
Reviewed by Tony Peneff
|Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life|
By Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
"The maintenance of soil fertility is the real basis of health and of resistance to disease. In contrast, the Leibig method of chemical fertilizers is based on a complete misconception of plant nutrition. It is superficial and fundamentally unsound."
- Sir Albert Howard
"Globally, water demand has more than tripled since mid-century, and it has been met by building ever more dams and river diversions that are wreaking havoc on the aquatic envioronment and its biological diversity"
- Thomas F. Pawlick, The End of Food
At the outset of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingslover and her husband Steven Hopp pack up and leave Tuscon with their daughters Camille and Lily, who they wish to raise as healthy and aware citizens of society and the world at large. They have recognized that their lives in Tuscon and on the planet are based on a precarious reliance on increasingly depleted resources. And so the family drives against the the population flood, "dog paddling against the tide, heading for the Promised Land where water falls from the sky and green stuff grows all around." This is book that chronicles the current state of the world and the fate of one family left in their own hands.
Once planted in the greener patures of their new home in rural Virginia, the family members resolve to "realign our lives with our food chain," and to eat only what they are able to either raise, barter for, or purchase locally for an entire year. Over the kitchen table, the family debates what to plant in their garden plots with in such a consideration that makes the urban non-gardener's head spin with their conscientiousness. Their need to concede to the needs of their flocks and fields is daunting and heroic, as they must choose crops not based upon their durability and arability, rather than flavour or good looks. The challenge to our North American "gasoholic, well-heeled" diet is not to forego fruits and vegetables, explains Kingsolver, but to forecast, foretaste, anticipate, and recognize that it is "actually possible to wait, celebrating each season when it comes, and not fretting about it being absent at all other times because something else good is at hand." This goodness they draw from the ground, the vine and bough to pickle and preserve in order to sustain themselves through the winter, then repeat it all the following year. It's literally a growing year, one full of lessons and rewards for each in the family.
The settling of the family's youngest, Lily, to life on the farm is the most endearing and revealing, since her growth is symbolic of that of the family. She takes root in the new ground, adapts, and soon thrives in this new setting. She grows. Lily's egg business is but one example of how the family ekes out a living (perhaps reconsider how much a pet hamster will teach a child about serious responsibilities). Lily masters so much with such joy and resolution, I was often reminded of my best friend and his family, (who live likewise on Saltspring Island) and the education his daughter has acquired in the barnyard.
For all the labours and sacrifices of the Hopps-Kingslovers, the drumming message of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the hedonistic pleasure that one can draw from these ostensibly altruistic efforts. The fruit of one's labour is made sweeter still by Camille, whose recipes make one hunger, while the emboldening, enraging statistics of Steven motivate one to pick up a spade and break ground. As in The 100-Mile Diet, which Kingslover honourably mentions, the reader comes to realize that the hedonist and pragmatist can reap the same rewards from such efforts. Living close to the earth is not only better for you--it also makes you feel good. Not surprisingly, good is how I felt after reading this book: the better for having read it and all the more powerful for the message it imparts.
Reviewed by Tony Peneff
|The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating|
By Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon
"Good food depends almost entirely on good ingredients; that's not cooking, that's shopping'"
- Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Vegetables
"Agricultural land in the valley is intensively farmed. The Fraser Valley brings in over half of B.C.'s agricultural revenue.* It is the most populated aea of B.C. and the third largest metropolitan area in Canada."**
- "Fraser Valley," Wikepedia
"Sure farming is a noble profession, but so was being a gladiator back in ancient Rome."
- John Peterson, Farmer John's Cookbook
What a difference a meal makes; it nourishes, it comforts, it inspires. Such was the impetus for Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon's book The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. An evening meal drawn from the land of the Skeena surprised and haunted the couple so much that they began to consider what it might be like to turn away from their urban ways to a new, yet timeless, way of eating. Rather than remaining in the bush for the duration of their project, Alisa and James decide to return to Vancouver, determined "to carry this meal into the rest of our lives."
For one year, the couple vows to only consume food and drink that originate within a hundred-mile radius of their home, in order to reduce their dependence on imported food stuffs and, consequently, their ecological footprint. Upon consulting Dr. William Rees of UBC, they learn that a person's ecological imprint can be approximately measured by the number of acres of the world's resources he or she consumes in a year. Since "the food we eat typically travels between 1500 and 3000 miles from farm to plate," our footprint is obviously huge.
So, how to reduce one's impact? By reducing one's reliance on imported products. With near-Marxist diligence, Smith and MacKinnon begin a program of eliminations (and substitutions): sugar (honey); coffee (herbal tea); pepper (chillis); the riches of the spice cupboard (locally grown herbs); lobster (dungeness crab); imported tiger prawns (spot prawns); chocolate (which, alas, has no 100-mile options, to Alisa's and the reader's dismay). Through foraging, community gardening, and constantly seeking out local growers, the couple persevere and succeed. The monotany is at times great, but the project does lead to their discovery of new foods, as well as new friends, activities, and skills that enrich their lives.
Humour and heartfelt emotion pervade each page of The 100-Mile Diet, as history and personal stories intertwine in a reflection on the region, what it offers, how it continues to challenge us, and how we can improve it. One cannot laugh at the restrictions of their resolution, but only admire. This is a challenging and provoking book that everyone should read. It may not change the world, but it shows ways in which we might change while we live in it.
*"Some 7000 species of plant are known to have been used by different human societies throughout history. Today, just twenty species provide 90 percent of the world's food."
- Edward O. Wilson, cited from The 100-Mile Diet
** "Just two percent of Americans live on farms, and the trend continues globally. Half of the world's 6.5 billion people live in cities."
- United Nations Commission, cited from The 100-Mile Diet
Reviewed by Tony Peneff
| What to Eat: An Aisle-by Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating|
By Marion Nestle
Marion Nestle has a knack for untangling the confusing array of food information and advice thrust upon the 21st century consumer. No evangelist for any one “side” of the many food debates, she focuses on careful research into current issues, presenting clear, founded opinions on stuff that matters to everyone who eats. Her previous books, Food Politics and Safe Food, spoke from her professional position as a nutritionist and educator. What to Eat fuses her academic and ordinary consumer identities and gives us an extensive and readable guide to feeding ourselves today.
Using the structure of the supermarket as her table of contents, Nestle takes us on a critical tour of where we shop and what we buy. Beginning on the store periphery, we stroll through the essential raw ingredient sections: produce, dairy, meat and fish and consider issues such as organic versus conventional produce and meats, aquaculture, and mad cow disease. Nestle considers the relevant environmental, animal welfare, health, labelling and terminology issues associated with each ingredient category, sharing both the results of her research and her personal choices and opinions as a consumer.
Moving to the centre aisles, we look at frozen and processed foods, and beverages. Junk foods are obvious candidates for discussion but Nestle digs deeper to consider the role of breakfast cereal, sugars, processed flours and oils in the American diet. She also addresses concerns and claims about coffee and tea, bottled water and, of course, soft drinks. Even baby foods and marketing to children get the once-over here.
Although a few issues, such as bovine growth hormones in dairy cattle, are not relevant in the Canadian market, What to Eat has much to tell us in Canada. It does so with a neighbourly voice backed by comprehensible research from various sources. This is a consumer reference book to pull out whenever yet another nutritional or environmental claim pops up in the media. I can hear myself saying “I wonder what Marion has to say about this?”
Reviewed by Adrienne O'Callaghan