Saturday, January 23, 2010

#5 - In Defense of Food

Carrying forth with my "I should read more nonfiction. I'll do it in January" mentality, I finished Michael Pollan's excellent In Defense of Food this week. I know Foer's critical of Pollan's approach in Eating Animals, but I still find him to be the most logical, engaging food/environmental writer (and I don't read widely, sorry!) that I've read in years.

The book has a simple edict: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Throughout its 200-odd pages, Pollan explains what he means by these simple statements. He defines what "food" is (it should be recognized by your ancestors, live in the outer edges of a grocery store, and grown) for people who may have been confused (or living under a rock), sets out simple ways to find it, and then encourages them to eat it (at a table, preferably).

The idea of becoming a selective omnivore never would have entered my mind five years ago. When our neighbour planted tomatoes and some herbs in our backyard I was so grossed out at the thought of eating something pulled right from the dirt that I poo-pooed the vegetables before even picking them. And then I tasted them. Now I can't eat a pale, lifeless grocery store cucumber without longingly thinking about the ones that I've grown.

Your muscles have memory, and so do your taste buds, and Pollan's so correct when he says that finding connection to your food by something as simple and inexpensive as a vegetable garden remains a resoundingly rewarding activity. My beans taste nothing like the waxy, protected grocery store bags of veggies I had to buy for Christmas. It might be a silly thing to say, but my crazy, intrusively kind neighbour changed my outlook on food completely. Then Pollan came along and gave me cause to shout.

While the book might linger just a little bit too long on the science and evolution bits, the idea that we're getting it so fundamentally wrong on such a massive scale still catches my breath in my throat. Maybe we can change the world one seed at a time. Maybe we can't. But I won't stop digging in the dirt and doing what I can regardless.

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