Saturday, June 28, 2008

Two Books About Food

Since I am obsessed with food, I just finished two very different books on the subject.

Such a pretty fat : one narcissist's quest to discover if her life makes her ass look big, or why pie is not the answer by Jen Lancaster

I'll admit I read this book based entirely on the title. It is a chick lit styled memoir about a woman trying to lose weight. She had a very positive self-image and was content with her body, but her doctor convinced her that her health would be in great jeopardy if she didn't lose weight. As Lancaster noted, there would be no point to having beautiful pedicures if she lost a foot to diabetes. So she set out to get fit and lose weight. She tried Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers and rejected them both, opting instead to simply eat a sensible diet and decrease her portion sizes. Most importantly, she hired a personal trainer and pushed herself to work out regularly and become stronger and healthier.

Though it was enough that Lancaster is so hilarious, what really made this book stand out to me was her refreshingly positive view of herself - her weight loss was not a means to make her feel better about herself, or get a man, or fit into a smaller sized dress. She didn't talk numbers at all, in fact. We don't know how much she weighed or what size she wore, and indeed it was beside the point. What we did learn was how much better she felt, how strong she became, what she was able to do after getting in shape that she couldn't do before. Such a Pretty Fat is a fun book to read, but it's also inspiring and motivating.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

In his follow-up to the excellent Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan rips apart nutrition research, processed foods, and the Western diet, which he blames for the high rates of obesity, heart disease, and cancer in the US. As always, his arguments are sensible and well backed-up. I particularly liked this book because I have long been annoyed about how scientific eating has become: there is always some nutrient of the moment that is deified or vilified, many studies are touted which support contradictory claims, and there is an overwhelming feeling that we should be analyzing, graphing and charting the intake of various nutrients to make sure we are eating "correctly." Pollan urges us to go back to eating whole foods (not processed food products) as part of meals that we cook out of food ingredients (not additives or supplements) in our own kitchens and then enjoy with family and friends. Radical!

It's sad that we have to be told these things, and it's also sad that it's so difficult to do. Seriously, I challenge you to go into Stop 'n Shop and find a loaf of bread that contains whole grains, no high fructose corn syrup, and no ingredients that you can't pronounce. And these days most of us have to work for a living and don't have time to stay home and bake bread. Fortunately though, Pollan offers many helpful suggestions and guidelines that will help improve our diets. In Defense of Food is eye-opening and has certainly motivated me to make more of an effort to eat better.

Though very different on the surface, these two books have something important that they share: common sense. Lancaster knew that a packaged food plan that leaves no room for even an annual birthday cake is no way to live, and that despite what she was told by one organization, food is not "bad." She knew that she didn't have to be told what to eat for every meal, but needed to simply learn how to make more sensible choices. Similarly, Pollan argues that we do not need to read scientific studies to learn what to eat, and that we're better off eating unrefined foods - fat and all - than foods that have been stripped of all nutrition and had various things added in based on what scientists tell us we need. Hooray for sense and reason!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Those books sound really good. Especially the first one. I always get so annoyed with commercials for overly processed food. And I did manage once to find a bread without high fructose corn syrup. Now I do bake it myself instead.