Friday, January 20, 2012
What I've been reading (some thoughts on food)
I decided to shake things up a bit and discuss some books I have read lately about one of my other favorite topics, food. Mostly I stick to the topic here and concentrate on birds, but in the rest of my life I am a bit of a "foodie", perhaps even a glutton, and also quite interested in eating the healthiest way possible in order to be able to bird for decades to come.
With that in mind, I shall turn my attention to Folks, This Ain't Normal by Joel Salatin. I downloaded this onto my Kindle after reading the review of it on Summer Tomato, one of my favorite food and health websites. In the book, Salatin, an organic farmer from northern Virginia, takes pot-shots at many of the problems currently bedeviling our food supply: factory farms, genetically modified crops, food shipped to us from distant lands, people not knowing how to grow or preserve food or even how to cook it.
The life of an organic farmer is not an easy one, and Salatin has choice words for those who make it even more difficult: the government, animal rights supporters, environmentalists, and the average consumer (which seems to be most of us).
What I liked about the book: I agree that our current agricultural system is profoundly abnormal and short-sighted, and the book made me think about our current lifestyle in different ways; I learned a bit about traditional farming practices; I learned even more about what small farmers have to put up with from the government, and I heartily agree that the system is terrible; and the book made me think, period. I love it when I find myself debating with an author in my mind after I've put the book down. It's the opposite of passive entertainment. The book also inspired me to get serious about composting, putting out rain barrels, etc., to make my kitchen and garden more "normal," and got me excited about planting some veggies this summer.
What I didn't like about the book: mostly, the ranting, sarcastic tone. Once in a while I'd find myself chuckling at his diatribes, but overall, I found it off-putting. I am always opposed to using words like "duh" as an elocutionary device. The other thing I didn't like was the lack of references to support his claims, especially as some sources he did mention, such as Lierre Keith and Sally Fallon, are not exactly sources I would turn to for objectivity.
If I were trying to convince someone who eats factory-farmed meats, highly processed foods, fast-food value meals, etc., to upgrade to better choices, would I hand them Folks, This Ain't Normal? Probably not as their first book on the topic. But if you're already interested in what's going on with our food supply, Salatin provides an interesting and in-your-face perspective, which I'm happy to have read.
An interesting companion piece to Salatin's book would be Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won't Eat Meat by Howard Lyman. It's an older book (2001), and towards the end a bit of a vegan polemic, but the part describing how Lyman was convinced to "modernize" his family's ranch after attending the agricultural program at his local university, and in doing so rendered the land an ecological wasteland, burdened with debt and filled with sick, stressed out animals, and probably hurt his own health as well, is a perfect example of what's just not normal about our farming practices.
Some people want to define "normal" as even further back in time, before the advent of agriculture, and think that the ideal way to live is similar to our hunting and gathering ancestors. I have found the most persuasive of these "paleo" type diets to be Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint, which is described in his book of the same name and also on his wonderful blog, Mark's Daily Apple. One of the things that appeals to me about his philosophy is that it goes beyond diet; exercise, rest, play, and even spending lots of time in nature (love that part!) are discussed.
I do have a confession, though. Despite being convinced by the rationale of the lifestyle, I haven't been able to make the transition to following the diet. I tried it for two weeks, felt nauseated from eating so much meat, and actually gained five pounds! And no, it wasn't muscle. Since then, I have scaled back the meat and added in some rice, and feel my equilibrium returning. I'm really enjoying cooking my way The Primal Blueprint Cookbook, though. So far I've made the Swiss chard frittata, the beef and broccoli stir fry, and the chicken and fennel stew...all delicious!
And overall, I do feel that even though I can't forgo my white rice, the book has convinced me to put the processed crap behind me once and for all, which has to be most of the battle.
Because really, that stuff ain't normal!