Saturday, 21 February 2015

You are what you eat

I love food. I think about eating a lot. I try to be conscious of what is in my food and regularly read the labels to contemplate sodium and fat levels, but I get bamboozled by mysterious ingredients. My main concern, as a vegetarian, is that what I eat contains no meat. So I have always considered myself a fairly conscientious eater.

My aunt (who is vegan) encouraged me to read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006) and I have just finished reading this fascinating book.  It has made me look at food in a whole new way. In fact, just this morning, I was at my local farmer's market checking out organic products and contemplating my food choices.

So what is the omnivore's dilemma? Pollan describes it as follows: "It boils down to this: As creatures who can eat many different things, how do we know what's good to eat and what's not?" (p.60) Exactly! How do we know what we are consuming?

The Australian government has recently released a new front of package Health Star Rating system which is designed to help consumers select foods that are better for us. The stars tell is the energy, saturated fat, sugars, sodium and iron content in the food peer 100g allowing us to compare foods as we buy them. I think this is great and it will go a long way towards helping people choose healthier options.

But Pollan takes this a step further and asks us to consider the whole food chain - from farm to table. He does so by telling the story of four meals.

First, he begins with the industrial food chain by taking us to a large corn plantation where corn is mass produced. I had no idea just how much corn is in everything we eat in various forms. "If you count all the corn we eat, directly and indirectly the average American eats a ton of corn every year. We don't recognise it as corn, though, because it's been turned into something else." (p 49)

He then takes us to an industrial organic lettuce plantation, where organic food is mass produced for grocery store chains. I was surprised about some aspects of this type of organic farming, including the allowable pesticides and the fossil fuel usage.

Pollan then moves on to a local organic farm and spends a week with the family, participating in all their activities. This was perhaps my favourite section of the book, as the family lovingly cared for their animals allowing them to live and die with dignity. Here Pollan raises and interesting point about how much we are willing to pay for high quality local food when he points out people grumbling about paying an extra dollar for farm fresh eggs. "Nowadays many Americans are even willing to pay for water - something we can get for free from any tap. So why are we unwilling to pay more for better food."(p123)

The final section sees Pollan trying to cook a meal that he has hunted and gathered himself. This section I probably enjoyed least as the idea of hunting for meat was off-putting (although I do know the delicious sweet taste of fresh chanterelles, having once had them picked fresh in Scotland).

Overall I really enjoyed this book and it has got me thinking more about what I eat, where it came from and how I can make better choices.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Miss Manners

Hot on the heels of reading Lena Dunham's memoir, I immersed myself in Amy Poehler's Yes Please (2014). It is a light, witty confection of a book, which is pulled together by loose threads and scrapbooked memories.

In some respects it is strange to choose to read a memoir of someone I don't really know that much about. I was not one of Amy Poehler's fans - for whom this book is clearly aimed. While I admired her sketch comedy on Saturday Night Live, I only ever watched that show occasionally and can't really recall any of her characters. I love her award hosting duties with Tina Fey but I would have said I was a Fey-fan. I have not seen Parks and Recreation (...yet) and her other work (Deuce Bigalow, Baby Mama) isn't really my thing. Reading her book, however, I suddenly felt like her biggest fan!

Amy (I can call her that because she feels like a BFF to me now) recalls her childhood in Boston, her early days in improv, the Upright Citizens Brigade, SNL, and the highs and lows along the way. It was instantly relatable to me as I grew up in the same period, not far away, so the pop culture references made me smile knowingly.

I admire the way she wrote about her family, her divorce and the time she apologised for an insensitive comedy sketch. I love her feisty, feminist life lessons, her no bull attitude, and her "good-for-you-not-for-me" approach to life. She is not afraid to share cringeworthy stories about some of her mishaps, and in doing so readers will laugh as they have done them too.

In terms of a memoir, Yes Please is exactly what I thought it would be - a 'how I got here from there' tale with some witty anecdotes and occasional deep-and-meaningful moments. I didn't really need to know Poehler's work in order to read the book, but now that I have read it I am off to binge-watch Parks and Rec!