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I have a bad habit of starting a book, getting halfway through, and then abandoning it for a new, shiny book before I’m finished. I just picked this book back up after about a couple of month’s hiatus and finished it within a week. It turned out to be fascinating and I’m still ruminating (pun intended, I guess) on exactly how it will change the way I eat. In it, Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto) tackles the somewhat harrowing task of following four very different meals back to their origins. Along the way, he uncovers for us exactly what we are eating, what what we are eating is eating, and how we are treating what we are eating.
The meals progress from heavily-processed, impersonal, practically unrecognizable food (hello, McDonald’s), to a meal that the author actually hunts, gathers, grows and cooks (almost) entirely by himself.
While I wasn’t surprised to learn that it is virtually impossible to track down the exact origin of the beef or chicken in your value meal, learning about the conditions in which the animals are raised was certainly eye-opening. Michael Pollan is not a vegetarian, but he does set out some of the ethical difficulties with eating meat in this day + age — specifically the mass-produced meat that comprises the majority of what you find in any supermarket or restaurant today. He allows the reader to come to his own conclusions as far as the answer to this “dilemma,” but a happy medium does seem to be found in his third meal — he works for a time at Polyvore Farms, an organic farm that raises chickens, cows, and pigs. The process that Joel Salatin, the owner of the farm, has developed is so completely natural, efficient, and humane that it stood in stark contrast to what I had just read about the “killing floors” at the industrial meat-processing plants.
(The second meal was an organic meal bought at Whole Foods, and disappointingly, his discoveries about the origins of those foods were not much more encouraging than the fast-food meal.)
His last effort was certainly the “purest” meal of the bunch, but he admitted it was impractical for most people and not a viable model for modern-day living and eating. (It’s also the most entertaining section of the book, as the decidedly domesticated author picks up a gun for the first time and sits in the woods for a few days, trying to work up the guts to shoot a wild pig.)
While I got a little bogged down in the middle of the book, somewhere amidst all the facts about corn and its thousands of iterations in the supermarket (hence my long book-intermission), overall I thought his findings were fascinating. Much of the information in the book was surprising to me, and even appalling at times.
Michael Pollan has done a lot to bring about widespread awareness and interest in exactly where the food we are eating comes from. He points out that we would never just buy a car because it’s the cheapest we could find … so why are we doing that with our food? I was certainly challenged to amend some of my thinking about the way our family shops and eats. This post is getting long, so I’ll have to save my thoughts on the new personal/family food policies I want to implement for another entry. In closing, if you’re at all interested in food (and who isn’t??) I’d recommend this book.
But you don’t have to take MY word for it… do-do-DO!
This bike has been making its way around the internet for awhile now, and I fall in love every time I see it! We don’t currently live in a bike-friendly setting (we live off of a busy, shoulder-less road, PLUS there’s no place in our apartment for a bike), but when we move I’d love to be able to hit up our usual spots–grocery store, bank, post office, farmer’s market–on a bike. Especially this one!
They’re giving away one per week — just link to them from your blog, add yourself to their email list, or follow them on Twitter. It can’t hurt to try!
adapted from Tyler Florence’s cookbook: Eat This Book
1 can of corn, drained
1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 green onions, white + green parts, chopped
1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, + chunked
1 jalapeno, minced
1/4 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
Put all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl + gently toss them together. Season with salt + pepper. Makes about 4 cups.
Sometimes I serve this as a salsa, sometimes I eat it like a salad, sometimes I pile it into a pita and chow down middle-eastern style. No matter how you serve it (except maybe a la mode), it’s delicious!
Every Saturday morning, my dad gets up earlier than the rest of the family (nothing unusual there), makes a pot of coffee, and proceeds to whip up roughly 1,000 whole-wheat pancakes for my family’s breakfast. Everyone sits down, we pray, and Dad sets the steaming stack (kept warm in the oven) in the middle of the table for devouring. Growing up, we were allowed butter OR syrup (not both, are you crazy?) on top. I’m not sure if this rule still stands.
Nathan’s family, however, has a tradition of making waffles. On Sunday mornings. (Marriage is so hard — how do you reconcile these sorts of cultural differences!?) 🙂 Throughout the morning various Spearings trickle into the kitchen, lured by the smell of whole-wheat blueberry waffles. The table is set with honey, maple syrup, butter, fruit, and more. The family prays and then pounces on whatever waffles have already come off the iron (manned by Dad Spearing). As the plates are cleaned, all eyes are on that little light on the waffle iron — and the waffles keep on coming.
Since we’ve been married, I’ve loosely carried on the pancake tradition, not so much in the name of tradition as a congenital craving for pancakes come the weekend. I know Nathan loves waffles, but given our limited kitchen space, I’m hesitant to buy a one-trick appliance. I’ve never heard of any great secondary uses for a waffle-maker.
Then, this happened:
Nathan bought this on a Saturday morning in the thick of a particularly fierce waffle craving. Please note: this waffle iron is actually bigger than the stove in the promotional picture on the box. Noticing my skeptical look upon realizing the appliance’s actual size, Nathan assured me: “The woman at Bed, Bath and Beyond said we can bring it back after we use it if we don’t like it.”
(An elephant has been placed next to the waffle iron for reference purposes.)
Now, in its (and Nathan’s) defense, this thing made some pretty darn good waffles. We decided that for our trial-run, we would go with a classic buttermilk batter, and they were tasty and perfectly cooked. Hmm, I thought, maybe we can just return it, buy it again next time we want waffles, return it again … But that could get old after a few weeks.
(He looks so happy…)
In the end, we decided it had to go back. Like a new puppy, it was fun at first. But where would we put it? And who would end up taking care of it? Before we knew it, it would be twice this size and digging Eli’s used diapers out of the garbage and strewing them across the hallway… (Okay, I might not be talking about the waffle iron anymore.) But still, the waffle iron had to go. For now, we’re going back to the Pittman tradition. But this time, I’m using butter AND syrup. (Don’t tell Dad.)
Sometimes, when Nathan works late, I eat oatmeal. Or chocolate-covered almonds and saltines.
But sometimes, I eat an Herb + Rice Stuffed Tomato alongside Seared Tuna with Soy-Ginger Vinaigrette and Sliced Avocado.
And those times, I take a picture, just so he can see what he’s missing.
I thought you might like to see a photo of my kitchen:
…I wish. That photo is from a Swedish home featured on design*sponge, one of my favorite design blogs. For some reason I am always drawn to spare, minimalist style. Maybe it’s because my own home looks more like this:
Okay, so that’s actually our storage facility: an 8×10 room, packed almost to the ceiling with the possessions we’ve decided we don’t need at our small apartment. This leaves me wondering — if we can live without these items for a year … can’t we just live without them for good?
…which is why I’m conducting a poll. Should I burn down our storage facility? Leave your answer in the comments.