Every now and then a book or two comes along that makes me want to get on the phone to friends or email friends to tell them they must read the book. This happened this past week when What to Eat by Marion Nestle and Gone Tomorrow the Hidden Life of Garbage by Heather Rogers arrived at my cottage.
Starting with this book 'What to Eat' the author does an excellent job of explaining the psychology of food from its invention (since so much is man made or processed), to the thousand mile journey it makes, even if organic, to most grocery stores, and the vast amount of waste that is involved in getting even organic fruits and vegetables to your local grocer. And that local grown fruits and vegetables are often turned down for local sale in grocery stores, but packed and shipped across country, all as part of a man made game plan. As is the label game and how many label issues are voluntary and not mandated like for genetically modified foods.
Her section on dairy is good. Personally I buy organic milk from here in northern California and no matter where we have lived I have sought out locals who would allow me to make a 'donation' for their raw milk, since I prefer to make my own yogurt, butter, cheese etc. The taste of regular homogenized milk from the store tastes horrid to me. Probably because its altered so much to allow for weeks on the grocery shelf. How I wish people would demand that their grocer carry dairy products from humane farms that are also whole and healthy.
Her section on meat is equally interesting. As she notes well, those who cull (kill, slaughter) the meat Americans eat work for low wages in very dangerous conditions, with the buyer all to willing to ignore just what happens to get that piece of meat on ones dinner table or fast food meal. Page 139 'Raising cattle also consumes vast amounts of nonrenewable energy. According to figures in the June 2004 National Geographic, it takes more than 200 gallons of fuel oil to raise a 1,200 pound steer on a feedlot. ... You pay the costs of loss of environmental quality in taxes, not at the grocery store.' What is interesting to me is I come from a family where we hunted in the fall and wasted little of any animal we got. We did eat some beef, chicken etc but this was home grown either by us or friends. But when I did my own homework and found out what the local slaughter house near a town we lived in, I knew how unhealthy commercially raised meat can be. And having a son who has worked in the grocery business I admit I wasn't surprised when he told me that the clean cold cases that you buy your meat from are called meat coffins in the business.
Her section on eggs is good and basic but I also urge people to read up on humane egg production because the fact is, most eggs are from hens crammed into cages, beaks clipped to prevent hurting other chickens, and eggs not laid in straw nests but on a slopped cage floor that allows them to coast down an egg gutter where workers come by every few hours and collect them. No matter where we have lived, even in suburbia Dublin CA in the 70's, and now in the Sierras we have had a few free range laying hens, for eggs, not meat. I think its inhumane to buy eggs from caged animals.
I also agree with her frozen food section, that if you cannot buy fresh fruits and vegetables, then buy frozen. But as she notes, you still need to read labels and buy only those items that have a single ingredient i.e. frozen beans, whole strawberries. Rather than whole strawberries in sugar.
I smiled when I read on page 356 'The huge SG Superstore in San Gabriel, California, caters to a largely Chinese speaking immigrant community. The store prints all its signs in Chinese characters as well as English, and the one over aisle 14B says: SPEAR ASPARAGUS, MUSHROOMS, COOKIES, CANNED FISH, and --get this-- JUNK FOOD.' Honest advertising to say the least.
And as the author notes, if we shoppers would set aside a few hours to just walk up and down the aisles and honestly read labels and see how many 'foods' are processed and loaded with cheap sugars and other flavorings and little real food, and then stop and ask ourselves how much of our hard earned money are we throwing away on 'food' that isn't healthy we might be shocked.
As Dr Mehmet Oz notes in his books, shoppers need to stop and read labels as if they were reading a medical prescription. If it has sugar or ingredients you cannot pronounce steer clear of the item. Consider Pepsi, Coke and other manmade beverages. Most six packs around here are around $2.50. What do you get for that $2.50? Water, sugar, caffeine and flavoring. Yet it costs less than .25 cents to make that six pack that has NO nutritional value! None. Same if its sugar free.
And as the author notes, we as a nation are paying dearly for the obscene profits the food manufactures are making. In poor dental and physical health. Diabetes and obesity levels are higher than they have ever been. Now I am not one to simply blame the food manufactures since I think as adults we have the obligation to grow up and act like adults and NOT allow unhealthy things into our lives. I actually am proud to be a food snob! But how do we get others to be food snobs to?
The book is helpful in how it also points out that eating whole healthy food need not be expensive, if we learn to eat fruits and vegetables in season, and if we substitute beans and grains for meat.
On page 489 she gives an excellent example of commercial sliced bread, and their ingredients, fiber and health claims with her comments. As an example there are 22 ingredients in Wonder bread, including enriched white flour, malted barley flour, and various minerals and vitamins ALL added, and not naturally occurring. Compared to home made bread that is easy to make and has less than six ingredients like whole wheat flour, salt, honey, yeast water, milk.
The section on infant formula should be read by any parent who isn't breastfeeding. Page 459 'Beyond the difference in cost, does it matter which level of convience you choose in an infant formula? It might. Powdered formulas are not sterile. ...In 2002, the FDA warned pediatricians that powdered milk formulas could be contaminated with Enterobacter sakaskii, a type of bacteria that causes rare but terrible and sometimes fatal infections in infants, especially those who are premature.' Considering the high number of preemies being born here in the states I wonder how many parents were told of this serious situation. She also has a good section on baby foods. I remember making my own, because commercial baby foods until the 1980's were heavily laced with sugars, and fillers. And as she notes commercial baby food is mainly for convience. But I think buying a $5 baby food grinder and simply taking some of your own steamed vegetables or fruits and grinding them at the table is much easier in the long run and you know the food is fresh.
Also appreciated her health food and supplement section and because I think those of use who strive to eat healthy need to be reminded to read ALL labels no matter where we buy our foods. As an example. I would buy the 100 calories Power Bars thinking they were 'healthy,' until I started taking my own advise and reading the labels. Now I reach for piece of fruit instead.
There is so much helpful information in this book and its a book I think anyone interested in healthy food should own or at least read. You may even want to donate your copy to your local library so hundreds of other people can also become informed.