Book Report: Devoured

Reviews of books relevant to the food movement.

One sentence summary: Everyone eats and we’ve got some funny eating habits here in America due to both cultural and corporate influence.

Book title: Devoured: From Chicken Wings to Kale Smoothies How What We Eat Defines Who We Are

Author: Sophie Egan
Year of publication: 2016
Length: 321 pages
Keywords: fast-food, trends, cultural anthropology, melting pot, stunt foods, millennials, consumer behavior

Memorable quote: “For me, it’s never been enough to ask, What do we think about when we think about food? The bigger question is: Why do we think about what we think about when we think about food? How do our shared values as Americans shape our eating habits, for better and for worse?”

 

With a big title and big introduction, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this read...What’s next for food trends? How eating certain foods affects our health? How to eat better for the planet?

After reading it, I’ve decided, yes this book was about food, but actually it was more about people and culture than food.

Did you ever read the book The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg?  That’s the one about why we listen to certain things on the radio, why we have to get a cookie in the afternoon at work, and how Target knows everything about us. This book really reminded me of that one. It elucidated behaviors I’d never thought much about before, but once mentioned, – oh yeah, that IS how people behave.

 

What does this book cover?

Egan tackles the following topics: food culture, work culture, customizing food, food evangelism, dieting, the popularity of wine, stunt foods, and spaghetti.

And America’s favorite meal: brunch. A whole chapter about waiting in line for weekend brunch. Why do we do that? What a crazy habit! Yet we’re still doing it everywhere, every weekend. This book answers the question about why we do things for brunch we'd never do otherwise. [Side note: I personally have a max 20-minute breakfast wait limit because I get too hungry, but I’m an anomaly here in LA].

Egan includes many well-organized and well-researched facts in her book. She throws in a few humorous quips and a couple of personal references indicating she has direct experience with most of the food items she’s discussing. It makes her seem just like the rest of us in a quest of trying to eat healthy and navigate our complex lives.

In her conclusion, she offers thoughts on what Americans should do differently when it comes to food. All great common sense suggestions that I happen to agree with.

One thing to mention, this is not a book about sustainability. It doesn’t include information about where our food comes from or how it’s grown. It really is much more about food culture in America.

 

To sum it up: This book is a fun, light read and whether you’re a typical or atypical eater in America, it will have you thinking about your eating behaviors in a new light.

 

What are YOU reading currently? 

Book Report: The Third Plate

Reviews of books relevant to the food movement.

the third plate

One sentence summary: Well-known chef, Dan Barber, investigates an updated meaning of sustainability and imagines a new future of food by learning from farmers, experts, and scientists around the world.

Book title: The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

Author: Dan Barber
Year of Publication: 2014
Length: 447 pages
Keywords: farm-to-table, chefs, high-end cooking, revolution, sustainable farming

Memorable Quote: “If the future of delicious food is in the hands of farmers who grow nature and abide by its instructions, we ought to become more literate about what that means.”

Did you get a chance to watch the TV show Chef’s Table on Netflix last year? If you did, you probably saw the episode featuring Blue Hill chef, Dan Barber. He talked about his past and his current work and I got the sense from watching that he is an extremely driven human. Someone who won’t rest until his goals are accomplished. This celebrated chef has been cooking up interest for some time now, winning multiple James Beard awards and appearing in Time’s list of most influential people in 2009.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that his book, The Third Plate, is a well-written, interesting, and thought-provoking piece.

Barber divides the book into four sections – soil, land, sea, and seed—and shares his learning process about each of these sections as he journeys from sustainable wannabe to authentic advocate, meeting a range of characters along the way. His thesis is that by learning about complex natural systems that already exist, we can let go of the need to CONTROL nature, and instead work WITH it to create delicious sustenance in a restorative way. He believes that chefs have a large role to play in this process as they are the ones showcasing new flavors and trends for the public.

Personally, I love how authentic Barber is in his book. He does not make himself out to be a hero. He openly admits to his sustainability mistakes (for example, serving Bluefin tuna – an endangered species -  to a group of sustainably-minded food critics) and his aha moments. He shows how he learned from these and then changed his ways.

Barber’s personality shines through his writing, showing him as an overly-driven but endearing individual. And because he’s learning throughout the journey, the reader learns along with him. He’s never condescending and this book is very user-friendly to anyone new to reading about sustainability.

My recommendation: This is a great read for anyone interested in sustainable food! It’s got great stories, great characters, and deliciously-described food. If you’ve never read about our food system before, this is an excellent starting point and I guarantee after reading this book, you’ll want to go deeper. Or at least travel to New York to eat at one of Barber’s restaurants!

 

Have you read this one? Let me know in the comments below!

Book Report: Meathooked

Reviews of books relevant to the food movement.

One sentence summary: In Meathooked, Marta Zaraska investigates the history of meat, why we eat it, and what we should change about our current consumption habits.

Book title: Meathooked: The History and Science of our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat

Author: Marta Zaraska
Year of Publication: 2016
Length: 263 pages
Keywords: meat, history, evolution, cultural anthropology, carnivore

Memorable Quote: “There are many books on the shelves of American bookstores dealing with…meat…I’ve read most of them, yet non answered the question that kept bothering me: Why do we eat meat at all?

Hi, I'm Jessica and I eat meat.

In case you missed it in my prior posts, I've shared my feelings on meat-eating and my interest in sustainable meat consumption. When I heard about Marta Zaraska’s book, I had a feeling I would be the right audience. And, mostly, I was!

Summary:

The first third of this book starts off with a juicy (I had to!) history of meat’s role in early humans’ lives (2.6 million years ago). As a social mechanism and a nutritional mechanism, eating the flesh of animals helped our ancestors evolve into us.

Then Zaraska segues into sections on meat in different cultures, individuals' different tasting abilities, and the pervasive idea of “meat hunger” -- a craving that can only be satisfied by, you guessed it, meat. She also discusses the unsavory meat industry in America.

Zaraska wraps up by discussing the future of meat (fake meats, especially) and why, even if a delicious meat-tasting alternative is created, it would be hard for humanity to go completely vegetarian.

My perspective:

This book was a quick and enjoyable read, but it lacked the excitement of some of the other food books I’ve reviewed. The author’s personal stories accumulated during her research and travel weren’t flushed out enough, so this book read like a lecture.

Is that good or bad? You decide.

I did get "hooked" on the section about unusual foods in different cultures though. Dog for dinner, anyone? If we’re on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, apparently yes!

One issue I had with Meathooked is that Zaraska’s agenda becomes a little too clear half-way through. She writes about meat consumption with a very strong feeling about the need to eat less meat. Let me say, I respect that. I happen to agree with her that it would be better for our health and our planet if we all ate less meat. A more selective meat consumption regime is something I'm personally exploring.

However, I didn’t appreciate the way she snuck that agenda in to her book. Yes, she's preaching to the choir, but there were a few instances that it felt TOO preachy, as if vegetarians have the moral high ground.

Have you read this book? Do you think YOU would give up eating meat?