In the past couple of months I have read two outstanding books, which both discussed food, but in two completely different ways.
The first book, titled The United States of Arugula, took me through the “evolution” of food in American (As the beginning of this book stated, “The American food revolution has been more of a food evolution“.) Of course when I first read this I didn’t completely understand, but after reading the book I couldn’t agree more. Americans’ access to food and different ingredients, and our palates, have all evolved with the times, and in my opinion (despite some minor exceptions…) food is now the best it’s ever been.
The author, David Kamp, said at the beginning of the book that while American food has evolved into something amazing, specifically when it comes to the produce and ingredients available at supermarkets, American food has also moved away from nature, and has been partially taken over by the American food industry (this was discussed more in my second book I read, The Omnivore’s Dilemma). Kamp suggested two books about the development of the commercial food industry;
Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (By Marion Nestle)
Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism (same author)
The book took me through the lives of several very well known chefs. Julia Child was one of them. She played a very large role in the evolution of food in the United States, by introducing American’s to French cuisine. In 1956, when Julia Child discovered Swanson’s TV dinners (they came about in 1954) she was disturbed, but at the same time loved the new trend to build supermarkets where a plethora of ingredients could be purchased. She knew she couldn’t prevent the industrialization of our nation, so she tried to look on the bright side and just stay as positive as possible.
Ever wonder who James Beard was? You’ve probably heard his name on the Food Network because they often tell their audience that someone has been honored with “The James Beard Award”. Well it turns out James Beard was an overweight gay man who, although was born and raised in America, also played an integral role in bringing the amazing tastes of France and French cooking techniques to America. While he was a big proponent of using the freshest ingredients, his desire for extra cash at one time forced him to promote Green Giant products (not so fresh, although I do like their simply frozen veggies). Funny how the need for money can cause us to do strange things! I guess it could have been worse, he could have promoted Swanson’s TV dinners.
Alice Waters, who just so happens to be the author of one of my favorite cookbooks; The Art of Simple Food, was once quoted saying, “Just because you’re a revolutionary doesn’t mean your idea of a good meal should be Chef Boyardee ravioli reheated in a dog dish” (By the way, did you know Chef-Boyardee is now made with whole grains? While I still don’t advocate this product as a main staple of any persons’s diet, I have to give that company some credit). Waters opened Chez Panisse, a restaurant in Berkeley, California, which was known for their “Fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients”. Water’s deserves credit for bringing the idea of fresh and local ingredients to restaurants in our country.
This book also explained how commercial cow’s migrated from being fed a diet based on grass, to a diet based on grains. Postwar America was apparently “flooded in grain”, which meant it was cheap and farmer’s took advantage by using it to feed their cattle. In reality, cow’s shouldn’t be fed grain until they are at the appropriate age where they can digest it. Farmer’s were (and sadly, still are) giving their cow’s grain at way too young of an age, just to save money, and also to get them at market weight much faster than with a grass-fed diet. What did this cause? Weakened immune systems in the cow’s and thus more need for antibiotics. And of course you know the rest of the story….. I suggest buying grass-fed beef whenever possible. Read more about grass-fed beef here.
The second book I read; The Omnivore’s Dilemma, will be discussed on Tuesday. This was the book I presented on Wednesday to several groups of local eighth graders. They were reading the kid’s edition of the book (impressive, right?!).