Reading Food

I just finished reading two interesting food related books, Good Calories, Bad Calories and Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant. Both totally different, but very interesting; I would recommend them highly if you have any interest at all in food, which I assume that you do, since you probably eat food on a fairly regular basis. Although Good Calories, Bad Calories is a pretty meaty specimen; it’s more for readers who are interested in nutritional politics.

Let’s start with Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant, which was a compilation of essays (and a piece of fiction by Haruki Murakami) about eating alone. The book was birthed in the mind of the editor when she started wondering what other people ate when they were alone, and she wrote to a bunch of authors to solicit essays on dining for one, cooking for one, and so forth. She also excerpted a couple of pieces, like one from MFK Fisher.

The star-studded list of authors was interesting in itself, since a couple of them happen to be personal favorites, so it was interesting to read about what they eat at home.

What was more interesting, for me, was that the book made me realize that most people don’t cook for themselves. I do. I had assumed that this was normal, that everyone actually cooked meals when they were hungry and alone, but apparently that’s not true. Other people throw pasta in a pot, eat saltines and peanut butter, or make other makeshift meals, which seems very alien to me. I make stir fries, roast things and serve them with fluffy mashed potatoes and delicately sauteed vegetables. Invent new pasta sauces, experiment with Indian curry, put together kebabs.

Most of my cooking I learned from my father, who more importantly taught me about the interactions between different foods, and the tricks which could be used to make something out of nothing. Both of us can open a seemingly empty fridge and produce a three course meal with some backup from the cabinets. It’s taken me a long time to learn that most people do not have this ability, which makes me kind of sad. Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant made me sad, thinking of all these people who wouldn’t make a glass of eggnog for themselves because they felt like it. How depressing.

Good Calories, Bad Calories wasn’t much cheerier, to be truthful. It’s a close look at the evolution of official dietary guidelines and policies, looking at the interaction of fats, protein, carbohydrates, and so forth. It’s sort of complicated to explain, but well worth reading if you’re interested in nutritional politics at all. The author provides some very interesting and convincing evidence that our current dietary guidelines are wrong, which makes sense given the rising number of people who are overweight. It takes a profound dietary imbalance to go dramatically over one’s set point, and he argues that this imbalance may actually be encouraged in dietary guidelines, which is a pity.

While explicit dietary advice is not offered, it is clear that the author thinks that two major culprits behind weight gain are complex carbohydrates (white rice, white flour, etc; highly refined foods with reduced fiber, in other words) and white sugar. He’s got a serious beef with sugar, and he might be right, given that we all eat way more sugar than we should probably be eating.

I’ve been thinking of embarking on a project next year where I catalog and review every book that I read. It might be overwhelming, because I read a lot of books, but I thought it might be interesting. The rule, of course, is that I must be strictly honest, which means admitting cheesy popcorn novels right along with War and Peace. Does this project sound interesting to you, gentle readers, or horribly dull?