Just finished Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and let me tell you, it rocked my world. Pollan explains how the food industry and modern life have conspired to make us live on a vastly constricted, nutrient-poor diet of refined starches, simple sugars and chemical additives. Quite simply, it's killing us; our modern diet is the culprit behind Big Bads like heart disease, cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes, and it's even making our kids malnourished and potentially more vulnerable to problems like ADD.
Each paragraph made me flinch, because even though not much of the book is suprising but sordid trivia, like how it came to be that fake cheese doesn't have to be labeled fake any more. But I am fallen far from grace, especially when you throw in all the other variables to consider when you cook a meal these days.
Let's take a tour of my pantry, shall we? Rice Krispies (sugar overload!), Fruit Rollups (corn syrup, dried corn syrup, obviously imported from the lowest stage of hell, and partially hydrogenated oil — a trifecta!), organic pop-tarts from Trader Joe's (still basically a blast of sugar and refined starches.) Now the freezer. Oh, there's shaved beef; the Cadillac of the food plate, oozing carbon. Shrimp, probably farmed. Loaded with PCBs and responsible for deforestation in sensitive habitats. (Referencing Taras Grescoe, whose book Bottomfeeder talks about how indescriminate fish consumption, farming and gathering are depleting the oceans.) Bagged snacks for school lunches. Litter! Waste!
If I get rid of all this suspect stuff, what would be left? Olive oil, a few vinegars, a few bunches of produce (but probably not organic, as they come from the Asian grocery store and are farmed who knows where). Some wheat pasta and 10-grain bread. Organic milk and cheese sticks (except that I can't guarantee if the cows were humanely treated). Brown rice.
So, what's to eat? Panic sets in. In a nutshell, more fresh produce is called for. Much more. When I grew up, frozen broccoli was a sidebar in a story that was all about a big hunk o' meat. I have graduated to sauteing fresh veggies in garlic, but the know-how stops there. I'm thinking of adopting another healthier cuisine wholesale, like Japanese. I have also ordered my hero Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian.
And when am I going to find time to be the Goddess of Fresh? I already shop many times a week in various outlets trying to get good produce, snacks without trans fats (Trader Joe's!) dry goods, and liquor. I guess I could fit in a visit to a quality fishmonger, and there's the Sunday morning farmer's market in the next town over. I'll figure out how to work and make money in my off hours. Perhaps I can get the condo association to grow our own food. Then I'll write a book about it.
Pollan does have buying guidelines in his book, which overall is insanely smart, sensible and a must-read, if I haven't said that yet. But the question remains: Can this family eat virtuously and live to tell about it?