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Friday, August 7, 2009

Hot Summer Reads

I am a frequenter of my local library. Of constant interest is anything in the new nonfiction starting with the call number 641...food books. Not everything related to food and nutrition shows up here, but it sure is a good way to keep tabs on what's happening in the world of food. Hot topic: whether, what kind, and how much meat to eat. This perennial debate has been reignited by increased awareness of the evils of factory farming and concern over its impact on climate. Examples include The Compassionate Carnivore: or, how to keep animals happy, save Old MacDonald's Farm, and still eat meat, a lighthearted tract by a newbie sheep farmer, presenting the producers perspective on sustainable meat, shelved next to The Shameless Carnivore: A Manifesto for Meat Lovers, which interestingly hits on many of the same themes as the former volume, encouraging readers to select only meat that has been consciously produced, and to cook and eat it with relish. Righteous Porkchop: finding a life and good food beyond factory farms is a better-than-average expose of the factory farming of meat by environmental lawyer, activist and vegetarian Nicolette Niman encasing the tale of her romance with the grandaddy of the movement for ethical meat in America, Bill Niman, founder of Niman ranch.

Another interesting pair of volumes encourage the reader to eat ethically by eating less meat. Cookbook author and foodie Mark Bittman's latest offering, Food Matters, describes his version of sustainable eating: vegan until dinner (with the happy exception of cream in his coffee). He's got a great collection of real-food recipes which redo gourmet favorites with whole foods, using less and no meat. I really enjoy Mark's recipe writing style: it is loose, descriptive, and could work well both for those who know their way around the kitchen and cooking neophytes. A similar offering from a chef's point of view is The Ethical Gourmet, which similarly adapts even more cheffy recipes, shrinking the meat portion and emphasizing whole grains and vegetables. Good details on the sources of animal products and interesting ideas for cooking.

The ultimate exploration of sustainable meat which has just hit bookstore shelves is by local writer and activist Novella Carpenter, Farm City. Hilarious and often shocking, Novella candidly describes her evolution as an urban farmer in Oakland's Ghost Town, as she manages to not simply garden but raise and kill an menagerie of animals for meat. She admits to reaching rock bottom when she finds herself dumpster diving fish guts in Chinatown to feed her protein hungry pair of pigs. All is redeemed when she transforms one of the pigs into delicious salumi under the mentorship of a local chef. I'll admit that at times I thought she was going too far. It was enough to drive one back to vegetarianism. Yet my only real complaint is the lack of recipes.

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