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4 Books That Changed the Way I Think About Food

August 21, 2011

I like to read several books at once.  I tend to get into a theme, and then sort of co-read several books around the same topic. I’m not convinced that this system has much merit, but since having children, my attention span has dwindled to some kind of digital age A.D.D. (Anyone know what I’m talking about?), and so I’m only half way through a couple of these at the moment.
However, I have seen enough to know that they are all worth reading, probably more than once. Be warned: All of these books have affected the way I eat, so if you are perfectly happy with a fast, processed, meaty, or milky diet…..don’t read them.

1) The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.

I read this a few years ago, and this is the book that really turned me away from processed food and got me interested in learning more. There is so much information in this book that should be common knowledge, but it wasn’t for me. To name a few things I didn’t know about: What really happens at a factory farm,  at a slaughterhouse, the incredible corporate power of many food industries, the involvement of the pharmaceutical companies, migrant labour issues, the insane amount of environmental damage caused by the factory farming of animals, and the prevalence of processed corn derivatives in EVERYTHING. Pollan goes into all of it, making you really stop and think not only about what you are eating, but the consequences of what you choose to put on your plate.


  2) In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan, again.

In a very sensible voice and about 200 pages, Michael Pollan gives a solid, easy to understand explanation of why bad foods are bad for us, and what to eat instead. He boils his recommendations down to this simple phrase:”Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants”. By food, he means the things on the periphery of the supermarket, not in the center aisles, things that will actually rot rather than last forever on your shelf, and things that your grandmother would recognize as food, instead of ingredients you cannot pronounce. Excellent advice.


 3) Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer.  

I’m reading this now, and enjoying it. Jonathan Safran Foer is a great writer this is more a personal story than a big, footnoted, scientific one. I think I like it because Safran Foer is from my own generation, and I can relate to his voice and his story. Food is a big part of his family culture, he considered vegetarianism but could never really commit because he really enjoyed eating meat. Then he recently had a child and decided to find out for himself what was really happening to the animals between the farm and the supermarket. (Not that you can call those places farms, they are factories in every sense of the word).  Reading this book has pushed me further away from meat than anything I have read before, although I’m not about to become vegetarian yet. Apparently there are some gross chapters that I haven’t got to yet, but at this point, I still can’t seem to resist my mother-in-law’s kibbe…


4) The Food Revolution, by John Robbins.  (10th Anniversary Edition). How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World.

Ok, that’s a pretty big claim, but this is also a monster book, packed with information and with a forward by Dr. Dean Ornish and over 50 pages of resources and notes in the back. The first sentence of this book is, “I was born into ice cream”. The author, John Robbins, was the only son of the founder of Baskin Robbins, yet walked away from the empire he was being groomed to inherit to spend his life learning and teaching about the impact that eating animals is having on our health and our planet. (He no longer eats ice cream). I’m only about half way through it, but I am finding it to be clear, organized and extremely compelling.


 What’s the most important thing I’ve learned?

THAT OUR FOOD CHOICES HAVE CONSEQUENCES. The old rules of supply and demand are in force more than ever, and as long as we keep creating demand for faster, cheaper animal products in huge quantities, we keep encouraging practices that have serious repercussions on our health and yes, on our world.

All of this new knowledge has definitely made me think twice about what I eat and what to feed my family.  We are eating more raw fruits and veggies than ever, experimenting with new foods and grains, reading labels very carefully and asking a lot more questions than we used to, but it’s not easy to change the way your family eats. There is history, memory and emotion involved, not just taste buds.

Here in Lebanon I find it especially tricky, because I still don’t know enough about what is being injected into/fed to the animals that provide our milk, cheese and meat, nor what kind of conditions they are raised in. As a result, we have reduced meat and dairy consumption, but not cut them out entirely. It’s a learning process, and I’m telling you, that kibbe really is damn good 🙂

What do you think about all this? Do have any suggestions for books to add to this list? 

Bonus Vid: Check out this analyst’s story about how she started looking into what was really in the food chain after one of her kids reacted reeeaally badly to breakfast one morning….

7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2011 10:12 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this! I found the documentary Food, Inc. to be very informative. I find this a journey that is hard to navigate. Like you said, there is so much that goes into our food choices. I also sometimes feel hopeless about my impact on the whole broken, heart-breaking system, and then I feel less motivated to try. I’d like to check out some of these books. Thanks!

  2. August 22, 2011 3:29 pm

    I know, so many people have said that to me; that they won’t make a difference so what’s the use. But the fact is, you will have an impact on your own little world; By making educated choices you will improve your own health the health of your family, and you will raise the awareness of the people around you. Hey! That’s not hopeless at all ! 🙂

  3. Manal Aldabbagh permalink
    August 23, 2011 2:16 pm

    Thanks Hana for raising the issue. I feel really hopeful with many people are starting to think about how and what we eat. I feel encourage especially with the young mothers making better choices for their kids, nothing is more powerful than the power of mothers.

  4. September 4, 2011 5:08 pm

    Thanks for posting this; I am going to share it on my facebook wall with others, as I feel it is crucial that people become better informed in that area.

  5. hana permalink*
    September 4, 2011 5:44 pm

    Hi Joumana, this is so bizarre, I am actually reading your blog at the very same moment that you are posting on mine! Searching for a way to make burghol-banadora as I have no idea how to cook burghol but love to eat it…….. 🙂 Glad you liked the post!

  6. September 5, 2011 7:51 pm

    Hi Hana, So, I checked out Food Revolution and read it (though I admit I only skimmed over the genetic engineering part.) It was the right message at the right time for me, and I have decided to go near-vegan. I never thought I would do this, but I am now convinced that it is the decision I can make that will make the most positive impact on poverty, hunger, and the environment. So thanks for your recommendation! I just came across this: I haven’t tried it, and Lebanese food is so amazing–I’m not sure if you can make an imitation. But maybe it’s worth a try 🙂 Thanks again!

  7. February 2, 2012 10:21 pm

    Love your blog, excellent selection of books. Michael Pollan is my hero! If you haven’t already–read the China Study and the documentary that goes along with it, Forks over Knives. I am contemplating going veggie again even though my core audience loves meat so much. It is challenging, but but worth it! 🙂

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