Friday, January 30, 2009

A Blog by Jim: In Defense of Food

One of my favorite desserts as a little boy was chocolate ice cream. My
sister and I would sit together and eat a few bites, then begin stirring
the ice cream into a whipped frenzy of delicious delight.

This was in the 1960s before my mother got swept up in the health food
craze--that cultural phenomenon that delivered wholesomeness to the
suddenly-moot taste buds of many youngsters growing up in the age of

Overnight, the ice cream disappeared, as did cakes, pies, sugared
cereals, fried foods, and many other goodies. One culprit was Adelle
Davis, whose books on food my mother purchased and read with great

I'll never forget my mother serving--in lieu of birthday cake--what we
learned was a "torte." To a young boy this flat square appeared to be a
combination of sawdust and ground cardboard sweetened with honey and
topped with a birthday candle.

Of course, much as we made faces at the new non-tastes, we kids knew the
food she served us would secure our good health for decades longer than
the unfortunate children in town whose unenlightened mothers allowed
them to clog their arteries and mainline sugar into their kidneys on a
daily basis.

In fact, I soon preferred my mother's new and healthy cooking.

All these memories came flooding back when I read Michael Pollan's "In
Defense of Food," the book we're featuring on "In A Word" during our
bookclub segment throughout February. Livermore is reading the book for
its third annual "Livermore Reads Together" program.

Kathy and I talk about the book with guests Christine Wente, V.P.
Hospitality, Wente Vineyards (and a fifth-generation winegrower), and
Lucinda Wisniewski, V.P. for Innovation, The National Food Lab.

Anyone interested in food will enjoy the show as well as the book!

In fact, throughout February, the Livermore Public Library will present
a series of programs related to food, agriculture, cooking, and other
issues explored in Pollan's book. Many copies are available for checkout
at the library's three locations, thanks to a donation by the Friends of
the Library.

Although I've read many books in my life on a wide range of subjects,
I'd never been tempted to read a book about food. And yet now I wonder
why, because Pollan's book provides a fascinating discussion about the
history of food and the emergence of what he calls "nutritionism," which
should be a good thing, right?

No, argues Pollan, nutritionism is bad science. In one chapter called
"Eat Right, Get Fatter," Pollan describes how Americans have become more
obese on the low-fat diets that have been endorsed and encouraged by
experts in the food industry.

This is just one example of the many food myths that Pollan
deconstructs. I won't give away any more of the book, which is subtitled
"An Eater's Manifesto," but I do encourage you, whatever your home town,
to join Livermore by reading "In Defense of Food" and to tune in to our
show on TV30 in February.

For details about events, go online to
for a listing of activities sponsored by the library.

By the way, if you read the book, I promise my mother will be proud of


she said...

great post! love learning this history..

any support i can find in defense of putting real sugar in my coffee and remembering dessert is a joyful treat not a misdemeanor crime

is over due and very welcome.

look foward to seeing february's in a word..

w/steven johnson too

and maybe i'm getting a little carried away,

but i think

if you have vegetables for dinner, you can have cheese cake for breakfast

"eat write & exercise!"

that's what i say,

love, ~s.

Cindy said...

Your mother sounds like mine--fresh fruits and veggies. Maybe that's why I wanted to move next door. I knew they were eating the 'good stuff!'
I am reminded of the anguished looks on my kids' faces when they had to share small box of sugared cereal. Once it was gone, they had to eat the good stuff!

Camille Minichino said...

Too late for me, Jim!
For my mother, eggplant was a side vegetable dish. The recipe: dip in egg and bread crumbs, fry in olive oil, and bake with layers of cheese.

I am enjoying Johnson's Invention of Air and picked up another of his about everything bad for you is really good! Or is that wishful thinking?