February 1, 2009

Food: A Love Story. [Book Review]

In the words of my favorite food writer, MFK Fisher,

“People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do? The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that one cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.”

There’s more to food than what we put into our mouths, our relationship with each bite connecting us all the way back to the farm workers and seed patenting companies, and tangled up in the hunger for security and satisfaction. Food is one of the simplest needs in the world, and also, somehow, one of the most confusing. It’s no wonder we talk and write and think about it so much.

I’ll begin this review by fully disclosing that the author of “Food: A Love Story” is my mother. Which means that I’m biased. But it also means that I know the author intimately—and all daughters know that we can sometimes be harsh judges of our mothers—and can honestly say from first-hand experience that it was written with full integrity. (None of that ego-massaging Self Help here.)

You’ll probably be relieved to hear that “Food: A Love Story” is a non-diet. It’s during these winter months when relentless commercials for Jenny Craig and the Bownaster-Flex, coupled with inescapable facebook thumbnails peddling the “Celebrity Diet” start to feel abrasive. Who are these people to tell me how I should eat, or look, anyway?

The idea behind “Food: A Love Story” is that typical diets feed our insecurities and fears—even if they do succeed in getting us to eat healthier food or drop a few pants sizes. The few times in my life when I’ve followed a strict diet (either “I’m not going to eat any sugar” or “no carbs”), was the most neurotic I’ve ever been—unhealthily obsessed with how I looked to other people.

Instead of listening to someone else tell you how and what you should eat, replacing one set of habits with another (Mary Taylor wrote on this same topic in her most recent column), “Food: A Love Story” guides readers to pay attention to what their own bodies want and need to feel satisfied. That means eating what you really want, whenever you want it, and stopping when you’re full. It means mindfulness: paying attention to each bite and how certain foods affect your mental and emotional state. It means recognizing how your meals impact the world around you—from local farmers to pesticide manufacturers and the friends and family who share your table. “Soul-Full” is a nod to a feeling of complete satisfaction and fullness, brought about by the stimulation of all five senses and rooted in appreciation of the present moment (think Aretha Franklin’s voice or your mom’s best recipe). It’s about feeling full in many senses of the word, and feeling joy about mealtime, not dread or stress.

The 30-day email program is written in the form of an allegory, sort of like The Alchemist—so it’s accessible for people who may not know anything about mindfulness or nutrition. And for those who think they’ve heard it all before, each day’s lesson is accompanied by concrete exercises to help integrate the theoretical into your everyday routine. Check it out here.

And here’s some more wisdom on this much-discussed topic, from our resident foodies:
Mary Taylor

Peggy Markel
China Tresemer on “Slow Food vs. Vegetarianism”
John Joseph on the “Creation Myth of Food and Guilt
Todd Mayville on “Compassionate Eating: Life as a Locavore”

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