By Rhonna Hargett, Adult and Teen Services Manager
I am one of those people who soaks up cooking shows like a Victoria sponge but doesn’t really do much in the kitchen. I sit with my family and share my very opinionated views about what flavors go together or whether the gluten has properly developed in a contestant’s bread, but I haven’t baked bread in years, and even then my expertise involved dumping ingredients in a machine and pushing buttons. But it has become clear to me lately that my health (and age) might dictate that I become less of an observer and more of a participant in the food world. Here’s what I found to help me.
The first thing that struck me about Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual was its size. At less than a ½ inch thick, this looked like a food guide that I could actually manage to read all the way through. Food Rules grew out of a phrase from one of Pollan’s former books, In Defense of Food. This phrase sums up much of his philosophy: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He gathered hundreds of rules from tradition and culture, researched to find the most helpful and valid, and boiled them down to 64 rules. The idea of 64 rules can sound a bit overwhelming, but Pollan doesn’t expect you to follow every rule. I read it with an attitude that there might be a few helpful nuggets in it, and I found that to be true. The book did not influence me to change everything about the way I eat, but I think a few of the tips will start to make an appearance in my food choices. There is an overabundance of health information available to Americans, and most of us just don’t have time to sort through all of it. Food Rules boils it down and makes it easier to navigate the grocery aisles and create a healthy diet.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan discusses the subject from a very different angle in Food: A Love Story. Gaffigan manages to fill over 300 pages with his love of food, making me chuckle throughout. He gushes about the wonders of cheese, fawns over bacon (the candy of meat!), and dotes on french fries. He explores the many facets of American food that he has experienced in his travels, sharing his map of the significant food areas of the U.S. and his recommendations for the best dishes in each, except seafood (which he calls seabugs). He has nothing good to say about seafood, which he admits could be a result of his landlocked Indiana upbringing. Gaffigan does not claim to be an expert. “What are my qualifications to write this book? None really. So why should you read it? Here’s why: I’m a little fat. If a thin guy were to write about a love of food and eating, I’d highly recommend that you do not read his book.” His ability to laugh at himself and his ability to share a genuine love of good food blend to make an enjoyable exploration of American cuisine.
Ironically, both books inspired me to tweak my eating habits, Pollan through healthy suggestions and Gaffigan through encouraging me to laugh at myself and my eating foibles. Both authors have an appreciation of quality ingredients, and both persuade readers to savor every bite of a truly excellent meal. Our society is obsessed with food but never seems to find a place of confidence in what to eat. Pollan and Gaffigan provide guidance as we grapple with our dietary issues and, each in their own unique way, help readers to worry less and enjoy food more.