Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review: "Food Politics" by Marion Nestle

After reading several books on veganism and farming, I was looking for a book that could give me a broad, overall understanding of the laws regarding food in this country. I was disappointed by the lack of choices I could find on Amazon, and Marion Nestle's Food Politics seemed like the best option.

The book began by presenting an idea that really struck me: there is a huge problem with food over-production in this country. To compensate for the huge supply and cheap prices of corn and soy, food companies process these plants multiple times- the more processed the food, the more they can charge. Think about it- foods like cereals, pop-tarts, chips, etc. are made up of very cheap ingredients (corn, soy, sugar, salt) and are sold for far more than the sum of these ingredients alone.

The book focused on specific topics, like advertising to children, junk food/sodas in schools, Olestra, etc. instead of giving me an overall understanding of the USDA and FDA like I had hoped. I would still recommend it- and though it was originally published over ten years ago, Nestle had added to the end, discussing the Obama administration.

She has a number of other books I'm going to look at- I am especially interested in reading Pet Food Politics.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I am not a writer, I am a scientist. This is stream of consciousness. 3 months ago, I went vegan, pretty much out of the blue. I didn't go vegetarian, I didn't ease into it, I don't have any vegan friends. This is what happened:

I have had chronic headaches most of my life. Nothing debilitating, but I would have headaches about 3 times a week. Not so bad I couldn't work or drive, but bad enough to keep me keeled over on the couch all evening once I got home. I was also extremely bloated and constipated most days.

At the beginning of the summer I started to think sugar may be the culprit. I read a couple books about how bad sugar is for you, and how Americans consume excessive amounts of sugar. I grew up at the time when everything was anti-fat. If you wanted to go on a diet, you would go to the store and buy 'reduced fat' or 'fat-free' versions of the foods you would normally eat. After a bit of research, I began to understand that fat was never the problem.

Cutting out added sugar, learning to drink my tea black, and choosing whole grains, while good for me, wasn't helping much. The next book I read was Whole by Colin Campbell, the author of the China Study. The whole point of this book was that animal products have been linked to cancer and other diseases, and that eating a plant-based diet was the way to go. Reading this didn't get me interested in giving up meat, but it put an important thought into my mind. As someone who has participated in academic scientific research, many of the points Campbell was making about reductionist thought and how the scientific establishment perpetuates misinformation and misleading research by shunning those who don't stick to the prescribed way of doing and reporting research rang true. As I thought about it, I became increasingly disillusioned with the scientific establishment, so much so that I no longer had much interest in participating in it.

After reading this book, I wanted to continue learning about food, and as I was browsing the social science section of B&N, I came across Eating Animals. The depressing thing is, if I had really thought about it, I really already knew the things that were in the book, I had just been ignoring them, or in denial, like most people. But there were so many compelling reasons, and I decided to try vegan.

I didn't wake up one day and declare that I was vegan. I just started doing it, and though I never made any kind of commitment to myself, I kept doing it. I lost ten pounds, my headaches went down to a few a month, and I was almost never bloated. The thing that surprised me the most though, was how little I missed any foods I could no longer have. I used to hate cooking, and for the first time I started to enjoy it.

I haven't been perfect. The hardest thing by far has been eating when I am away from home. I don't know many vegans, and I have no close friends who are vegan, so it has been a learning process. Of course, this may have been beneficial because I had no one to discourage me by saying things like, "OMG don't you know that your conditioner has lanolin? Or that Dunkin donuts bagels are processed with bird feathers?"

Making my food at home is easy, but I have been learning that animal products can be hidden with cryptic ingredient names, especially in fast food and beauty/household products. This is where I will be keeping track of all of the things I am learning.