I took a break with Jane Austen's letters (which I will return to tomorrow) and read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. I don't agree with every single word he says, but overall I found the book exceptionally good and quite an eye-opener for myself. I had been well trained to check food labels but I was always looking at calories, fat, carbohydrates and fiber. Only relatively recently had I begun checking vitamins and mineral content. Pollan told me to look lower. As I checked the contents of my pantry and their list of ingredients my stomach turned with how many had sugar or "high fructose corn syrup" and how many had words I cannot pronounce. Now before you think my pantry is filled only with poptarts, oreos and jelly beans (none of which we have), these included Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Cheerios and Cap'n Crunch, Nutrigrain Bars and Wonder Wheat Bread. I thought, "Oh my gosh, what am I eating?" and then I really panicked, "Good grief, what am I feeding my daughter?"
Just what makes food, food? I mean, I can eat paper, but that doesn't make it food. And suddenly the foodstore became an absolute nightmare of confusion. I shop with a 2 year old. I cannot stop to read every label to figure out what would at least me close to food if not food. Fortunately Pollan gave me some tips: If your great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, it isn't; don't eat anything incapable of rotting (this made me think of my dad who told me, during a boy scout camp out moment of scientific experimentation, he discovered that Pringles do not burn - what is in them anyway, asbestos?); Avoid food products with ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than 5 in number (generally), or include high fructose corn syrup; avoid products with health claims; shop the perimeter of the store - dairy, meats, fruits, veggies, grains; whenever possible, shop at a local market or farmers market for the freshest foods; and eat mostly plants.
I also found a reminder about how to eat helpful: sit at the table, don't eat watching tv or reading as you will eat more, focus on if you are hungry rather than what is in front of you, and eat slowly - the brain takes at least 20 minutes to get the message that you are full, plus you will enjoy your food more if you take the time to enjoy it.
I know, all too often, juggling a nursing infant (often while eating) and caring for a 2 year old, I inhale my food and can easily end up overeating and sometimes even get the hiccups to prove it. Pollan stresses eating meals and not snacking. This is where I dissent from him - I eat until I am not hungry and then stop and will not hesitate to eat again when I am hungry whether that is noon or 3pm. Maybe that is because I nurse a baby, but it is still a difference between us. He also advocates having one's own garden - I'd love to but can't yet as we rent and will probably not be here longer than another year and half or so, so that one will have to wait.
Overall I have to recommend the book. For someone like me who grew up with a massive selection of breakfast cereals and poptarts on tv and remember Fruit by the foot, it is a very fascinating and eye-opening book.