Three Favorite Food Philosophy Books

Over the years, books have shaped my philosophies about many things, including how I eat. Here’s a review of my top three.

I’ve always been a book lover. Sometimes to the detriment of my health, or at least my sleep. But contrary to burning the midnight oil is the knowledge that I gain to improve my health. I’ve done a fair amount of food reading in my time, usually cookbooks and magazines, and now blogs.

But the three books that most standout in my mind about food aren’t cookbooks at all. Oh, there might be a recipe here and there, but overall these three tomes address food philosophies.

Isn’t it enough that the food taste good?

Oh I wish that were the case! Especially when I busted open a bag of nacho cheese tortilla chips. Man! Were they good! Thankfully, I only bought two very overpriced bags at Subway on a splurge, otherwise, I definitely would have sat and ate an entire Family Size bag.

Oh, yes, yes I would have.

Unfortunately, taste is not the only thing we’re dealing with when it comes to food in our generation. Where the food was sourced and how it was processed are huge factors in the quality of that food. Unlike my grandparents, I don’t go out and milk the cows each morning, nor do I grow all my own food.

In addition to taste and sourcing, portion control is another factor that I’m now considering more seriously. I can no longer eat anything I want and not gain an ounce.

Au contraire….

So, here’s the low-down on my three favorite books that have fed my food philosophies:

French Women Don’t Get Fat

This book of “eye-catching, but slightly insulting” title crossed my path shortly after its release in 2007. French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano is an amusing yet serious look at American eating habits as well as a comparison to those of the French. Having lived in France during my college years, I can attest to many, MANY of her observations. We Americans do many things in excess.

When I left for my year abroad many folks warned me that I would gain weight on all those French pastries. Yet, while there I ate a mainly French diet and lived a lifestyle of walking everywhere, I lost weight not gained. And I ate some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life!

 French Women Don’t Get Fat offers very easy, practical ways that we can enjoy great food without living to excess. Some of the messages that have stuck with me:

  1. Drink more water.
  2. Control your portions. No foods are taboo. It’s the excessive portions that are.
  3. Eat more fresh produce.
  4. Eat yogurt every day.
  5. Balance a heavy calorie day with a few light ones.
I revisited this book and the author’s later three books last fall and was amazed to see how much this first book had impacted a lot of the ways that I think about food. I love the later writings as well.

In Defense of Food

I read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan almost two years ago. I was shocked and amazed at this “food expose.” I guess I’d been living in a cave before that. I just didn’t realize how much influence the US Government has had over my food choices and understanding of nutrition. I never really paid much attention to the lobbyists and special interest groups concerned with food.

Remember, initially, I thought taste was all that mattered.

Pollan does a superb job of unveiling the background of different nutrition policies, labeling, and the processed food industry as well as how clever marketing has guided what goes in the shopping cart.

The basic premise of In Defense of Food is this: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. While there were some points in the book that I would take exception to, the overall encouragement to eat “real food” as opposed to processed items hit home with me. While I still love those aforementioned nacho cheese-flavored tortilla chips, they are the exception, not the rule in our pantry.

And I find that I am a savvier consumer as a result.

The Unhealthy Truth

I read The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O’Brien last year. Talk about another eye-opener. While I would not consider myself all that “crunchy,” I guess I am becoming moreso.

O’Brien was a food analyst who never gave a second thought to what she fed her kids until a food allergy stopped her in her tracks. Being a researcher, she started doing her homework — and found out a lot of information about food — and how it’s regulated (or not regulated, as the case may be) in the US.

Another, you’re kidding me? moment.

As a result of reading this book — and keeping in mind some objections from friends — I walked away with this:

I’m going to shoot for organic produce whenever possible. You can see why I’m so stoked about our produce co-op.

I’m going to try to buy hormone-free dairy whenever possible. Previously, I had been diligent to buy milk that was RBST-free, but had not given yogurt, cheese, or butter a second thought.

I’m going to avoid GMO’s whenever possible. Trader Joe’s has a no-GMO policy on their TJ brand products, so this has been an easy fix.

How to Swing It on a Budget

Now, this is Good Cheap Eats. When I first started writing this blog in 2009, I bought all kinds of canned and boxed stuff. After all, it was practically free after sales and coupons, so why not? In 2010, I read In Defense of Food and decided to redefine “good” to mean tasty as well as healthy. Well, at least reasonably healthy.

And in 2011, I faced the dilemma: how do I make these extreme changes (organic produce, hormone free dairy and no GMO’s)?

I’ve so appreciated your encouragement, Dear Reader as I figure this out. As one of you pointed out not too long ago, “It’s all about sourcing; finding the foods I want at the prices I can afford.”

And really, that’s what it’s always been about. So, I’m now applying all the frugal food techniques I learned years ago to a new line of products. I am finding that we’re not spending THAT much more on groceries than we were — and the sales on conventional sales have really not been that good. So, I don’t think I’m missing out on anything there.

It’s good. It’ll be cheap, relative speaking. It’s eats.

Read any good books lately? Hop on over to Life as MOM where we’re Booking It! Come join the (book) club!

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Comments

  1. One of my favorite’s is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – it follows a year in the life of their family as they resolve to eat local & in season.

    • I second this! I am reading this book now and am really enjoying it. Our family hopes to someday implement the great ideas found in this book.

  2. I’m checking out that French Women book. I meant to look at it when you wrote about it last fall, but then life got busy and I forgot. As we have been trying out different foods and more gourmet recipes, we’ve really been struck by the idea of quality over quantity. I think this applies to food, just as it does to a lot of other things. We just got a Whole Foods grocery about 15 minutes from us and I’ve so enjoyed browsing around there, dreaming up all kinds of healthier (yet, richly yummy) meals. :-) Oh, and for the record, we LOVED the Peet’s coffee I bought to try out, so thanks!

  3. Jenn Clark says:

    I’ve been listening to ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ in the car over the past week and Michael Pollan is really an amazing (scary) writer. He gets to the heart of things that I’ve just been naive enough to ignore. I’m really feeling convicted to make some changes in how our family eats; specifically with regard to corn-fed beef and highly processed foods. My biggest hurdle is going to be trying to convince my husband that I’m not a crazy tree-hugging hippie and that this is much better for us and our daughter in the long run.

  4. I love Michale Pollan. In Defense of Food and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver changed my life. Right now I’ve started reading Mark Bittman’s Food Matters and like it so far.

    The French Women is on my list but I keep putting it off. It’s the insulting title I have a hard time getting past. I’ve struggled with weight all my life and in spite of maintaining a 60lb weight loss for 15 years now (give or take pregnancies) I’m still overweight. Obesity is a huge health problem in this country right now and I agree that it’s BAD but sometimes I get rubbed the wrong way by the attitude and judgment I see toward “fat” people. We’re so much more understanding when people have problems like addiction and depression but if you’re fat there’s Something Wrong With You So Put Down That Cookie and Get Your Fat Butt Off The Couch.

    Ahem. :) Sorry.

    But yes, I do think I have a lot to learn from the French (and Italian) approach to food. I really should just suck it up and read the book. :)

  5. These are great ideas! I just put holds on two of them at the library. Thanks!

  6. I love Michael Pollan’s books; I’ve read a few of them. I’ve found his view on food and nutrition to be the most sound and balanced of all that I’ve heard and read about.

  7. I’ll have to check these books out. I’ve heard about them before and some of the basic principles. My problem is that I live in the midwest out in the middle of nowhere. We just don’t have that many options so I struggle with what to do. The nearest Whole Foods is about 1 1/2 hrs away. Trader Joes is about the same if not further. I do order quite a bit off Amazon and this last year I hit the farmers markets. I was able to buy organic produce and then I canned or froze stuff that we’re using now. I need to do more of that next summer, but I think I got off to a good start. My biggest struggle is with dairy, meat, and fresh produce in the winter.

    • @Erin, You might just work at freezing or even dehydrating extras of those things in the non-winter months. You can certainly freeze meat, dairy and produce in most cases. You may not eat the same in the winter since your produce was frozen, as in having fresh salads, but it still contains many healthy nutrients after being frozen, and often needs very little cooking.

    • @Erin, You said you canned, you can also can meat if you have a true pressure canner. Its easy as pie.. easier, actually. You can go to YouTube & search for “canning meat” and you’ll come up with all sorts of great vids..
      I have a very large freezer but I worry about losing my meat especially to the electricity going out sometime, because most of it is local grass fed beef. Anyways, I’ve recently starting canning some stuff that I used to freeze, and it thrills me to my toes. ;)

  8. The Unhealthy Truth really opened up my eyes to label reading. I still consider that my favorite. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is also a favorite, and we did a bookclub with it and everyone had to bring at least one locally sourced dish to share.
    I just read Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck and it’s a great read focusing on eating real foods the way nature intended them to be, like raw milk, every part of the animal, etc.
    I’m going to check out the French Women book, it hasn’t been crossed off my list yet.

  9. Thanks for the suggestions. I have been trying to eat natural and organic for the past five years, and I have definitely noticed that I feel better than I used to feel. More than that, I know I’m doing better for my family’s overall health and my own. I used to get really unyielding about it, but then I decided to just keep it as a general guideline to eat MOSTLY natural and organic, as in 90%+. I agree, just figuring out where you can get things for the prices you are willing to pay is a big thing, but you get your routine down after awhile. The Environmental Working Group list of produce and pesticides was very helpful to me since I now know that, for example, I should always buy organic berries, apples and potatoes, but that I can probably be fine buying conventionally grown broccoli or cabbage. I have more freedom to shop that way. Also, I love finding inexpensive organic items in unexpected places–such as the peanut butter I get at Target. I stock up when I see those things. It’s more work than it used to be, but I feel better about it. Also, I’ve learned to cook much much better than I ever did before since I make most things from scratch.

  10. I had a revelation when it came to food this year after seeing the documentary “Forks Over Knives” and reading the book “The China Study”. I have since become a vegan (cutting out all meat and dairy) taking over my own health and lowering my high risk factors for cancer and diabetes. It has also been good for my heart lowering my cholesterol 30 points in 2 months and mine was under 200 to begin with. This was a HUGE change for my cheese loving self!

  11. I think Im way older than you guys, and so are these books, but the 3 books that were the biggest influences in my food/health/lifestyle were
    1. Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss
    2. Diet For a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lape’
    3. Laurels Kitchen by Bronwen Godfrey, Carol Flinders& Laurel Robertson.

    I was a young mother in 1981 and started gardening & trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle while living on my then husbands minimum wage paycheck. Not easy to do but we survived & mostly ate well, thanks to these books.

    I’ve got all Michael Polans books & enjoyed them much. I read French Women Dont get Fat when it came out. I have not read the Unhealthy Truth but it sounds like a good read.

    You also really NEED to check out Joel Salatin.
    http://www.amazon.com/Joel-Salatin/e/B000APFOT2
    Hes got 10 books and videos all over the place.. Check out YouTube. Hes halarious but hes all heart & soul.

    If you have checked out Joseph Mercola M.D.’s books, you should. He has a great webite & hes all over the internet including Facebook.
    I also very much like Nicholas Perricone too. They’ve got the right of the diet bit.

  12. I haven’t read all these books, but I did read the Skinny Bitch (and yes, it was a fun/funny read) that opened my awareness and prompted me to read more labels and research what we were eating. Although the authors of this book are vegan and my family isn’t going that route.
    Buying good quality foods and meats is more of a challenge when you are looking at getting the best price. I end up going to several stores and making more food from scratch… never thought I would be doing so much experimenting, baking or canning. But I do enjoy the food better when I know what went in it (besides love).

  13. I just got In Defense of Food from the library this morning. Looking forward to digging in!

  14. Angela Lierman says:

    I am learning all about this things too! Glad to see that I can follow YOUR hints too while still maintianing these goals as I feed my family too!! :)

  15. I loved In Defense of Food, but have not read the other two- Thanks for the recommendations- although, I fear, a bit, books like “The Unhealthy Truth.” I find that I can only hand so much information and so much “change,” to my diet at a time… sometimes I read things and then wish that I could “unread,” them :)

    • You know at first I felt that way. But I talked about the book with folks as I was reading. AND even the author says that she shoots for the 80/20 rule. Meaning she doesn’t fret over the 20% that is not how she thinks it “should” be. Also, I knew from experience that I had to take baby steps, so I identified a few things to “worry” about and left the rest for a later time.

  16. I’ve only read 1 of these! (Pollan) Adding the other two to my reading list!

  17. I want to read all of these books now! Thanks for the reviews, Jessica.

  18. I love Real Food by Nina Planck. You should at that to your reading list.

  19. I love Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules” I like how he says “Pay More, Eat less. If you spend more for better food, you’ll probably eat less of it and treat it with more care.” I agree with that.

    I am reading An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. If you want to eat differently, you have to learn to cook differently. This author starts with a pot of boiling water and shows how to make the most of everything you buy. Just a few chapters into it and I have tweaked what is in my delivered organic produce to get the most out of my money and the pan.

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