Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer
In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

I know it’s been said before, and I’m not here to raise the picket sign, ‘MEET YOUR MEAT!’ I love my beef, pork, lamb, and seafood. But after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I am left frustrated as hell for living in a country that dismisses the truth about the farming industry, sweeping it underneath a corrupt and glorious media of bad (yet absolutely incredible) advertising frenzy.

You’ve heard the stories: what they do with so-called chickens, their beaks cut off, keeping them in their own waste in a perimeter the size of a Harry Potter book cover, soaking them in brine to fatten them up. It’s cruelty. Jonathan Safran Foer gets into details and testimonies about the farming industry in America, and yes, it’s frightening. But reading his book was like lifting the rug in the living room. We know there’s dust under there and we procrastinate cleaning, but the day finally comes when we lift it up, and the sight disgusts us. You cough, you sneeze, you immediately get the broom out and clean. But unfortunately, this mess, this abused identity of what we ‘think’ we’re eating as opposed to what we are eating, is bigger than any broom or mop can clean up. The book is heart-wrenching, at times pushing the ethical lever a little too hard. But facts are facts. 99% of all meat that Americans consume comes from the farming industries talked about in this book. Difficult to swallow, but good medicine to digest.

I read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan after Eating Animals and it appeased some of my discomfort about slaughterhouses and corporate giants, letting me know that, Okay, this isn’t the end of the world. Things are bad up but we can get through this. Michael explains the historical trajectory of, what he calls, Nutritionism: the conscious lifestyle of staying healthy by taking vitamins, calcium, iron, Vitamin A, B, C, D, and E, getting our Omega-3s, and so on, which we must admit, is occasionally fashionable. He explains how scientists have studied and researched what all vegetables, grains, and fruits contain, and once they’ve come to an arguable conclusion, they find ways to put those nutrients and vitamins into our cereal, our juices, our water, steering us away from food itself and leading us towards consumer products that are, fundamentally, imitations of food. He ends the book with eight helpful tips to stay away from highly processed, scientifically engineered products. One tip: Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Loved that one.

Reading Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was a healing way to end my mad onslaught of food reality. An acclaimed writer, she shares her story of an entire year living on a farm in Virginia with her husband and two daughters. They grow pretty much everything: peaches, tomatoes, spinach, kale, melons, pumpkins, cherries, you name it. The youngest daughter raises her own flock of chicks while Kingsolver herself raises turkeys and also makes her own cheese; her husband bakes bread daily. The experiment: to see if she could feed her family for one year with food from her own garden. Does she succeed? Yes, she does; they all do, including the soil. It’s a wonderful book, inspiring, especially after learning about the agricultural slaughter this country is going through. It reminds you of what seasonal actually means, and puts into perspective how illogical it is to eat strawberries during winter.

For epicures, I’m concluding with honorary mention of two great cookbooks that promote healthy, natural eating and an eco-conscious lifestyle.

Lucid Food, by Louisa Shafia
Super Natural Cooking, by Heidi Swanson

Reviews by Mario Zambrano