Purple is the “Natural” Color for…Carrots.

Did you know that carrots were originally purple, not orange?! According to Tony Booth, top veg supplier at Borough Market in London, the orange variety we see everywhere today was originally bred to match the colors of the Dutch royal family. You can still find the purple varieties around if you try, and also look out for golden, yellow, and white carrots.

– Jamie Oliver, Cook with Jamie, 308.

Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

I apologize for the long absence. Busy as the proverbial bees, and without my laptop for two weeks (a story for another time, perhaps). While I may not have been writing recently, I have certainly been reading. I expect some of my readers (those of you who have stuck it out through the lean winter months) may be interested in the work of one Heidi Swanson. She is an artist and blogger from San Francisco who has recently published a book Super Natural Cooking.

Super Natural Cooking is stuffed full of simple, reasonable recipes with ingredients that seem neither scary nor obscure and which have gourmet-looking results…Its contents alone are enough reason to love the book, but Super Natural Cooking’s construction, layout, and photography will delight any lover of good design. This is a book you want to hold in your hand and carefully read…

Swanson also presents healthful eating, not as a negative stop-gap to avoid disease, but as a toothsome celebration of the age we live in, where we can make food from all different cultures with the ingredients from our grocery shelves—food that is aesthetically pleasing, delicious, and good to serve to friends, family, and guests. This is not a book filled with “healthy” versions of old standbys, but creative foods that take advantage of their ingredients’ natural properties to create something new, beautiful, and altogether good.

Read the entire Cardus review here.

Also linked in the above quoted review is Ms. Swanson’s excellent cooking blog 101 Cookbooks, which you best check out.

“Eat Food”

Anymore, what exactly qualifies as food, and what is a “food-like product”? Some helpful rules of thumb:*

1. Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar, B) Unpronounceable, C) more than five in number, or that included D) high-fructose corn syrup.

2. Avoid food products that make health claims.

3. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.

4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.

– Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food, pp. 147-161.

* “The earliest citation comes from Sir William Hope’s The Compleat Fencing-Master, second edition, 1692, page 157: “What he doth, he doth by rule of thumb, and not by art.”[1] The term is thought to originate with wood workers who used the length of their thumbs rather than rulers for measuring things, cementing its modern use as an inaccurate, but reliable and convenient standard.”

Your God Demands Seeds

It’s no accident that the small handful of plants we’ve come to rely on are grains…these crops are exceptionally efficient at transforming sunlight, fertilizer, air, and water into macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. These macronutrients in turn can be profitably converted into meat, dairy, and processed foods of every description. Also, the fact that they come in the form of durable seeds which can be stored for long periods of time means they can function as commodities as well as foods, making these crops particularly well adapted to the needs of industrial capitalism.

– Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food, p. 124.

A Refined Ignorance

Science doesn’t know nearly enough to compensate for everything that processing does to whole foods. We know how to break down a kernel of corn or grain of wheat into its chemical parts, but we have no idea how to put it back together again. Destroying complexity is a lot easier than creating it.

– Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food, pp.115-116.

Why is Corn Syrup a key ingredient in Everything?

Store food is food designed to be stored and transported over long distances, and the surest way to make food more stable and less vulnerable to pests is to remove the nutrients from it. In general, calories are much easier to transport – in the form of refined grain or sugar – than nutrients, which are liable to deteriorate or attract the attention of bacteria, insects, and rodents, all keenly interested in nutrients. (More so, apparently, than we are.) Price concluded that modern civilization had sacrificed much of the quality of its food in interests of quantity and shelf life…

Health depends heavily on knowing how to read these biological signals: This looks ripe; this smells spoiled; that’s one slick-looking cow. This is much easier to do when you have long experience of a food and much harder when a food has been expressly designed to deceive your senses with, say, artificial flavors and sweeteners. Foods that lie to our senses are one of the most challenging features of the Western diet.

– Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food, pp. 97, 104.

Post Hoc, ergo propter Hoc

Even if we accept the epidemic of obesity and diabetes as the unintended consequence of the war against dietary fat – collateral damage, you might say – what about the intended consequence of that campaign: the reduction of heart disease? Here is where the low-fat campaigners have chosen to make their last stand, pointing proudly to the fact that after peaking in the late sixties, deaths from heart disease fell dramatically in America…

Whether the low-fat campaigners should take the credit for this achievement is doubtful, however. Reducing mortality from heart disease is not the same thing as reducing the incidence of heart disease…A ten year study of heart disease mortality published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1998 strongly suggests that most of the decline in deaths from heart disease is due not to changes in lifestyle, such as diet, but to improvements in medical care…For while during the period under analysis, heart attack deaths declined substantially, hospital admissions for heart attack did not.

– Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food,pp. 60 – 61.