So I’ve read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan’s Omnivore Dilemma and In Defense of Food. I read four new books about back-the-land intellectuals: Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Brad Kessler’s Goat Song, and Margaret Hathaway’s The Year of the Goat and Novella Carpenter’s Urban Farmer. And now I’m almost through Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.
Three things stand out.
First is that there’s a lot of books on the issues surrounding food. A lot. When I first starting exploring these issues, as a freshman in college faced for the first time with feeding myself. Back then there was exactly one book we all passed around: Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé. Lappe was the first to critique the amount of grain it took to create a pound of animal flesh. She was the first to question whether a diet based on meat was sustainable, healthy, moral.
Her book was published in 1971, sponsored by Friends of the Earth, and for years it was the touchstone for every college coop discussion on combining proteins. I blame Lappe for all those times I came down to dinner at the co-op kitchen and some gaunt sophomore had cooked up pot # 265 of half-cooked adzuki beans, mushy brown rice and salt-less acorn squash. Yum. No wonder most people, given the choice between a bad dinner and killing the planet, would rather kill the planet. Hunger is all about now, not 100 years from now.
Vegetarian food began a long slog toward edibility, with many dicey footholds along the way. Diet for a Small Planet begat The Vegetarian Epicure, which begat The Moosewood Cookbook, which begat The Greens Cookbook, which begat Chez Panisse Vegetables. The evolution mirrored that in the non-vegetarian cookbook world. From fancy concoctions of faux sophistication to more authentic, stripped down flavors carried by the ingredients themselves. (You can trace the same arc in the magazine world, from early Gourmet magazine to early Saveur).
As the cooking became more refined, the scope and power of Lappe’s basic argument got, so to speak, fleshed out. First rate journalists and writers like Pollan and Schlosser, and first rate writers and thinkers like Kingsolver and Foer, took on different aspects (with a lot of overlap). Their theories were made flesh by people like Hathaway, Kessler and Carpenter, who tried to live according to what I call Foodaism— the idea that food—how we get it, how we eat it— plays a central role not just in our physical well-being, but in our spiritual, economic, environmental and social well-being as well.
Second, I noticed a lot of the strongest voices in Foodaism movement are Jewish. Pollan. Sclosser. Foer. (I’ll throw in the goat people too: Hathaway—yes, a Jew—and Kessler. But that’s a whole other post, the strange attraction between the modern Jew and the ancient goat).
Third—and this is the point of this post—the fact that if you read all these books with an open mind and an open heart, you have to conclude: There Is Nothing to Eat.
The dilemma is the opposite of the one Pollan raised. The thrust of his book was this: If as an omnivore we can eat everything, how do we decide what we should eat? But if you take what he and Foer and others are saying to heart, you have to wonder what’s left for an ethical omnivore to eat. Meat—out. Non organic veggies in the market: out. Organic veggies at Whole Foods shipped using a billion gallons of fossil fuel: out. Fish, eggs and dairy—per Foer—out.
That leaves the vegetables, beans and grains from your local farmer’s market, and anything you can grow yourself, or filch from a neighbor’s tree.
I’m not exaggerating either: the logical conclusion of all the Foodaists thrown together, stirred up and turned out is this: eat like an enlightened peasant.
The good news: you can drink like one too. So far these folks have kept their incisive minds off booze,
More often than not—despite an inner hunger that wants to give in to the entire menu at Balthazar, wine list included—I find myself eating just like they tell me. Once your eyes are open, it hurts a little to will them shut.
My problem is I never want to go back to Cuisine Lappe, the brown rice and vegetables that stank up many a kitchen coop, depressing me and my appetite at once.
Fortunately, I have a loophole on the Foer dictum against eating eggs (he forces us to take into account the cruelty with which even “free range” chickens are raised).
My chickens are the picture of contentment. I rescued them from Johns Feed Store just before their necks were to be inserted in a spinning razor blade. They owe me, and they pay me in two or three delicious eggs each day.
A few nights ago I came up with an ideal way to cook them: poached in olive oil. I served them with some fried potatoes and rapini in garlic. Great winter dish: oily and hot and fatty and salty. And Foodaism-approved.
[RECIPE] Olive Oil-Poached Eggs with Fried Potatoes and Rapini
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Blanch rapini until bright green an tender. Drain. Toss with olive oil, salt, chili flakes and sliced sautéed garlic. Set aside.
Cut a pound of potatoes into ¼ inch cubes. Heat ½ inch of olive oil in a skillet. Add potatoes and fry until broawn. Turn and toss until brown on all sides. Remove and drain on paper towels, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Pour about three inches of olive oil into a small saucepan. Heat to about 145 degrees. Using four eggs total, Crack each egg into a small dish then slide gently into the oil. Stand back in case egg splatters. Poach 1-2 minutes, until white is opaque. Remove with slotted spoon, repeat with all the eggs.
Divide potatoes and rapini on four plates, top each with egg, spinkle with more salt and pepper.
Here’s the pics: