The Foodie 13 – Recommended SOLE Media

I’ve been quietly ruminating over my impressions of Food Inc. for a little while now.

The more I try to collect my thoughts, the angrier I find myself getting.  Actually, perhaps that’s not quite the right word.  Indignant is probably closer to the mark.

The movie itself is brilliantly made, and walks the fine line between eye-opening/educational and graphic/sensationalism rather successfully.  It’s an important movie, and one that I hope will get a more widespread release, because I think it’s something that people need to see.  Here in Canada, (according to tribute.ca) it is only being screened at 2 theatres; one in Toronto and one in Montreal.  I’m somewhat surprised that nobody bothered to get it into a major urban market like Vancouver, but maybe the powers that be think (like I sometimes do) that they’re a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to getting back to “real” food, anyway.

In light of that, I thought this would be the perfect platform to discuss what I consider to be essential reading/viewing material for those interested in the  SOLE food movement.  Some of these may not exclusively focus on SOLE, but in the instances where the overall message meshes nicely with those ideals, I have chosen to include them on the list, anyway.

So without further adieu…

1 – The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan - When I first picked up a copy of Michael Pollan’s seminal work, I thought it was quite a novel idea.  The thought of tracing one’s food back to it’s source was entertaining, in a wouldn’t that be nice to know kind of way.  I was never a big fast food/junk food supporter in the first place, but after reading this book, I found my opinions changed in ways I hadn’t expected, specifically pertaining to organics and the skewed view we all have of them.  I’ve yet to meet a person who’s read the book and not had their food philosophy altered.  If you’re interested in re-evaluating your relationship with food, this book is a great place to start.

2 – In Defense Of Food by Michael Pollan – Whereas The Omnivore’s Dilemma follows several different streams of food, In Defense Of Food gives all the bleeding heart eaters out there a manifesto they can take to the bank.  Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants. It’s so simplistic as to seem almost juvenile, but if you stop to think about it for a second, they actually come across as surprisingly wise words.  Pollan’s substantiating argument behind those words isn’t half-cocked either, imploring the reader to look back at the way our grandparents ate compared to the impact a modern diet has on our quality of life.

3 – What To Eat by Marion Nestle - Quite literally a tome, it tops out just under the 600 page mark.  Nestle guides the reader aisle by aisle through our modern day supermarket, and discusses the oft-concealed fallacies behind some of America’s favourite edibles.  For all of you out there that still believe margarine is better for health than butter, or that those food products full of health claims are doing you any good, this book will seriously open your eyes.

4 – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver - Or as I like to call it, how to live a quiet, simple, sustainable life in 12 (not so) easy months.  The story is similar to the 100 mile diet, though the inclusion of Kingsolver’s children makes the challenges faced that much more entertaining.  My favourite part of the book?  When Kingsolver’s young daughter decides to raise chickens and slowly grasps a deeper understanding of the value of a life.

5 – The 100 Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and JB MacKinnon - The first of two pieces of Canadian content, JB and Alisa spend a year of their life depriving themselves of any foodstuff from further than 100 miles away.  Throughout the course of the year their plight begins to morph into a (slightly perverse) pleasure that stems from living the project.  The international success of this book is also responsible for putting the term “food miles” on everyone’s lips (thanks guys, sic).  But in all seriousness, between the book and the recently wrapped TV show of the same name, local food has become more of a mainstream cause, and we should all be thankful for that.

6 – Food Matters by Mark Bittman - This book is one part ideological rant, one part recipe, one part diet plan and one part Mark Bittman’s acerbically dry wit.  It’s like putting Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle and Groucho Marx in a blender just to see what would come out.  Bittman uses his wry sense of humour to educate, elaborate and disseminate on how a few simple actions can not only save the planet, but also slim down our overly obese population.  Plus, half the book’s length is devoted to laying out the delicious and simple recipes that will help you to live his suggested life of culinary virtue.

7 – Slow Food Revolution by Carlo Petrini - Though sometimes it may seem like one crazy Italian vs. the world, Carlo Petrini’s ideal of a shift back to a slow food mentality has spawned innumerable convivia and supporters worldwide.  As a member of Slow Food myself, I hope I can say this without getting tarred and feathered; the organization is righteous and just, but also bat-shit crazy.  For proof, refer to the existence of the Ark of Taste, for all of the flavours they hope the world won’t forget.  If the urban legend about how Petrini became the father of slow food is true, then this was probably the greatest thing ever inspired by McDonalds and their crapitude.  His books are thoughtful, provocative and convincing in a way that makes it seem like slow food’s not a sacrifice at all.

8 – Real Food For A Change by Lori Stahlbrand, Wayne Roberts and Rod Macrae - I’m all about this list having a bit of Can-con, and the founders of Local Food Plus most definitely belong on this list.  While this book is not exactly the easiest to find (it took me several months, actually) if you come across a copy in a library somewhere, you should definitely give it a read.  In what’s probably the most bitterly bizarre irony, (if I recall correctly) last year Hellman’s co-opted the title of their 1999 work to use for their local food ad campaign slogan.  This book speaks the same language as Michael Pollan, it just happened to do it 6 years earlier than he did.  Go Canada!

9 – The End Of Food by Paul Roberts - A harsh, but honest look at industrial food systems and the havoc they wreak on our society.  Roberts delves into the increased occurrences of food recalls, and why we need to revise our current infrastructure to get in line with a healthier, smarter, safer way to produce food.  A veritable medley of politically-laced food for thought.

10 – Supersize Me directed by Morgan Spurlock - Yes, Spurlock’s attempt to survive on McDonalds for a month was an absolute farce (you don’t need to argue that fact with me, I generally can’t stand his schlock), but it brought more attention to the case for consuming “real” food.  There is no better way to illustrate the problems inherent in fast food than to visualize them playing out on a human body over the course of 30 days.  I may not like him, but it was one of the first times that the mainstream media started to take a close look at the crap that we eat, and for that, he deserves a spot on this list.

11 – Death On A Factory Farm directed by Tom Simon and Sarah Teale – This documentary is a cruel and disgusting look inside a (hopefully atypical) factory pig farm.  It made me sick to my stomach in places, and gave me horrible nightmares, but watching this movie reaffirmed the reason I go to the extent I do to source my own food from local, small, ethical producers.  It’s a chilling glimpse into a world that most of us know nothing about.  If you’re stout of heart then buckle down and find out for yourself why it’s so important to know the people who supply what you eat.

12 – Fast Food Nation directed by Richard Linklater – Billed as a drama, this movie is based on Eric Schlosser’s book of the same name, but even after receiving the “Hollywood Treatment” there’s still some grains of truth to be found in the story.  Primarily that there’s shit in the meat – literally.  If your gag reflex doesn’t kick in from watching the previous 2 films, this one will certainly do the trick, though much of the gore calls to mind the style that was used in Sweeney Todd.  And if you think I’m joking about the poop, just google the phrase irradiated meat and read on in horror about all the ways big food likes to put one over on you. 

13 – Food Inc. directed by Robert Kenner -Last but not least, I don’t know how many other ways I can express what an amazing film this is.  I wish its viewing was mandated by school curriculums everywhere, because the next generation of little bastards needs to know the truth about what they’re continually shovelling into their guts.  It explores a wide range of topics, including commercial feedlots, genetically modified foods, the influx of product recalls and the effects of farm bills in America, among other things.  It gets major points for including Joel Salatin, one of the most endearing characters to grace The Omnivore’s Dilemma, otherwise known as a mad farmer scientist.  If the world had more farmers like Joel, I truly believe it would be a very different place, perhaps one without the problems we’re facing today.

So, that’s all she wrote.  I didn’t intend for this list to be all-encompassing or taken too seriously.  Sustainable food is something I believe in, and while I will quietly respect your right to not believe in it if that’s your choice, I hope that by reading this list some of you are inspired to investigate the situation more.  After all, you can’t make an educated decision on anything without having all of the facts.

So, as the closing of Food Inc. says, vote with your fork.  You have the opportunity to affect a positive change at least 3 times a day!

Until next time…

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