Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Defense Of Food

I'll be the first to admit these two truths:  I love to eat good food and I love to read about eating good food.  No one writes about good food--it history, and how to find it, cook it, and eat it--better than Michael Pollan.  This past week, while on a road trip to a library conference, I finished listening to Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto on audio book.

Readers may be more familiar with his The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, or more recently his book turned PBS documentary, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World.  Similar to these two works,  In Defense of Food examines food from social, cultural and scientific perspectives.  But more specifically, in this, Pollan presents a fascinating analysis of the American diet:  how we eat, and how and why our eating habits have changed since the mid-20th century.  He balances this history by presenting a series of "rules" for eating (which he's recently condensed into his book Food Rules: An Eater's Manual).  Things like,"Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants"--the line with which he opens.  To the more humorous, "Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."  It's all fairly common sense stuff--but utterly fascinating.  If nothing else, readers of Pollan's work will become more cognizant of the food they eat.  Devotees (like me) will find themselves taking a more action-oriented approach:  reading labels, planting a garden, shopping locally, eating organic, and spreading the word.   Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Life On the Farm

Admittedly, I had one primary worry about our last Adult Book Club selection, Michael Perry's memoir Coop: A Year Of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting--namely, that people might not make it past the first chapter.  (I know of at least one individual who gave up before its end!)  Perry opens with a (pages long) description of the "farmer snort" method of blowing one's nose.  I'm not entirely sure why he chooses to begin in this way.  And I can see where it would be over-the-top for some readers, if not off-putting.  But those who spend a little patience on him as he develops his narrative will be rewarded in the end. 

At heart, Coop is a story about farms and families.  Perry's memoir moves back and forth between his current life with wife Anneliese, as they raise daughters Amy and new baby Jane, and his own life growing up on a farm.  My favorite section is undoubtedly Chapter 5 which describes the at-home birth of Jane.  Perry's recounting is touching, beautiful, vivid, inspiring.  But my overall impression of the work always comes back to Perry and his relationship with daughter, Amy.  Amy is present in nearly everything Perry experiences, and its her presence and free-spirit which gives awareness and meaning to the very simple pleasures of farm life which he describes.  Perry is nostalgic in these moments, but with the mark of a great writer, he never over-sentimentalizes.  A good read for anyone who's ever lived on a farm, raised a family or just has a natural curiosity. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Gleeful for Glee

If there's one television show this season that I can't get enough of it's FOX's new hit, GleeGlee is the continuing story of a high school glee club, its members and the adults (in this case, a group of teachers and coaches) who anchor the whole thing.  In many ways, the show models other teen stories:  the central group of students are talented misfits who no one has much faith in, and yet, who continue to prove everyone wrong.  But that's not really what's worth watching about Glee.  The joy of the program comes from the sometimes dark, always quirky characters--the budding superstar and drama queen, Rachel; the overzealous and hilariously cruel cheerleading coach (played by Jane Lynch); the adorably obsessive-compulsive counselor--who would all drive us nuts in real life, but who we love to root for in this setting.  And let's not forget what this show is all about:  the music.  The cast is truly superb:  so much so that if you don't find yourself singing along, or at least bouncing your knee or foot, you're very much alone.  In fact, if you listen enough, you may find yourself forgetting the originals of the many popular songs the cast covers.  For example, in the last episode of Part I of this season, the lead role of Rachel, played by Lea Michele, "out Barbara Streisands Barbara Streisand" (to quote a friend of mine) in her version of "Don't Rain On My Parade" from Funny Girl.  That alone is something to see.

Part II of Glee begins next week on FOX.  In the meantime, check out Part I on DVD, or either of the two tv soundtracks, at your local library.  You'll be oh so happy you did.