Book Reviews: Environmental, Military and Political
You Aren't What You Eat by Steven Poole
Read by Tracy in March 2013
Tracy recommends as an analytical and cutting look at our current obsession with food
I went to a talk with Steven Poole at the recent West Australian Writer's Festival and laughed about his witty and insightful comments regarding gastroculture and the current reign of the Foodists, a name that Poole has called his own to describe someone who operates under the prejudices of a governing ideology, viewing the whole world through the grease-smeared lenses of a militant eater. Although I love food and head off whenever I can to try and latest and supposed greatest eateries, I am a vegetarian and thus pretty much ignored by the trends. Not sure why, as I haven't had my taste buds extracted, but made a decision to vote with my feet in my own personal fight against animal cruelty. And yes I know I wear leather shoes and buy handbags, but the outside of the animal is nearly always waste (pearl of wisdom from Kevin McCloud). You Aren't What You Eat looks at the rise and rise of Heston, Jamie, Gordon, Ferran, Rene et al whose faces and names are enough to guarantee months of waiting to get a spot in their eateries. Although all chefs are fair game in this book and not just the new ones, Poole has amassed a huge reading list at the back of his book and slots in relevant references as you go which just highlights the fact that anything new is really just something recycled. His main focus is on the masses watching shows such as Masterchef as we eat a microwaved meal, we are so unable to recreate the meals show, we are now venturing down the opposite path which also includes plating techniques i.e. dishes are now stacked like a game of Jenga. We are increasingly time poor that preparing a gastronomic home cooked meal for friends is too stressful. Why has the food industry become so pompous and pretentious that it would appear there are no boundaries, with the famous chefs wanting the same acknowledgement for their creations as artists. Would like to see how one of their meals fare in a few hundred years time. Poole gives some clear arguments against organic food, localism and also raises some questions around the current fad of molecular gastronomy, which will have you, if not laughing out loud, at least smiling and nodding to yourself.
Poole has some well documented research in the book as well, and it is fascinating. One of my favourites is from Professor Martin Caraher who has seen and documented a growing phenomenon where increased food choice has led to people eating a narrower range of food. There is so much choice these days, people tend to stick with what they know and are reluctant to branch out. Poole also provided some statistics on the impact that eating locally can have on the world scale, especially as we desire to eat everything anytime, which has seen an increase in greenhouse grown vegetables and hence a rise in carbon emissions. He also argues that the rise of local farmers markets can see revenue streams reduce for farmers in third world countries. Although this also has the bizarre impact that it is cheaper to eat New Zealand lamb in the UK, than it is to eat the local produce! Have we gone mad - why can't we only eat what is available seasonably. I also love a book that makes me learn new words let alone new food styles i.e. Food Raves. Seems the best thing at these events is the ale, if you can stomach it after a wander through a braying crowd of people trying to outdo themselves in foodie banter.
Of course I still buy and lovingly flick through cook books, although I find most of the meals unachievable, it is nice to dream of just once cooking something that looked like and tasted better than the picture. I am not alone either, Jamie Oliver's Jamie's 30 Minute Meals was the fastest-selling non-fiction book ever published in the UK, selling more than any other book in 2011 except the novel One Day. I can't, however, accept the new idea of food heaven in that we Live to Eat - surely that is against nature, where every other species eats to live, but maybe that is a sign of the times and W.S. Gilbert's dictum of it isn't so much what's on the table that matters as what's on the chairs is no longer a popular concept, especially with the domination of food tv shows that focus on the evil personalities. I am now off to forage and do some further investigation in freeganism.
At the end of the day, it's just food isn't it? Just food. Marco Pierre White (White heat).
This was a great read, managing to be funny and angry and get you thinking. Find out more at Steven's website.