The Literary Salon – Eating Local

(This months Book Review may motivate you to eat healthier…..or you may just crave a piece of cherry pie.) 

A few weeks ago I attended a Harvestfest supper prepared entirely from  locally sourced food.   Although I had intended this post to be a restaurant review of that meal,  it grew too long so this will be the literary review for the month.      The books discussed here are older ones but they inspired me to try and eat better.   If you’re not into books, please feel to skip right over to the main menu.   (see Part Two for The Harvestfest Supper).

Harvestfest menu Many of us have the desire to eat healthier, but in today’s fast paced world it’s becoming more difficult to do so, hence the arrival of all those companies who will conveniently, albeit for an outrageous price, send you weekly pre-measured food preparation parcels – voila, supper in 30 minutes, as if a grown person wasn’t capable of going to a grocery store, buying food and preparing it just as quickly.    Perhaps there are fewer left-overs, but aren’t leftovers a good thing and would you really enjoy all those recipes they send?   As well, a large percentage of debt-ridden people eat out several times a week, a major hit to the family budget, and now you don’t even have to go out as those grub-hub apps will deliver the meal right to your front door.  And then there is the ever present lure of fast food restaurants so conveniently located along strip malls everywhere.   No wonder we have all forgotten how to cook, or in my case never bothered much.     

For many years eating local was the standard way of life.   When half the population lived in a rural environment you ate what you grew or raised.    My mother says that in her early married years, she only visited the grocery store for a few staples, which she bought with the $8 twice weekly cream check.   My father had dairy cattle so cream, milk and butter came from the cows, meat, chicken and eggs were all raised organically on the farm, and a large fruit and vegetable garden supplied canned goods and jams over the winter.    Self-sufficiency without delivery – although the breadman and milkman did make home deliveries.   

Things started to change in the mid-60’s with the arrival of processed food.  For an understanding of this shift in food production, I found a series of books by author, Michael Pollan to be excellent reads.    His 2008 book, In Defense of Food, is famous for it’s mantra, “Eat Food, Mostly Plants.  Not Too Much.” and “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize”. 

In Defense of Food: An Eater's ManifestoIn Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Simple words that changed my eating habits ten years ago when I first read this book, or at least made me stop and think first. Don’t eat anything your Grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Also wise words. This book provides an interesting history and peek into the multi-million dollar processed food industry – what started out as an attempt in the fifties to make food better and healthier and last longer, has backfired so that we now have transfats, plasticizers and softeners in our bread and fast food burgers which never decompose. Certainly an eye-opener – you may never eat the same way again.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four MealsThe Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


In his 2006 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he discusses how food scientists thought they were improving food stability and palatability by adding chemicals and preservatives and such.   And while no one would argue that organic vegetables don’t stay fresh as long and bakery bread does tend to grow mold after a few days, if you look at the long list of unpronounceable ingredients on a box or can in the grocery store, it does seem strange to want to manipulate food from it’s natural origins to a more chemical state.   

Perhaps their intentions were good, and Tang orange crystals did supply the astronauts with vitamin C (although I remember it as tasting rather artificial), but starting in the 60’s the processed food revolution had begun – with snack foods, frozen TV dinners, cakes from boxes and fast food burgers – and there was simply no stopping it.   It was convenient and it tasted good – who cared if it was good for you.  

Like many farm women, my mother was a wonderful cook, of the plain meat/potato/vegetable type and we had plenty of homemade cakes, pies and cookies.     So while I may think I grew up eating healthy nutritious meals, and most of the time I did, by the sixties we also had penny candy and weekly trips to McDonalds on grocery shopping days and Saturday night treats of potato chips and pop (usually Coke) while watching Hockey Night in Canada.  Of my poor student days I have absolutely no recollection of what I ate, (did I eat?) other than residence food the first few years which was so bad I lost ten pounds.    Once I had an apartment with a kitchen we still never cooked but ate cheap meals like beans on toast, (never KD though), grabbed yogurt and grilled cheese from the student cafe, and drank endless cups of mostly vile donut shop coffee.   Our idea of splurging was an occasional trip to Bloor Street – Swiss Chalet (chicken), Steak and Burger (tough steak but warm apple pie) and Mr. Submarine (still the best subs IMO).   When I started working I had to contend with decades of hospital food, some of which used to be quite good when it was prepared from scratch, (I remember our cafeteria serving Seafood Newburg in the early 80’s before the discovery of cholesterol), but which eventually turned into those cook, chill and reheat meals which are now standard hospital jokes – if you’re well enough to complain about the food, you can go home.    I usually brought my lunch, except for the soup – as they always had some kind of homemade soup, probably loaded with salt.    After I changed jobs I was often too busy to eat, and lunch would be chocolate milk or half a sandwich grabbed in the staff room, and I would arrive home at night ravenous and eat whatever was in sight.    BTW, the invention of microwaves in the 80’s was a godsend, as then you could quickly reheat leftovers. 

Now that I’ve thoroughly scared myself with a review of my poor dietary habits over the years, I resolve to do better.  The Michael Pollan books have made a big influence on my food choices.   I read food labels now.   Buy as little processed stuff as I can and generally try to eat better, except for deserts, in moderation.  And isn’t that the more sensible way – everything in moderation.    It’s why diets don’t usually work – if you crave something, eat it, a small portion.   I craved cherry pie the other day, so I had a piece and froze the rest. The French way of eating, including lots of walking, is based on this principle.  As eating is one of the pleasures of life, why deprive yourself.  

Recently they have changed Canada’s food guide to emphasize fewer meat and more plant sources of protein, but I wonder how practical that is – are you really going to get people to eat more tofu, legumes and nuts?   It is accessible or affordable?    Maybe – those vegetable burgers seem to be very popular, but aren’t they just another form of manipulated processed food, fried on the same greasy grill as the meat ones?  

I’m certainly more of a foodie now than I used to be, but in moderation, not like those food network shows which drive me crazy with their pretentiousness – it’s just food folks – no need to have a melt down over a slightly burnt creme brulee when half the world is starving.    But I have become more selective in my eating habits.   When I eat something now I want it to be nutritious as well as delicious.  As we get older we worry more about maintaining our health – and as the saying goes, you are what you eat.  If you are in need of motivation – check out the books.  

Enough of the discussion, on to Part Two – The Harvestfest Supper.    As Julia Child used to say, “Bon Appetit”! 


18 thoughts on “The Literary Salon – Eating Local

  1. Anne says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this! I grew up in the country far away from shops; my mother was a meat-and-three veg cook; our food was basic and nutritious if somewhat bland and lacking in variety. I enjoyed your run-through of student- and working food and can empathise with that. These days I too cook from scratch with whatever fresh vegetables are to hand, though I admit to using tinned lentils (so much quicker when I’m short of time) and frozen peas.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ally Bean says:

    You’re smart to think about the food we eat now. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to contemplate how it has changed over the years. I don’t like processed food so I tend to prefer to cook at home, but even then much of what I prepare is not as wholesome or seasonal as it once was. Improvement, I need to improve.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I found the books really made me stop and think and read labels and choose a bit more wisely, if I’m able to – sometimes you can’t control what you eat, like in those restaurant chains where you know everything comes in prepackaged but they present it as home-cooked. I’m thinking of our national chain Tim Hortons here – where their breakfast sandwiches don’t even resemble real eggs etc but a whole new young generation thinks that is natural food?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jo Shafer says:

    I’m not sure I would have enjoyed this event, either, especially after six seasons of Downton Abbey dinner service, and now the movie. With no servants, however, a buffet-style dinner becomes a necessity; otherwise, we plate up in the kitchen and carry things into the dining room or out to the patio.

    Bees? Goodness! I’ve already said my piece about them.

    Still, the idea is interesting, but not as a catered affair when guests must sit and drool while listening to speeches. I’d rather do my own harvest feast.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I agree – it was something on my bucket list but I don’t know if I would go again, unless I knew the menu. I think I would prefer to do my own too. I don’t know which is worse, an evening with hot sun and bees swarming, or a cold night shivering with sweaters. At least at home, you always have the option to go inside!


  4. lindasschaub says:

    You are lucky you lost ten pounds and didn’t gain them Joni … they always say the first year of college and eating the cafeteria food, you gain ten pounds. You’re absolutely correct to eat a little of what you crave – otherwise you will eat out of control when you finally cave in and splurge on that craving. And I have heard that about the French as well – you don’t see a fat French woman do you – they still eat the foods, laden with heavy sauces, the rich and heavy cheeses, the elaborate desserts, but often as their mid-day meal and have fruit and cheese for dinner, or something light like soup. And yes, they walk a lot, so they walk off those calories. (How do they do it with that delicious bread though Bread is my downfall so I rarely buy it anymore.)

    I have really watched what I eat the last 10 years or so, but then I was being so careful to eat all the right things and it backfired on me … I’m going to give you this link to read sometime.

    This is how listening and practicing good eating practices is sometimes not so smart – at least for me. And now that I have cut tuna out of my life, I read that tuna is good for a lot of things, among them being high in selenium which keeps you from developing hypothyroidism. Now about 20 – maybe even 25 years ago my mom heard a story on the a radio talk show about how using a lot of salt was bad for your health. Now everyone knows about sodium causes high blood pressure, but then it was not as commonly known. She cut down our salt, cooking with “Salt Sense” and we even eliminating salting French fries here at home or if we went to MacDonald’s (we always had fries). I have not salted anything for years. So then I read recently, that if you do not use iodized salt you can develop hypothyroidism. I did not have any salt in the house, let alone iodized salt. So I went and bought some and began dipping my hard-boiled eggs in salt – ugh, cannot stand the salty taste as I buy low-sodium everything, even Triscuits crackers which I love for the crunch. So I worry about eliminating something crucial from my diet or eating the wrong things – surely, since I don’t go out to eat and have not for ten years due to the Hepatitis A outbreak, I cannot be breaking any “intelligent eating rules” but I likely am. I have included seeds in my diet as “crunch” and since they are a “good fat” and now find I look forward to my small cup of shelled sunflower seeds daily – who knew they were so good? I never eat anything “white” only whole-grain, oatmeal every morning, I have forgotten how to enjoy food to be honest. I do buy the Pepperidge Farm cookies to treat myself, but then it is difficult to stop at a few.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      You can probably tell I love food and enjoy eating now…..not something that can be said for my early years. It’s good to eat healthy and also good to splurge once in awhile. One of the bloggers I follow Dave posted about Pop-Tarts and dared me to try one, so I bought a box last week, but haven’t tried it yet as I can’t taste much with this sinus cold at the moment. I may have to scrape the sprinkles off though – I don’t like sprinkles.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I just followed him after you mentioned the newspaper post and I told him it had been years since I had a Pop-Tart and never had one in this toaster and that I know. We had a Sunbeam toaster that you pushed a button and it went up and down on its own and cooked/toasted according to how much it needed – we must have had it for decades when finally it conked out and my mom did not want to put Pop-Tarts in there in case it messed up the mechanism. We had an old toaster we used for hot cross buns where each side flipped down and you put the toast, etc. in it, but you had to keep checking so it didn’t burn. It would be an antique now. I think I deny myself too much and cannot have a happy medium … it is frustrating. We did not eat out a lot, nor eat fast food, the last five years of my mom’s life … she did not get out as much as she had in the past, and bringing fast food home in the car, and getting it in the house meant it was often cooled off … we did have pizza which I went and got, stopped having KFC when their extra crispy variety was suddenly their spicy variety and even fries and burgers from Burger King or MacDonald’s would get soggy and cooled off. We would have fries at home with a hot dog or chicken nuggets (when I was cooking) or pizza bread … have not had any of those in ten years though. Tried to improve my eating habits just like you did.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        Sorry I said Dave, but it was JP’s blog. I still get McDonalds once in a while as I love their french fries, bu a Filet-o-Fish, never had one of their burgers. I’ll have to report in on the Pop-Tart review!

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I knew who you meant and I commented on it too and I think I said that I had not had one in years and should try them again … my mom used that old-fashioned toaster to toast them, but just plain ones with berry filling or cinnamon, not icing, just very plain – he said “you’re entitled.” I love MacDonald’s fries. There are no other fries that are as good, though we used to go to A&W for a coney, onion rings and their seasoned curly fries – they were pretty special too.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. J P says:

    I am late here but glad I stopped in. My mother grew up on a farm but never developed much as a cook, so I grew up on Boxes and cans. My Mrs works hard at improving my diet.

    So I have to ask, have you tried those Pop Tarts yet? 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      HA! No, not yet JP, but they are ready in my pantry for when I’m back home! I have been staying with my mother for the past month while she recuperates, and cooking everything low fat as she is now on a gallbladder diet. I think I’ve even lost a few pounds, as my weakness is desserts, which I can’t very well eat in front of her, although today we are trying an apple crisp with a healthy rolled oats topping. I will let you know the verdict when I do – minus the sprinkles of course.

      Liked by 1 person

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