Three years is such a short time in the grand scheme of things, but in the publishing world, it can be an eternity. Books come and books go, and a lot of great books don’t get the publicity they deserve. Which is likely why I was able to find Real Food Revival by Sherri Brooks Vinton and Ann Clark Espuelas at one of those deep-discount remaindered stores back before Christmas.
With a sub-title of “aisle by aisle, morsel by morsel”, Vinton’s search for real food in the supermarket aisles predates not just Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, but also Marion Nestle’s What to Eat. Taking on everything from baked goods to bottled water, Vinton gives a common-sense approach to finding, and demanding real food.
Neither Vinton or Espuelas are experts; they don’t have the nutritional background of Nestle or the science background of Pollan, yet they do their research and present a well-documented case for each of their claims. This makes the book refreshingly free of jargon and chemistry, something that can make for a dry read at best in similar works, and can be downright off-putting in some cases.
I’m sure they must be terribly alluring. Those colorful bins of sweetened treats, the cute workers in their pyjamas to ring up your order. Even the sneaking knowledge that you’re getting away with something, by ordering up a bowl of your favourite childhood breakfast cereal instead of something more, well… grown up.
But here’s the deal. Cereal companies are corporations. They have a duty to their stockholders to expand their market share every quarter. Which means cereal companies have to come up with new and innovative ways to get all of us to eat more cereal. In recent years, someone clued in to the fact that cereal is comfort food for many people, and started marketing it as a tasty snack designed to replace the chips, pretzels and ice cream we used to eat.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? After all, cereal is good for you.
The supermarket can be an intimidating place if you’re trying to eat healthy. Figuring out good food choices can require an advanced education in math, science and possibly even advertising. It’s enough to send one running to the pastry aisle to drown your sorrows in a bag of donuts. But wait – do you know what’s in those donuts? Marion Nestle does.
What to Eat is an aisle by aisle synopsis of the good, the bad and the ugly of your average supermarket. And although I might be accused of spoiling the plot, I’ve gotta tell you, most of it is bad and ugly. Nestle explains everything you need to know about every category of item in the grocery store; from eggs to bottled water, from produce to packaged cereals. She explains how to read a label, how to calculate serving sizes, and how to talk to the staff at your supermarket to get the information the labels don’t tell you – such as the origin of fresh fish or produce.