“Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer

Like author Jonathan Safran Foer, I have flip-flopped for years with the idea of being vegetarian. I’ve always thought of myself as not committed enough to make the effort to look at the contents of all of my food to figure out whether I’m able to eat it. I am also really uncomfortable with making other people change their menu for me, so I usually just eat whatever is prepared. I’ve never ever thought of myself as a vegetarian, but I do go through phases where I’m disgusted with the idea of meat. When I picked up “Eating Animals” it was only because it sounded interesting, but after reading it I feel more compelled to stop eating meat than ever before.

Yes, there is much discussion of the suffering of animals in here, but Foer also talks about the environmental effects as well as the possibilities for widespread infections caused by the conditions of factory farming. These two factors are what have really compelled me to question whether eating meat is really worth the effects it is having on our world.

Foer also discusses the conscientious farmers and slaughterhouses that make eating meat seem like a viable option. Unfortunately, these “old school” farmers are being put out of business in droves by the giant factory farming operations. This alone makes this book worthwhile reading because it explains how eating locally and knowing where your food comes from can help to make informed decision about the meat we do choose to eat.

While this book gets a little tedious toward the end, I found it a good and interesting read. I was especially impressed with the first chapter of the book in which Foer explains his reasons for looking into this subject in the first place and talks about his own struggles with the decision to become a vegetarian over the years. The discussion about why we eat some animals (cows, pigs, fish, etc.) and not others (dogs, cats, etc.) was something that really stuck with me. If you’ve ever considered becoming a vegetarian, but weren’t sure why, this book may help you with that decision or push you over the edge to finally doing it.

Best,

Becca

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Published in: on December 30, 2010 at 7:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink

I just finished Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think by Brian Wansink. I picked this one up because it was suggested reading at the end of In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan actually discusses a couple of Wansink’s studies in his book and that’s what really got me interested in reading Mindless Eating.

Wansink is a food psychologist (who knew this occupation even existed?!), and does tons of studies at Cornell about what we eat and why. One of my favorite studies he talks about is the bottomless soup bowl study, in which half the diners in a restaurant were given automatically refilling bowls (the bowls refilled from the bottom in such a way that diners were ignorant of the trick). People with auto-refill bowls ate 73 percent more soup than those with non-refillable bowls. The study showed that Americans base their eating behavior on outside cues – that is to say we stop eating when our bowl (plate, bag, etc.) is empty, rather than stopping when we feel full.

Wansink goes on to describe several other studies he has performed – studies that show how we react to labels, at what age we stop recognizing when we’re full, what stops us from snacking throughout the day – and then he tells us how we can avoid or curb those cues to stop us from eating more than we should. He explains that diets often don’t work because we’re trying to make major changes, but if you just try to cut out 100 or 200 calories a day, you’ll lose between 10 and 20 pounds in a year without even realizing it.

Some of his suggestions include drinking from tall skinny glasses instead of short fat glasses (unless you’re drinking water). His basis for this recommendation comes from this optical illusion:


The lines are actually the same size, but for some reason our minds don’t see it this way. If we have a tall, skinny glass, we will almost always pour less into it because it looks like more, whereas with a short, fat glass, we pour more because it looks like less. You can easily cut out calories this way. Similarly, using a smaller plate will make you feel fuller while eating less. This is based on another optical illusion:


Here, both blue dots are the same size, but our brain thinks the one surrounded by small dots is bigger because of what it’s compared to. This translates to plates in that you’ll feel like you ate much more food if it’s taking up a bigger amount of the plate, even if it’s the same amount of food. It’s strange to think that we can trick our brains in this way, but Wansink has proven it time and again with his studies.

Even if you’re not particularly interested in losing weight, this is an interesting book. I thought it was fascinating to learn about all of the behaviors we have unknowingly picked up in regard to food. Also, I’d love to know how Wansink comes up with all of these great ideas for studies.

For more information you can check out his Web site here (there’s even a mindless meter where you can test your skills as a mindful eater), and I found an interview with him here.

This book has also been reviewed on:
Living to Read

Published in: on July 26, 2008 at 3:13 pm  Comments (4)  

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink

I just finished Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think by Brian Wansink. I picked this one up because it was suggested reading at the end of In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan actually discusses a couple of Wansink’s studies in his book and that’s what really got me interested in reading Mindless Eating.

Wansink is a food psychologist (who knew this occupation even existed?!), and does tons of studies at Cornell about what we eat and why. One of my favorite studies he talks about is the bottomless soup bowl study, in which half the diners in a restaurant were given automatically refilling bowls (the bowls refilled from the bottom in such a way that diners were ignorant of the trick). People with auto-refill bowls ate 73 percent more soup than those with non-refillable bowls. The study showed that Americans base their eating behavior on outside cues – that is to say we stop eating when our bowl (plate, bag, etc.) is empty, rather than stopping when we feel full.

Wansink goes on to describe several other studies he has performed – studies that show how we react to labels, at what age we stop recognizing when we’re full, what stops us from snacking throughout the day – and then he tells us how we can avoid or curb those cues to stop us from eating more than we should. He explains that diets often don’t work because we’re trying to make major changes, but if you just try to cut out 100 or 200 calories a day, you’ll lose between 10 and 20 pounds in a year without even realizing it.

Some of his suggestions include drinking from tall skinny glasses instead of short fat glasses (unless you’re drinking water). His basis for this recommendation comes from this optical illusion:


The lines are actually the same size, but for some reason our minds don’t see it this way. If we have a tall, skinny glass, we will almost always pour less into it because it looks like more, whereas with a short, fat glass, we pour more because it looks like less. You can easily cut out calories this way. Similarly, using a smaller plate will make you feel fuller while eating less. This is based on another optical illusion:


Here, both blue dots are the same size, but our brain thinks the one surrounded by small dots is bigger because of what it’s compared to. This translates to plates in that you’ll feel like you ate much more food if it’s taking up a bigger amount of the plate, even if it’s the same amount of food. It’s strange to think that we can trick our brains in this way, but Wansink has proven it time and again with his studies.

Even if you’re not particularly interested in losing weight, this is an interesting book. I thought it was fascinating to learn about all of the behaviors we have unknowingly picked up in regard to food. Also, I’d love to know how Wansink comes up with all of these great ideas for studies.

For more information you can check out his Web site here (there’s even a mindless meter where you can test your skills as a mindful eater), and I found an interview with him here.

This book has also been reviewed on:
Living to Read

Published in: on July 26, 2008 at 3:13 pm  Comments (2)  

Two Pollan Books Down, how many to go?

Michael Pollan’s newest book, In Defense of Food, is highly readable and informative. He talks about “nutritionism,” a sort of religious belief in the benefits of eating food for nutritional benefits rather than for pleasure or cultural reasons. He asserts that this belief is what has led Americans astray in their eating because we regard non-food items as being healthier than food. What this means is that we think non-fat yogurt, made using about 50 different ingredients, including Pollan’s nemesis, High Fructose Corn Syrup, is better for us than plain old yogurt made using milk. We eat items because they scream at us that they are healthy: “Low Cholesterol!” “Low fat!” “No Trans Fat!” “Contains Omega 3’s!” while in reality these foods aren’t even food. They’re food-like substances.

In the book Pollan points out the pitfalls of eating this way, most notably that nutritionists aren’t sure what really is good for us and what is not. They choose, seemingly haphazardly, a nutrtional element to play either devil or angel and we just jump on board. Pollan suggests instead that we ignore all this hullabaloo and go back to traditional food cultures (choose any: French, Japanese, Greek, Spanish, it doesn’t matter) where food is eaten for enjoyment, not just fuel. If you buy fresh produce and make your own food at home there can be no mistaking a food substitute for real food.

Earlier in the year I read Pollan’s previous book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. While The Omnivore’s Dilemma was incredibly interesting and a very in-depth look at how our food is produced and how far from traditional food cultures we have come, I felt that In Defense of Food was more readable. The Omnivore’s Dilemma took me about three weeks to get through (and really, it could have been three books in their own right) and made me seriously want to change my eating habits. The only problem was there wasn’t a “how-to” guide in the end. I knew I should cut out processed foods, but how far does that rule go?

Well, the solution was given in In Defense of Food, which, by the way, only took me two days to read. In the last section Pollan gives a common sense approach to helping his readers figure out what is food and how it should be eaten. Really, the information provided was so apparent, I couldn’t believe it has taken me so long to figure it out, or that I needed someone to tell me how to do it. But that, Pollan would say, is the problem with our current food situation in America.

A couple of the many solutions Pollan has to choosing what to eat and how to eat it:

“Avoid food products containing inredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high fructose corn syrup.”

“Do all your eating at a table. No, your desk is not a table.”

He also goes into detail about many of these points and explains why they work and gives several examples of foods that should be looked at more carefully (bread is one of them). I know many people are sick of hearing about the food problem in America and about the latest diet trend, but I think Pollan takes a different tack and has something really, really important to say. As I was reading this my boyfriend looked over and said, “Not another book about food!” I know, I know.

But really, I think it’s an important issue in our culture. I’ve lived in France twice and both times I lost considerable amounts of weight (the first time, I lost 45 pounds in only 8 months without even trying. I can’t even lose A pound here). There is something fishy going on in our food system and I think it’s important for us to take notice and take “subversive measures” (aka buying fresh produce from real farmers instead of big stores and stop eating processed foods) to reverse the current system. Reading books like Pollan’s will help us to do that.

OK, enough of my soap box rant. If you’re into food and interested in health I highly suggest reading Pollan’s book. That is all.

Omnivore’s Dilemma has been reviewed on:
Living to Read

Published in: on June 16, 2008 at 4:12 pm  Comments (3)  

Two Pollan Books Down, how many to go?

Michael Pollan’s newest book, In Defense of Food, is highly readable and informative. He talks about “nutritionism,” a sort of religious belief in the benefits of eating food for nutritional benefits rather than for pleasure or cultural reasons. He asserts that this belief is what has led Americans astray in their eating because we regard non-food items as being healthier than food. What this means is that we think non-fat yogurt, made using about 50 different ingredients, including Pollan’s nemesis, High Fructose Corn Syrup, is better for us than plain old yogurt made using milk. We eat items because they scream at us that they are healthy: “Low Cholesterol!” “Low fat!” “No Trans Fat!” “Contains Omega 3’s!” while in reality these foods aren’t even food. They’re food-like substances.

In the book Pollan points out the pitfalls of eating this way, most notably that nutritionists aren’t sure what really is good for us and what is not. They choose, seemingly haphazardly, a nutrtional element to play either devil or angel and we just jump on board. Pollan suggests instead that we ignore all this hullabaloo and go back to traditional food cultures (choose any: French, Japanese, Greek, Spanish, it doesn’t matter) where food is eaten for enjoyment, not just fuel. If you buy fresh produce and make your own food at home there can be no mistaking a food substitute for real food.

Earlier in the year I read Pollan’s previous book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. While The Omnivore’s Dilemma was incredibly interesting and a very in-depth look at how our food is produced and how far from traditional food cultures we have come, I felt that In Defense of Food was more readable. The Omnivore’s Dilemma took me about three weeks to get through (and really, it could have been three books in their own right) and made me seriously want to change my eating habits. The only problem was there wasn’t a “how-to” guide in the end. I knew I should cut out processed foods, but how far does that rule go?

Well, the solution was given in In Defense of Food, which, by the way, only took me two days to read. In the last section Pollan gives a common sense approach to helping his readers figure out what is food and how it should be eaten. Really, the information provided was so apparent, I couldn’t believe it has taken me so long to figure it out, or that I needed someone to tell me how to do it. But that, Pollan would say, is the problem with our current food situation in America.

A couple of the many solutions Pollan has to choosing what to eat and how to eat it:

“Avoid food products containing inredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high fructose corn syrup.”

“Do all your eating at a table. No, your desk is not a table.”

He also goes into detail about many of these points and explains why they work and gives several examples of foods that should be looked at more carefully (bread is one of them). I know many people are sick of hearing about the food problem in America and about the latest diet trend, but I think Pollan takes a different tack and has something really, really important to say. As I was reading this my boyfriend looked over and said, “Not another book about food!” I know, I know.

But really, I think it’s an important issue in our culture. I’ve lived in France twice and both times I lost considerable amounts of weight (the first time, I lost 45 pounds in only 8 months without even trying. I can’t even lose A pound here). There is something fishy going on in our food system and I think it’s important for us to take notice and take “subversive measures” (aka buying fresh produce from real farmers instead of big stores and stop eating processed foods) to reverse the current system. Reading books like Pollan’s will help us to do that.

OK, enough of my soap box rant. If you’re into food and interested in health I highly suggest reading Pollan’s book. That is all.

Omnivore’s Dilemma has been reviewed on:
Living to Read

Published in: on June 16, 2008 at 4:12 pm  Comments (3)