Beachbody® Book Fair

Saturday, January 22, 2011 | 0 comments »

Reviews by Denis Faye

Now that we're a few weeks into the New Year, you've done one of two things. Either you've made good on your resolution to eat better and you feel like a million bucks—even though you'd kill for a slice of strawberry cheesecake—or you went for that cheesecake, blew your resolutions, and now feel lower than the crumbs left on your empty Cheesecake Factory® plate.

Either way, you could certainly use some inspiration right about now, so we've picked out a little winter reading that might—or might not—do the trick.

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan (Penguin Books, $11.00)

In his last book, In Defense of Food, culinary journalist Michael Pollan managed to sum up healthy eating in seven simple words. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Unfortunately, this simple phrase can create more questions than answers for the uninitiated. And while In Defense of Food and its predecessor, Omnivore's Dilemma, are entertaining, thought-provoking reads, by no means are they simple road maps for dietary success.

Food Rules finds a middle ground. Seeking wisdom from both his own experience and that of his many readers, Pollan sets down a list of 64 simple laws to eat by, then offers a brief commentary for each. For example, rule #12 is "Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle," because you'll find the good stuff—produce, dairy, meat, and fish—in the outer shelves of the store while the center aisles tend to be reserved for processed foods. I'm also quite fond of rule #39: "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself," which notes that if you only ate French fries that you chopped and fried yourself, you'd probably eat them a lot less often.

The book checks in at 140 pages with lots of illustrations and white space. It's a day's read or a couple months worth of daily meditation. The rules are simple and accessible, thus completely voiding criticism that paints Pollan as a "food elitist." To wit, rule #64: "Break the rules once in a while."

For the beginner, Food Rules are rules to live by. For the experienced, this is a well-written, amusing affirmation. It's definitely worth picking up.

Cook This, Not That! Kitchen Survival Guide by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding (Rodale, $19.99)

If you're looking for something a little more nuts and bolts, the latest in the Eat This, Not That! series tackles domestic eating (finally) and does it right. As is the case with its predecessors, this book is incredibly comprehensive. It's made up primarily of recipes offering healthy, homemade versions of artery-clogging restaurant fare, and it covers the gamut from breakfast to dessert. It also includes best-to-worst-and-why rankings for common staples, such as meat, dairy, nuts, and breakfast cereals, as well as neat little charts called "matrixes" that allow you to create salad dressings, smoothies, or kabobs—among other things—to your liking while keeping them healthy.

If I have any criticism of this book, it would be that it's extremely meat-centric. (See Food Rules, rule #22.) It would have been nice to see far more vegetable-based recipes. Even the Brussels sprouts have bacon on them! But if you just remember to add a few leafy greens to whatever carnivore concoction you whip up from Cook This, Not That!, you'll be fine.

Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World (Version 2.0) by Bob Torres and Jenna Torres (PM Press, $14.95)

On the other hand, you'll find not so much as a boiled-egg recipe in Vegan Freak. In fact, you'll find very little useful information at all. Instead, you'll get a 217-page diatribe from two very militant vegans who apparently feel anyone who doesn't see the world exactly as they do is a complete monster. Any karma these two may have earned treating animals fairly has probably been voided, thanks to the bile they spit on these pages.

The book is intended to be a hilarious primer for people interested in making the animal-products-free shift, but it fails on so many levels. They operate on the assumption that non-vegans make it their lives' work to torment and mock the chosen few who have seen the meat-free light. Then, with no apparent awareness of their hypocrisy, they go on to mock non-vegans with such rancor that were I on the fence about giving up animal products, I'd run out and buy a pair of Doc Martens® boots and a hamburger about halfway through the book just to spite them. (Full disclosure: I'm a pescatarian and agree with many of their stances, if not their attitude.)

More importantly, they don't even start offering usable information on going vegan until three-quarters of the way through, and even then, a lot of that advice involves suggesting other books to check out.

So I suggest you skip Vegan Freak and check out those other books instead. If you want to learn more about veganism, save yourself a lot of bad juju and check out Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis for great how-to tips, and Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero for tons of great recipes.

No one likes it when sweet ol' Bessie the cow takes a bolt to the head, Mr. and Mrs. Torres, but life's too short to be that much of a hater.