Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"My Life in France" by Julie Child with Alex Prud'homme, "FOOD Inc." directed by Robert Kenner and "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan

I've been reading and watching a great deal of non-fiction lately.

This memoir is wonderful. You do not need to be a fan of Julia Child's or French cuisine to find it a fascinating read. Julia didn't come into her own until her late 40s. Her conservative father wanted her to marry a banker and live in Pasadena like other well-raised women of that era. She was supposed to get her "MRS." at Smith not go work overseas for the agency that would become the CIA. The love story between her and Paul is very sweet. They arrived in Paris shortly after the end of World War II and I enjoyed reading about that era in history.

I read Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food" and I'm a big fan of his common sense approach to food. I watched FOOD Inc. shortly after finishing Pollan's book. Perhaps not the best idea.

I wish every person in America could see this documentary. I was fuming. It's really an outrage what has happened in the last few years to our food supply. It's not bad enough that these big agribusinesss have ruined food in America they want to bring that mess to the EU. For the first time in 12 years, the EU is thinking of easing restrictions on Genetically Modified foods. Of course many people (especially farmers) are not pleased.

I'm not a vegetarian nor plan to become one. Since my move to Italy my meat consumption has plummeted. I only buy my meat from a butcher who could tell me exactly where my meat comes from. It costs more but I eat less meat, so it all works out. Meat is not supposed to be cheap. In fact, in America it wasn't until recently.

I was talking about this issue with some friends and family. My friends said most people truly don't care about the quality of their food and just want the cheapest product.

I was arguing that there's a disconnect between picking up chicken that is wrapped in plastic at the supermarket and the idea that it used to be a living creature.

If more people knew the chickens they buy never saw the sun and are stuck in a little cage their entire miserable lives they would make different choices. I think most people believe the chickens are running around like they used back in the day on most farms in America. Those days ended with the rise of McDonalds and other fast food companies.

Then again my friends might be right. Americans spend a lot less on food than other Westernized countries. I read Laura Ingram from Fox News went off on the idea of Meatless Mondays. She said it was elitist.

In the documentary they talk about the marketing of food. It's by design food is presented a certain way in America.

It bothers me that good quality food is considered a luxury. Thanks to subsidies, a Big Mac is cheaper than a bag of carrots. And we wonder why we're the fattest Western country on the planet? It's not right that so many school lunches (for many poor kids it's the only meal they eat that day) are so crappy.

Of course nobody is putting a gun to Americans' heads and saying eat meat three times a day or fast food every single day. That said, I still don't think we should let the big conglomerates off the hook. They pay lobbyists a lot of money to get legislation passed that benefits them and nobody else.

This documentary also shows the connection between this kind of legislation and illegal immigration. Seriously.

Okay sorry for the long post but this documentary blew my mind. I couldn't believe what I watching.

Have you seen it? What did you think?


sara said...

I thought "Food, Inc." was very enlightening. I'm a completely unapologetic about eating meat (see _The Vegetarian Myth_ by Lierre Keith or _Real Food_ by Nina Planck), but something is seriously wrong about the way most meat is being produced in the US today.

Since I've been living in Italy, I've been wondering where our meat comes from here, but I honestly don't know much about Italian farming practices. Do you? Can you recommend any resources?

Also, check out the movie "King Corn" for more on what's wrong with American food production.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

sara - I've heard of "King Corn" but haven't seen it yet.

I know the EU has much stricter laws regarding how meat here is raised and sold. I can't speak for meat in the supermarkets here but my local butcher told me his meat was born, raised and butchered in Italy. If I do buy something like chicken thighs in the supermarket, I check the label to see where it came from.

I too would like to learn more about Italian farming practices. Maybe there will be some recommendations suggested in the comments section.

Thanks for the book suggestions.

erin :: the olive notes said...

I still have In Defense of Food and Omnivore's Dilemma on my list to read...I get super worked up about these subjects too! Have you read "eating Animals" by Jonathan Safron Foer? AMAZING!

Also there's a great documentary "Future of Food" (free on Hulu...can you watch that in Italy?)

sara said...

I think I'm actually more afraid of supermarket meat here than I was in the US. As far as I can tell, there isn't actually a butcher in the local SMA; meat just comes into the store prepackaged. But with fresh markets within walking distance, we generally avoid buying meat (and other food) at the SMA.

About our local butchers' meat, I'm reassured that it comes in large pieces that are recognizable parts of animals, and that it comes from Italy, but what do Italians feed their farm animals? Are they raised in "factory farms"? What are the EU regulations? I was really disappointed to find the same *insanely* large chicken breasts here and UHT milk... scary.

Ok, watching comments.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

erin - I haven't read Foer's book. It's on my list. Hulu is blocked overseas. Maybe there is an international version of Hulu now. Don't know.

sara - very interesting. I was more concerned about supermarket meat (and then spinach!) in the US because we had too many E.coli outbreaks.

My supermarket has a butcher but there are four stand-alone butcher shops within walking distance from my apartment. Plus the farmer's markets Trionfale and Testaccio have excellent butchers. It seems to me at least in my neighborhood (in the center of Rome) most people buy their meat from butchers and not the supermarket.

I think there are big factory farms here but not sure if they feed them corn or chopped up meat (yuck). I do know the EU has tougher rules regarding hormones in food.

Local farmers are worried about the cheaper food coming from Eastern Europe where the big American companies like ADM and Conagra are buying up little farms (through a subsidy loop-hole) and creating mega-farms.

J.Doe said...

I did not see Food Inc or King Corn because I get outraged enough every time I buy even tomato sauce (not the 'ready to eat' kind in a jar, but the cans). Most brands have all kind of additives in them, especially citric acid and salt - lots of it. YUCK!! Luckily for me if you want to spend more $$ you can get decent kinds made with just tomatoes.
I think you are right though, a lot of Americans want the cheapest food ex. tomato sauce with citric acid and other preservatives but many aren't like that - note the many farmers markets, expensive markets and expensive brands. Unfortunately if you want to eat well you have to spend $$$. It's the poorer people who are the most obese.

nine said...

i can't tell about italy, but in france there is currently a documentary "solutions locales pour un desordre global" directed by colline serreau, i don't know if it's been or will be dubbed or subtitled in english, but it's an excellent one. Should be in all highschool programmes, just like "we feed the world".

PS: been to your island and loved it there, what else ? ;-)

girasoli said...

I saw Food, Inc. last summer while in Bologna (free movies nightly in the piazza). It was shown in English with Italian subtitles. The piazza was packed with people and still it was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop! I was embarrassed to come from a country that treats its animals like that. I was outraged! I was thankful that I would be spending two more weeks in Italy where I assumed food was safer. I was dreading having to go back to the US to eat the food. I HOPE the food is still safe in Italy. Didn't even think about the fact that there could be problems with how chickens, etc. are raised there.

I already have been pretty careful about avoiding food additives the past few years due to migraines. After seeing this movie, I started buying all my eggs, chicken, fish & turkey at Whole Foods - cage free (I don't eat red meat and pork).

Another thing that outraged me when watching Food, Inc. was the whole corn thing. Since seeing Food, Inc., I have been trying really hard to completely avoid eating any foods that have corn syrup or fructose or one of the other fake sugars sweeteners as an ingredient. I realize natural foods like fruits have fructose but that is natural sugar. I truly believe many of the health problems today are due to the amount of crap we eat, including all the fake sweeteners. I will have to watch King Corn.

I recently watched the movie, The Informant. Even the main plot of the movie was not about food, it still was related to how big business is more concerned with making money and cheap food.

AND don't even get me started on the crappy school lunches. My kids eat both school breakfast and school lunch. A cinnabun and canned fruit constitutes a healthy breakfast? NOT!! And all the processed foods, high salt foods, foods with tons of chemicals being served to kids. No wonder so many kids are now getting diabetes so young.

I am hoping more people will watch Food, Inc., Jaime Oliver's Food Revolution, etc. and wake up to what is happening to our food.

Sorry such a long comment but the food situation is definitely a pet peeve of mine :)

Anonymous said...

Julie Child is a personal hero of mine. They way she grabbed life and lived it with out caving to her fears is truly inspirational. She is the kind of person and expat that I strive to be.

My husband is a hardcore foodie but in the sense of eating in a traditional way. Like a lot of Italians. Fresh, in season and local. He grew up this way. You get the meat from the local butcher the fruit in season from the fruit vendor, cheese in the mountains , etc. We are lucky to get most of our greens from his fathers garden. It's such a delight for me to know where our food comes from and to eat healthy with little or no effort!

The other thing that he points out to me and what americans tend to say is that food can be bland in Italy, Not in a tasteless way but in the way that you can actually taste the food you are eating. Meaning, if you are eating fish you taste the fish not the seasoning, which are only meant to enhance the flavor of the fish. A great example of that was a show I watched with Jamie Oliver where he was cooking on an small island in southern Italy and all the complex dishes that he sent out the Italians didn't like but the simple dishes they loved. They made comments like we want to taste our food.

Sadly I see so much of that fast food mentality creeping in. My Italian does too as a chef, he sees that more and more people have no idea what food is. Sigh.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

j. doe - It is really crazy how expensive Farmers' Markets are in L.A. and N.Y.C. I can't speak for other areas of the country. Whole Food is outrageously expensive. Who can afford to shop there?

nine - I'll keep a look out for it. I was just thinking the other day about Frair's Bay beach. It is a pretty special island. Glad you like it.

girasoli - no need to apologize. After reading "In Defense of Food" when I lived in L.A. I really start to pay attention to labels and was shocked to find HFCS in so much of my food. Why is it in whole wheat bread? Now I buy bread at the baker's. It's cheaper and they use only natural ingredients. I'm single so I like that I can buy enough just for a day or two. The school lunch situation is sad. Poor kids should have access to healthy food.

sm - I agree with you regarding Julia Child. She is an inspiration.

I saw that Jamie Oliver special. I wonder if my palate has changed since living here. I know one thing for sure, I can't eat salads with heavy dressing anymore. When I was in the Caribbean for Christmas I passed on bottled dressings for oil/vinegar salt and pepper. Before I would have asked for some ranch dressing or something. heh

anon - Read my post again. I'm talking about the American food supply not tourist trap restaurants in touristy cities. What French/Italian/Spanish/German etc. person would eat at those places anyway?

Whole Foods is very expensive. Most Americans cannot afford to shop there. And there is much controversy over whether or not the food is really "organic".

I lived in America and now I live here. My grocery bill has going down by over 50% and the quality of my veggies/fruit is better. Look at the obesity rates in America compared to other Western nations, the rise of diabetes, the cost of food, the outrageous amount of subsides, etc., this is a problem. I didn't make this stuff up. A simple Google search would tell you that.

Anonymous said...

I know after watching food inc..I nor my kids will ever eat at mcdonalds wife or me make their burgers now with meat from a butcher who knows where he is getting it..a little more money sure but i want to be able to sleep at night knowing i am not killing my sons!!!! tonystarks

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Mr. Starks - In college I loved MickyD fries, especially since I couldn't have fast food growing up. Then I read "Fast Food Nation." Yikes. IN-n-OUT and Chipole were the only fast food places I would eat food from in L.A.

I recently read some NYT article about how they put ammonia in ground beef so they can use more fillers. I was done. A lot of the meat goes to school lunches and prisons. Nice.

Food Inc. was some scary stuff. I still think about those poor chickens who were so fat from drugs they couldn't even stand up.

Odisseaitaliana said...

I have not seen Food Inc but it has been in my online queue for about month. I plan to watch it this weekend. I may watch it before that now. I have decided to become a pescaterian. I ate my last piece of meat today and I won't turn back. THe more I learn about the hormones that they are putting in our food that causes cancer and obesity I was sicken. But in America it is all about 'capitalism'. Capitalism is not humanistic in nature. These countries only care about the bottom line and not the health of the nation. I hope the EU does not adopt this crap. I am sure they are watching and learning.

odisseaitaliana said...

P.S. Skinny Bitch is another amazing book to read. It talks about all of this in one book.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

o.i. - good luck! I've heard of the book but saw an interview with one of the writers (the former model) and not sure if I want to read her book. She's very hard core about the vegan thing and I didn't think her diet advice was that healthy.

OdisseaItaliana said...

NYC-- Altho the author is hardcore vegan she doesn't push the vegan lifestyle in the book perse.. It is quite interesting

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...