It was book review entry week three weeks ago at NorthWind Menagerie. Nobody knew that but me; why am I confessing? Trying to select a book even tangentially related to the imaginary farm life, while I’ve been indulging in light fiction is a difficult hurdle. So, here is a review on a novel cook book, which firmly advocates raw milk and chicken liver, making it seem an appropriate choice to my winter twisted mind.
This book was first published in 1999, and has a number of devoted followers, and has, in my opinion, strongly influenced the current alternative health food movement. Its exuberant, yellow, hippie art cover made me covet it every time I saw it listed in a catalogue, but I don’t buy cookbooks. I must protect my bookshelves from collapse. One day my mom gifted this book to me, my bookshelf just would have to suffer.
The bad part.
My initial reaction to this book was actually one of disappointment. I’ve worked pretty hard at feeding my family healthy food, and it’s a little frustrating to be told in every chapter that “it’s not good enough.” It’s not enough to grind your wheat, you have to sprout it or soak it. Don’t even look at sugar. Eat liver to be a lengthy liver. Coffee, tea, and chocolate should be avoided. There’s always one more thing that has to be done to wholly earn your sanctification through good health.
The main issue I have with this book is its underlying view of the happy savage, and its promise a possible health utopia. Forgive the political theory when we’re talking about a cookbook, but often the similarity between the far right and the left is that they both promise you utopia on earth, the difference is where they find it. The far left offers you utopia in the future, on these terrestrial shores, and the far right finds a utopia somewhere in the past that could be regained. This book is primarily based on the research of Weston Price, who finds his utopia in primitive cultures yet untouched by white man and its refined food, and in that good old hunter-gatherer ideal.
There are organ meat recipes in this book. Are you going to cook a recipe entitled Offal Burritos? Brains in wine sauce anyone?
The good part.
Despite these drawbacks, it’s an enticing book and I found myself continuing to peruse it until it has earned a secure place on my cookbook shelf. The author recognizes the political nature of food a thing which is often lost sight of. The book cites extensively from many studies that question the current government approved health program, many of them legitimate, some that need more work. It’s a little hard to jump from ‘fat’s going to kill me,’ to ‘butter is health food.’ You do not need to agree with everything to appreciate the message of Nourishing Traditions, natural food is better for you, and most of us can strive to learn more and eat a little better. Since this is turning into a confession day I will tell you that we certainly don’t eat according to this book. Despite the dire warnings, I eat a moderate amount of sugar, an immoderate amount of chocolate and drink a horrifying amount of coffee. (I confess, only one of those confessions is 100% true.)
The best part.
The world of lacto-fermenting opens up on page 89 and is the primary reason you will still find this book with brain recipes on my shelf. Food transformation is irresistible to me. Here’s the story of my conversion.
Mom- “Wow, you should try this fermented sauerkraut I made, it is so good”
Me- “Umm, no thanks”
Mom- “It’s really good”
Me-“Yeah, fermented cabbage, sounds irresistible, but I’m dieting this year.”
Mom- “Come on just try it,”
From years of experience, I know the swiftest way to end this exchange is to give in. My mouth reluctantly opens, and inserts rotted cabbage. It was good, it was crispy, it was the best sauerkraut ever! (Another confession- this verbal exchange is only 99.9% true.)
Stay tuned and we’ll rot some things one day. What! You don’t want to come to dinner anymore?
If you hate this book, I apologize. If you think I have been excessively critical on this book, I apologize. If you’re bored to tears, have a good cry, it’s okay. I understand that this stuff only appeals to a limited number of unique souls, most of whom would probably be monks in another age. I have long had a yen to be a monk, but my religion and gender preclude me from that pursuit. Being a nun would be far less of a hurdle, but nuns selflessly teach school and work tirelessly in leper colonies. Monks garden and keep bees and live with people who take vows of silence. Is that the just Hollywood version? I did see a cheese book, written by French Benedictine nuns, in a goat catalogue the other day. If they fire me here, you’ll know where to find me. Ora et labora, merci! As that about exhausts my Latin and French, I better hope that there is a vow of silence for cheese making nuns.