Nina Planck, who has written the second most compelling culinary bible published this summer, "Real Food: What to Eat and Why," sees another phenomenon at work. To her, what is happening is nothing less than a second revolution in food, following very belatedly on the heels of the breakthrough of Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. (And of an era marked by food co-ops and macrobiotic food and "Diet for a Small Planet.")
For 35 years, Planck notes, the emphasis was on local fruits and vegetables. Now, for the first time, locally grown meat and dairy are becoming prize ingredients. "Insofar as it was a vegetarian revolution," she said, "it's over."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 19, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Media dish column: A headline in some editions of Wednesday's Food referred to 1968 as the Summer of Love. 1967 was known as the Summer of Love.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 23, 2006 Home Edition Food Part F Page 3 Features Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Media dish column -- A headline in some editions of last week's Food section incorrectly referred to 1968 as the Summer of Love. 1967 was known as the Summer of Love.
Eating well expands
PLANCK, who was raised by small farmers, remembers a world when health food, local food and vegetarianism "were all the same." Now, she said, eating well can encompass local lamb, local beef, local cheese -- even the much-touted Mediterranean diet, American style, is expanding to include meat.
Planck believes in eating as her grandparents did, which means avoiding all those better-living-through-chemistry advances Americans have been conditioned to worship. Better butter than margarine, better local tomatoes than organic, even.
Other advocates' new books throw more hardwood on the grill. Marion Nestle guides shoppers through the real world of the supermarket in "What to Eat," giving back stories on everyday foods and offering advice on what to avoid and embrace. Her view is more toward personal than planetary health, but the overlap keeps overlapping. And she has received so much publicity that mothers across the country should have shaking hands as they reach for the drinkable yogurt, which she documents is more dessert than dairy.
Peter Singer and Jim Mason trudge down the same aisles in "The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter," an earnest book that makes generally the same points as Nestle and Pollan in a more pedestrian manner.
All these have hit bookstores almost exactly five years after Schlosser's powerful "Fast Food Nation," which has now been made into a movie by Richard Linklater with a preview rated four stars on You-Tube.com. Shown at the Cannes Film Festival last spring and due in theaters in October, it is being described as a "fictionalized expose" of the real issues involved in industrial beef and fast food, including the danger to teenagers employed as burger jockeys and the chemical wizardry that puts the flavor into industrial food.
Schlosser and a coauthor, Charles Wilson, have also written what is essentially the same book for children: "Chew on This: Everything You Didn't Want to Know About Fast Food." Many of the problems that were making front-page news when his first book was published, particularly mad cow disease and outbreaks of \o7E. coli \f7food poisoning, have faded from public awareness. But now there are more worries, such as how animals are raised and what they eat and whether they are drugged.
Time magazine tackled the issue of grass-fed beef in June, along with other topics not normally on the front burner at a news magazine: the importance of family meals, better food for babies, improving school lunches, six tips for eating better from Pollan and, of course, locavores (by one definition, people who eat primarily food grown within 100 miles of their tables). Later this month the Nation will publish its own food issue, featuring Pollan and Schlosser along with Waters, devoted to "the way we eat and what it means for the world."
Anyone who puts down these new books and magazines determined to eat smarter has increasing choices this summer. Farmers markets have now become as commonplace as Wal-Marts in most cities across the U.S.; the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service estimates there are more than 3,800 nationwide, more than double the number there were in 1994. In California nearly 500 farmers markets are operating, with about 80 in Los Angeles County.
No wonder Whole Foods is acceding to Pollan's prodding. At a time when a gallon of gas sells for almost as much as a Frappuccino, more Americans are starting to understand viscerally the real cost of shipping in ingredients from everywhere in the world. Not to mention the freshness factor.
Critics worry that Wal-Mart's decision to hitch a ride on the organic bandwagon will force growers to take shortcuts, and cynics say Wal-Mart is merely targeting higher-income shoppers. But Planck voices a more practical attitude: Anything that makes industrial food better is a good thing. "We used to have two kinds of food: industrial and ecological," she said. "Now we have three: industrial, ecological and commercial organic."