As I finally sat down to write the book review for Nourishing Traditions, I got carried off as I had so much to say – and therefore, I'm going to break it into three posts. First off, I must say that it was a very interesting read, and if you are an independent thinker and care about the health of your family, you should try and get your hands on this book.
Essentially, I suppose "Nourishing Traditions" could be labeled as a cookbook, though the recipes are by far not the most important part for me, as many of them aren't kosher and most of them are based on ingredients which I would have significant difficulty to obtain. However, there was much, much more.
What did I find especially interesting? Things I learned during my studies for clinical nutrition in a very dogmatic, clear-cut way, based on research we analyzed and interpreted from a certain angle – such as the approach to animal fat and cholesterol consumption - were looked at from an entirely different perspective, and I just found myself scratching my head and thinking, "hey, why didn't anyone ever bring up these very valid points in our lecture halls?"
Then there was the discussion of things I could never agree with, even as a goodie-goodie nutrition student, such as the pushing of "health food" in the form of low-fat energy snacks, low-fat sauces and spreads, fake unabsorbed fats, oils and carbohydrates, and the excessive processing and use of food additives and colorings, while claiming that "no studies had been able to give definite proof that such substances are harmful" (that's what we were told every time someone dared to ask a question, and that was what we were supposed to tell our patients). My rule of the thumb always was, if you want healthy food, do as much work as possible yourself and make it from scratch. Reading Nourishing Traditions only confirms my thoughts on that.
Now, I have a question for you. If you needed a medicine, would you like to get a medicine that "wasn't proved to be harmful", or would you like something that was safe beyond a doubt (as much as possible, anyway)? During my first pregnancy, a doctor gave me an antibiotic which he assured me was OK, and which later turned out to be something new and under-researched for pregnant women. I was furious. I'm sure anyone would be. Why, then, are we so quick to embrace food additives, flavorings and natural sweeteners that weren't thoroughly researched? In many cases, a substance that theoretically was supposed to be harmless proves far from it.
I must say that whenever we composed diets for heart and atherosclerosis patients, I was ashamed of how insipid, how dull and colorless those diets were – it was almost as though we were trying to sell some sort of scam - and I always thought to myself, "no normal person can thrive on this for a long period of time." I kept asking myself, is this really the picture of health? A flavorless diet devoid of all the good things like butter, cream, cheese, eggs and many meat products? It doesn't take a genius to figure out that these people would compensate for the lack of taste by over-consumption of sugar, which was turned a blind eye on until diabetes went on a rampage.
Did we know that most of the cholesterol in the body is actually endogenous, meaning that it is produced by the body, and not originating in the diet? Yes, of course. It's a known medical fact. Why, then, were we so violently pressing low-cholesterol diets on people? Somehow, no one questioned the assumptions we were taught. And somehow, no one doubted that zero-fat yoghurt with artificial sweetener and flavorings should be labeled as "health food."
Nourishing Traditions speaks a lot of the decline in human health starting from industrialization and white flour and sugar becoming prevalent in the diet. If I might add, an even more rapid decline could be seen in the past few decades, with the introduction of fast food, pre-packaged commercial frozen foods, an overabundance of sweet and salty snacks, soft drinks, and the nearly complete elimination of the wholesome homemade meal eaten together at a family table. It is no coincidence that ever since women abandoned the "drudgery" of kitchen and set out to the work force, our nutritional habits have become so decadent, our meals so haphazard and so unhealthy. The foods children (and adults) consume throughout the day are unappetizing or outright junk. Things are a bit better in religious Jewish homes where people make a point to eat good meals together at least on Shabbat. In secular homes, many families can't remember the last time they sat down to have dinner together at all.
Next part of the review coming, hopefully, next week. Have a lovely weekend!