The Power of Reading

In November of last year I read a story by a Holocaust survivor describing how, even though they were starving, she and other Jewish prisoners refused an offering of snails from the Nazis. The reason? Snails are not kosher.

I sat back and my heart sank.  I’d never really thought about what I ate, food meant nothing to me but a few moments of taste. I felt guilty and I wanted to change. I still wanted to eat good food of course, but now I wanted my choices to matter and I felt deeply that I had no excuses.

That was it. From that moment I started trying to keep kosher. I wasn’t strict about what plates I used, and I had to teach myself a lot about what I could and couldn’t eat, but for the first time I really thought about what I would eat each day and at each meal. Would I have a hot dog for a snack if there was the possibility I’d want a latte soon after? What might I want for dessert and how would I choose my dinner based on that? This kind of planning quickly became normal, and I realized that I enjoyed my food more because it meant more.

It began to feel like with every meal I was making a choice. Through this choice, I was expressing who I was and what my values were. I was saying, to myself and to those I dined with, that I cared about what I put into my body.  I was saying that my heritage was important to me and that I wanted to eat purposefully. The phrase I hear often is that we should “vote with our forks,” and shortly after I started eating “consciously”, that was about to take on a whole new meaning.

In January a friend lent me her copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I had originally sworn I would never read that book, wanting to stay ignorant about the food I was eating because it tasted good. I started reading it though, and I couldn’t put it down. When I finally did, after turning the last page, I realized that I couldn’t go back. I’ve been a vegetarian ever since. The food I’ve eaten since then has made me feel healthy, clean, and good. An entire world of vegetables and foods I had dismissed before opened up to me, and I’ve loved trying out new recipes and learning to cook with ingredients that I had ignored in the past.

That book didn’t just open my eyes to the production practices behind the food I was eating and the impact it was having on workers, the environment, and health. It was a springboard to reading more and learning more about the food we eat, and how to enjoy and appreciate it while being mindful that the choices you make matter.

Right now I am reading Gristle: From Factory Farms to Food Safety (Thinking Twice About the Meat We Eat), edited by Moby with Miyun-Park, which addresses an array of issues related to meat production.

What are some books or articles that you’ve read that have changed the way you eat and think about food?

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One Response to “The Power of Reading”

  1. Lawrence Says:

    The article that changed my perspective on food the most is probably Michael Pollan’s “Unhappy Meals,” the New York Times Magazine piece that formed the basis of “In Defense of Food.” The funny thing about it is the number of “duh” moments I felt while reading it as I came across ideas that seemed obvious, though I’d never really thought of them before.

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