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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

In Safe Food, Marion Nestle continues to examine the ways in which the food industry contintues to avoid taking responsiblity for the quality of the food that they sell to consumers. 

Nestle’s main argument is that the food industry uses science as a means of deflecting the criticisms of their procedures.  Instead of responding to the social and political criticisms of some of their techniques (their refusal to screen for pathogens, for example), food producers use science to convince the public that their practices are safe.  By doing so, food producers deny that the decisions they make are based on potential profit, rather than on public safety.  

Marion Nestle is not really the same kind of author as Micheal Pollen or Eric Schlosser.  She writes from the position of an insider, rather than as a consumer.  Nestle has spent most of her career working with (or in some cases working for) the agencies and companies that she writes about here.  Rather than looking at the end product, Nestle examines the ways in which the law fails to provide adequate support for the production of safe food. 

At the same time, she examines the ways in which food producers do their best to block new legislation that may affect their methods and sales.  There are relatively simple methods that food producers could adapt to help to reduce the outbreaks of many food-bourne illnesses.  However, food producers are incredibly reluctant to do so, because they do not want their products to be perceived as inherently un-safe.  Their primary purpose is to safeguard their profits.

I enjoy reading Nestle looks at the food industry from the opposite end of the spectrum.  She takes a look at the ways in which industry uses existing law and government connections to maintain the status quo, rather than the specific products produced that cause ill-health.  As an insider, Nestle is able to give real insight into the hows and whys of food production and government legislation surrounding food production.  I recommend this book (and any other book by Nestle) to anyone who is interested in thinking about the ways in which legislation fails to protect the public from contaminated food.

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I was lucky enough to be given a copy of this book for Christmas.  Well, actually I was given a gift certificate for amazon and purchased this book with it.  But, same difference.  The end result is what matters.

Harold McGee is a former professor and current New York Times columnist (“The Curious Cook” – for more about Harold McGee visit curiouscook.com).  In On Food and Cooking, he has written an 800+ page reference book on the science of cooking.  For those of you who have always wondered why eggs make things rise, or what happens at the molecular level when you turn a nut into a nut butter, this is the book for you.

McGee skillfully describes all aspects of food production, nutritional value, molecular structure, and how it interacts chemically with other substances.  He does an excellent job of covering all of the major food items, from dairy to grains to sugar.  There is even a chapter on alcohol – an important addition for those who use it in cooking!

McGee writes lovingly about his subject.  He clearly adores his subject, so much so that it is hard not to experience intense cravings while reading!  Each chapter includes interesting quotes about food, word origins, and even old recipes for familiar classics.  In many ways, there is little that has changed about the way we enjoy food since then.  The book is a bit of slow read because everything in it is fascinating.

The only drawback of the book is that it is clearly not intended for people with food allergies.  The information on alternative flours and grains is fairly basic; he does not go into great detail about how to bake or cook with them, or how to substitute gluten-flour with gluten-free flour.  There are a few juicy tidbits in here about allergen-free cooking, but they are few and far between.  Moreover, they are difficult to find, as the index is not geared towards this style of cooking.

Nevertheless, this book is a welcome addition for anyone who has ever been interested in the chemical actions of food.  It provides a greater understanding of what happens in the kitchen when you mix two ingredients together and apply heat.  The research that McGee has conducted on his subject is immense and even awe-inspiring; it is difficult to even imagine how many hours were spent investigating the various foods that he writes about.  For that reason alone, this book is worth reading, and perhaps even adding to your collection.

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