July 20, 2006

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What to Eat: An Aisle by Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating, by Marion Nestle (North Point Press, 2006, 611 pages)

I will say this: though Marion Nestle takes some of the fun out of food she has the good sense to leave cheese alone.

What to Eat does exactly as it promises, moving from the produce to the processed foods to the dairy to all other parts of the supermarket explaining what everything is and offering a bit of advice as to which foods are smarter choices. This leads to plenty of nitpicking about things like packaged washed vegetables (they should probably get a washing before you eat them and they probably won't last as long as they say they will). And, honestly, do you really need someone to tell you that supermarket "bakery" isn't much different nutritionally or in taste than breads you'd find in the packaged-bread aisle? Please, lady, leave me a little illusion.

But Nestle takes a relatively sensible approach to foods. She is not an organic fascist and points out that local is often tastier and cheaper than organic foods from across the country. She isn't impressed with margarine and seems to suggest that a tiny bit of butter is better than big slather of the I Can't Believe It's Not stuff. And, when talking about cheese, she offers up the same advice. It's high in fat, she says, but the high-in-fat stuff is the highest in flavor. So just eat the good stuff in small amounts.

Ah, a food scientist I can agree with.

What to Eat is actually not a book best read in one enormous sitting but is more interesting read in its chapter chunks. Let's say you're thinking about changing your breakfast routine. A look through the yogurt section will convince you that perhaps it's time to let go of the fruit-on-the-bottom stuff and check out the Greek yogurt, maybe with a bit of low-fat granola if you can't take the flavor straight up. The sections on organic can help you decide when it might be worth the expense and when it's just another bit of clever marketing. And, if you're looking for scientific evidence to back up your desire to go shopping alone while your spouse stays with the kids, the book gives you plenty of ammo about how supermarkets are like one big, children-targeting commercial for sugar. B

— Amy Diaz


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