Our everyday food choices have the capacity to change the world.
As the seasons (slowly) change, I always have a few little spring rituals I enjoy. One is that it becomes Joni Mitchell season in my iPod and my Pandora. The ways some people are seasonal eaters, I am a seasonal music fan. Late summer is Indigo Girls, fall is Tegan and Sara...though anytime is Bob Dylan time. Another, one that I'm sure I share with most, is spring cleaning.
The Conscious Kitchen fits in beautifully with exactly the kind of spring cleaning I'd like to do. My literal spring cleaning of my apartment was pretty much accomplished over the winter (meaning we finished projects we'd originally laid out on the to-do list back when we moved in - in August!), and I'm in the market for a different kind of spring cleaning.
Readers of my blog might recall that last we spoke, I was going on a trial gluten-free diet. The trial ended with our trip to California (there was no way I was going to make Marc's elderly grandparents, who I was meeting for the very first time, cater to a challenging diet), and the result was - gluten and I can still be friends. Hooray!
Still, the diet was a huge lifestyle adjustment. I've made changes to my diet before, but never been restrictive. This particular trial demanded a tremendous deal of attention and conscientiousness about what was in what I was buying and made me notice how I'd strayed a bit from my old friends, fruits and vegetables.
Coming off the gluten-free diet and going back to my restriction-free way of eating (not to mention rereading The Omnivore's Dilemma), I still found myself craving some healthy inspiration. Enter my wonderful friend Laura and her wholehearted recommendation of the subject of the book report: The Conscious Kitchen by Alexandra Zissu.
This book is not a diet book. It's a lot more about taking an integrated approach to caring for the health of the environment, the health of local farming economies, and each individual's health with the choices we make every day in our kitchens. She makes the recommendations you might predict a book like this would make - she's very much an organic and local food fan - but she branches beyond food into the things we cook on, store our food on and in, the appliances we use to cook, and how we clean our kitchens. She covers waste and extolls the benefits of composting. When it comes to anything and everything to do with the kitchen, this book has plenty to say and plenty of unpleasant truths to reveal.
Zissu packs this very practical guide with websites to go to for further information on topics she touches on (one good site of many is WhatsOnMyFood.org - consumer-friendly information on pesticide use in conventional - non-organic - produce and other foods) and endless resources on how you can be the most informed consumer you can possibly be. Each page has individual small tips alongside the larger narrative, and each chapter ends with a summary of what she's just written about and recommended for the healthiest, greenest possible choices. She's a very clear writer, and effortlessly balances fact, professional opinion, personal opinion, and intelligent analysis within each and every page.
The Conscious Kitchen is:
"...my attempt to provide any eco-interested eater - from the newbie just going to her first farmer's market to the diehard looking for extra tips - with the education needed to make the best decisions in any venue, from convenience store to farmer's market. The following pages are a road map for how to locate and make sense of the avalanche of "green" choices in the marketplace and how to make choosing the best possible items less work, not more."
I believe Zissu achieves her goal. While I highly, highly recommend this book to every single person who can get their hands on it, I will warn you (and Zissu does too) that it can seem very overwhelming. You learn a lot of disturbing facts about the food industry, the waste and pollution problems in the country, and how something as ubiquitous as plastic is environmentally devastating to produce. It made me want to throw out 95% of what was in my kitchen and pantry and start all over.
It's important to keep in mind that this book is a comprehensive guide by someone who has made this her life's work and passion. It seems like we couldn't possibly follow every piece of advice, and she doesn't intend for everyone too. The book simply raises awareness, and it really should be used as a way to make future decisions easier rather than agonizing over past decisions or striving for perfection (which of course, does not exist).
As I've said, this is an important book for everyone, but as a yogi, this book has a very deep significance for me. Yoga means "union," and this book is nothing if not a way to show how deeply united and interconnected every single choice we make is to other people, animals, and our irreplaceable planet. We're always taught to be conscious and mindful when it comes to ourselves in our personal yoga practice. As important as that is, it's just as important to take our own personal consciousness and impact the world with it. When you spend your money on a product, you are essentially voting with your dollars. By being mindful with what we eat, the products we buy, and how we dispose of waste, we truly can make changes in our world.