BOOK REVIEW: Food: A Very Short Introduction by John Krebs

Food: A Very Short IntroductionFood: A Very Short Introduction by John R. Krebs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This volume in the Oxford University Press AVSI series examines human eating habits. The first chapter puts the human diet in the context of evolution, reflecting upon how we got where we did in terms of food consumption. Here one gains insight into where the Paleo-diet fad is flawed, and one learns how cooking had a huge influence on human evolution.

The second chapter delves into the issue of likes and dislikes in food. We see that there are species-wide commonalities, but there are also differences both at an individual and cultural group level. e.g. Why is spice so common in the tropics and so rare in the great white north?

The third chapter looks at the ways food can do us in and what we’ve done – besides [and including] the aforementioned cooking – to reduce the threat of food gone awry. The penultimate chapter examines nutrition and how we get what we need from food.

The last chapter takes a bit of a turn, but investigates the fascinating topic of how (and whether) we will continue to feed our species. Readers will likely remember the name Malthus from either history or economics classes. He was an economist who suggested humanity was in dire straits, vis-à-vis food. Malthus noticed that population was growing geometrically while agricultural output grew arithmetically, and he reasonably noted that this was unsustainable. Of course, Malthus failed to foresee the huge technological advances from fertilizer to mechanization. However, that doesn’t make his concerns forever moot – perhaps just tardy. It remains far from clear whether the limited land space and resources can take billions more humans – especially without killing off all the other species. (Especially, if we aren’t willing to give up eating resource-intensive foods like cow in favor of less intensive one’s like grasshopper.)

The book has some graphics as well as both a “references” and a “further reading” section.

If you’re interested in food in a general sense, I’d recommend this as a great way to take in the outline of the topic.

View all my reviews

POEM: Half a Hundred Hungers

1.) nose hunger happens when you leave the building in the predawn hours and the scent of bacon or baking bread cinches against the stomach

2.) hunger of social convention is when one eats a slice of granny’s pumpkin pie because one can’t be rude, even though one just scarfed down a burrito moments before

3.) the desperate hunger of the lanky kid I once saw in a cafeteria snatching waste food off strangers’ trays as they moved down the tray return conveyor to be washed

4.) eye hunger upon seeing the foodie’s perfect plate: clean, geometric, and heeding the proper balance of white space — though only vaguely looking like food

5.) the savage hunger of bared teeth seen in North Korean villagers when the famine got so bad that people’s bodies self-cannibalized the fatty tissue of their lips

6.) dilemma hunger in which one must decide whether to feed the body or some impulse beyond reason

7.) hunger for affection: a drive to feel loved sometimes expressed through the presentation of cookies and cake

8.) hunger for attention: a drive to be noticed sometimes expressed by how many grapes one can fit in one’s mouth

9.) hunger gone automatic is observed when one’s hand puts a candy  in one’s mouth before one’s conscious mind is even aware one has done so

10.) hunger for oblivion: when one east the poison, knowing it will kick one into the abyss

11.) hunger for comfort is seen when one craves any familiar food

12.) hunger for the exotic is seen when one craves anything but the familiar

13.) sexual hunger is displayed by one who looms over his food, lustily partaking of it while loosing himself in waves of euphoric pleasure

14.) jealous hunger: when one loves a food so much that one suffers pangs of envy upon seeing someone else order it

15.) over-the-hump hunger is the phase of fasting during which one no longer believes one will “literally, die of hunger,” but during which there remains a vague and persistent hunger of which one can be readily distracted

16.) sensational hunger: when a hunger becomes a mere sensation, devoid of value assignment

17.) stupid hunger is experience when the brain says, “no more thinking until I know that blood glucose is rising”

18.) hulking hunger occurs when low blood sugar sends one into furious rants about inane topics such as wallpaper patterns and the sales tax on a pack of chewing gum

19.) empathetic hunger is experienced when you see someone who looks like he is starving, even though you are fully fed

20.) ice cream hunger typically takes place when one is stuffed, but when one is confident that there are voids and crannies in one’s food pile into which the ice cream can melt, and that, furthermore, the cold, creamy goodness will somehow lubricate one’s digestive track to provide a discernible benefit

21.) mineral deficiency hunger: when you see a salt block out for cows or deer and think, “wonder if it’d be alright if I got up on that?” Eww! But seriously, it’s when you’re jonesing for a bag of chips

22.) calculated hunger: when one isn’t hungry but concludes that one should be hungry based on the when and what of ones most recent meal

23.) travel hunger is when you aren’t hungry but you know a sandwich on your budget airline will give you ptomaine and that by the time you get to the hotel you’ll have shifted into hulking hunger [18] — it’s generally a rationalization for having a brownie from the Costa Coffee

24.) breaking bad hunger is the point at which one is so hungry one will resort to thievery

25.)  requited hunger is the rare hunger for foods, such as crocodile, that can be equally hungry for one

There are so many hungers I don’t think I’ve ever known:

thick hungers  [26]

thin hungers [27]

wanton hunger [28] (full disclosure: I’ve had wonton hunger [29], which is a hunger for little Chinese dumplings)

wishful hunger [30]

troublesome hunger [31]

burdensome hunger [32]

wild-eyed hunger [33]

intransigent hunger [34]

there are the unnameable [35] and unknowable [36] hungers that I don’t know whether I’ve experienced and can’t have had, respectively

and there’s dead hunger [37] that I’ve definitely not experienced

there are others that I’ve known:

sweet hunger [38]

sweet and sour hunger [39]

umami hunger [40] but not edamame hunger [41]

42.) forgetful hunger occurs when one was too busy — or distracted — to eat

43.) time contraction hunger is a desire to eat lunch not because one needs calories, but rather because one really wants the workday to be at least half over

44.) homicidal hunger: like “breaking bad hunger” [24] this is the point at which one would murder someone for a french fry

45.) first date hunger happens after one eats that salad designed to create a good impression only to find one is still starving

46.) six-second hunger occurs when you are so hungry that you consider the five-second rule null and void and will eat food off the floor no matter how long it takes you to pick it up

47.) pizza hungry is when you are only hungry for one food — pizza — and will opt not to eat if only other foods are available

48.) “Man vs. Food” hungry: this is not what it might seem. It’s when one is so hungry that one could still eat after having watched an episode of this show — a show which usually shines an ugly light on hedonistic culinary impulses

49.) pet food hungry is the level of hunger sufficient to make one willing to eat pet food

50.) physiological hunger: the urge one has to eat in order to supply calories and nutrients to one’s body

5 False Dietary Beliefs that Sabotage Weight Loss

 

5.) Vegetables are vegetables. If the potato is your go-to vegetable, you’ll probably have trouble shedding the pounds. That’s not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with potatoes. But, because of their high glycemic index value (i.e. they’re quickly digested and cause a sharp blood sugar spike), they should be lumped in with bread or rice when considering portions and meal make up. The same is true for sweet corn. Some people consider carrots (and carrot relatives) to be high glycemic, but one has to eat a pretty massive amount to have a problem. Most vegetables have a relatively low glycemic index score and are great foods to fill up on.

 

4.) Cola is mostly water, how bad could it be? At the right temperature, one can dissolve 2 kilograms (4.4lb.) of sugar in one liter of water. Wrap your head around that.

 

3.) I worked up a good sweat; now I can eat whatever I want. If you’re in the process of training for an ultramarathon or the Olympics, this might be true, but an hour in yoga class or run in the park doesn’t float you a free pass to kill it at Häagen-Dazs. There’s no getting around the math, the dietary half of the ledger is the 800 pound gorilla (no pun intended) of weight-loss. [That doesn’t mean that there aren’t many, many benefits to exercise, or that it doesn’t contribute to weight loss in more ways than one.] The Mayo Clinic has an excellent table of calories burned for a wide range of exercises and physical activities. You may be demoralized to note that the calories burned in an hour of Power Yoga are completely replenished by a medium size french fry.

 

2.) I will treat myself with sweets [or pizza.]  I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with treating oneself, but making food the treat sets a bad precedent. For many, this notion of food as reward or comfort source was introduced in one’s youth, and it can be extremely difficult to dislodge it later in life. One might try music or fun activities as alternative sources of reward.

 

1.) I shouldn’t have eaten that Snickers on Wednesday. This may seem like a contradiction of the previous item, but being doctrinaire about food creates its own problems. Specifically, sustainability may be a challenge–especially if one has had that “food as treat” story inculcated into one’s psyche. It’s not the once and while caloric splurge that kills most people, it’s creeping portion sizes.

Some people swear by a “cheat day.” Others say that that’s a bad approach because one might feel forced to cheat even when you’re really not feeling a desire for junk food. Some advocate an 80/20 rule, whereby 80% of the time one follows a strict dietary regimen, while the other 20% of the time one takes it more free and easy (though not totally insane.) Personally, I think different approaches work for different people, but I do agree that the dietary Nazi approach isn’t the way to go.

5 Awesome Street Foods [You Should Have Already Tried]

5.) Vada Pav (Potato [fritter] on a bun): India

Tip: Try it in Mumbai. While the one’s shown above were fine. The legendary Vada Pav is to be found at a stall across from Flora Fountain in Bombay.

 

4.) Pad Thai (Noodles Thai Style): Thailand

Tip: Vegetarians beware. Fish sauce is a standard ingredient in this dish. So if you order it vegetarian, it’s not just the prawns and / or chicken one needs to be wary about–depending upon how strict one is. Soy sauce is the substitute.

 

3.) Kürtőskalács (Chimney Cake): Hungary

Tip: It can be found at little stands in or near Christmas markets during the winter season. Buy it hot when it’s cold outside, and it will actually steam like smoke rising from a chimney. If  you’re in Hungary during the summer or you want a savory street food, try lángos .

 

2.) Banh Mi: Vietnam

Tip: Try this sandwich on a baguette from Banh Mi 25, a famous cart at 25 Hàng Cá, Hàng Đào, Hoàn Kiếm in Hanoi.

 

1.) Momo (Dumpling): Tibet, Ladakh, and anywhere displaced Tibetans reside.

Tip: Try the spinach and cheese momo of The Wok Tibetan Kitchen on Main Bazaar Road in Leh.

 

Bonus: Masala Dosa: India, particularly in the South

Tip: If you ask for a “Paper Masala Dosa” you’ll probably get something too big to fit on a plate (as shown.) It will be very thin and the potato-based filling will only be in the central part. (So it’s not quite as insane an amount of food as it may appear.)  This one is from Airlines Hotel in Bangalore. Dosa is just the Indian version of a pancake, and it can take many shapes and forms. There are a few varieties, but often it’s a rice & lentil-based rather than wheat-based flour.

 

DAILY PHOTO: Egg Coffee, Hanoi

Taken in Hanoi in December of 2015

 

 

Egg coffee is a Hanoi staple. It’s made with egg yolk, condensed milk, and sugar so it’s not exactly low-cal, but it tastes delightful. The scuttlebutt is that it was invented when milk was in short supply during the war. The beverage is said to have been invented at Giang Cafe, but I couldn’t say for certain that it’s the same Giang Cafe we were at (shown above.) However, the place did have the feel of a local institution. Imagine people huddled around tiny tables on stools, the floor coated with sunflower seed shells, and nary an empty stool in the multi-floored establishment.

BOOK REVIEW: The World’s Best Street Food by Lonely Planet

The World's Best Street Food: Where to find it and how to make it (General Pictorial)The World’s Best Street Food: Where to find it and how to make it by Lonely Planet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This is a combination guide to street food and cookbook. Each of the 100 entries consists of two pages. The first describes the food, how it’s eaten [that’s not always as self-evident to outsiders as one might think], its origins, where one can find a quintessential or famous example of the food, and whether there are any variants on the recipe. The second page is the cookbook entry, which lists the ingredients and describes the process by which they are combined to create the dish in question.

The foods are divided into broad categories of savory and sweet. The savory category is the larger by far, comprising 80 of the dishes—leaving 20 sweets. The dishes represent about 50 different countries of origin. A lot of these countries are well-known street food cultures such as Thailand, Vietnam, India, Mexico, and the US, but there are also a number of locales with which readers may be less familiar– such as Ghana, Malta, and French Polynesia. The dishes include a number of my favorites, such as Vietnamese Banh Mi, US Breakfast Burrito, Indian Masala Dosa, Thai Pad Thai, Hungarian Langos, and Singaporean Hainanese Chicken Rice. However, I also learned of new dishes that I’m eager to try, such as Croatian Cevapcici, Burmese Mohinga, and Chilean Sopaipilla.

WARNING: While I didn’t deduct stars for it, I will warn readers that this isn’t a good book to get as an e-book—at least unless you have a high-end tablet. It was a bit of a pain to read on my Kindle Touch, and the graphics (which I assume are beautiful in the print edition) were largely useless on my device. One could blow up the text easily enough (within limits, at least,) but the pages got grainy if one blew them up too much—and some of the text remained small when expanded.

There are photos. As I mentioned, on my device they were largely useless (grainy black-and-white) but your results may vary.

I found this book to be interesting and informative. While I wish the e-book had been easier to read, it was well-organized and offered a broad selection of dishes from a large number of countries.

I’d recommend this book for street food lovers and foodies.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Nutrition: A Very Short Introduction by David A. Bender

Nutrition: A Very Short IntroductionNutrition: A Very Short Introduction by David Bender
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Do you want to know what percentage of your diet should be carbohydrates because your personal trainer is telling you it’s zero? Do you know whether you need vitamin B12 supplements? How much energy does your huge human brain use? What the hell is Kwashiorkor? If these types of questions are of interest to you, you might be interested in this book.

There’s nothing particularly fancy or exciting about this book, but it’s still a useful book for a couple of reasons. First, it sticks to the science on the subject, and diet and nutrition is one of the most myth and disinformation riddled subjects around because there are so many people trying to shill their fad diets and because there are so many who desperately want to believe that they can cut pounds and still eat a case of Twinkies every week through some scientific loophole [psst, you can’t.] Here and there throughout this book, there are quick deconstructions of these myths and lies. (i.e. I should point out that some of this dietary “wisdom” will result in weight loss—but it won’t necessarily result in a net health gain. e.g. If you cut out carbs, you’ll lose weight—but your brain will also be starved of the glucose that it needs to conduct its business and will have to engage in slow and costly processes to get it from elsewhere.) Second, the book is short and to the point. If you don’t have a lot of time to devote to reading up on nutrition, this may be the book for you.

The book consists of eight chapters:

Chapter 1: Why eat? (deals with appetite and satiety, and not just the less-than-profound question of why a human body needs energy.)

Chapter 2: Energy Nutrition (gives the basics of food as an energy source—as opposed to food as building blocks.)

Chapter 3: Protein Nutrition (teaches one about food as building blocks.)

Chapter 4: Over-nutrition and Problems of Overweight and Obesity (addresses the causes of being overweight as well as explaining how to counteract those causes. One nice feature of this chapter is it gives a quick and dirty summation of the various types of diets, tells which are supported by science, and explains which have undesirable unintended consequences.)

Chapter 5: Diet and Health (explains many of the ways nutrition influences health. Contrary to popular belief, weight isn’t the only way [or, necessarily, the most critical way] in which dietary problems can adversely affect health. In other words, it’s possible to be stocky or curvy and in good overall health, or, alternatively, one can be svelte and running up on death’s door. This chapter also describes first-world ailments that are sometimes called diseases of affluence.)

Chapter 6: Under-nutrition (Marasmus, cachexia, and kwashiorkor. Don’t know what those words mean? Think they are towns in a sword and sorcery fantasy novel? You’ll know after finishing this chapter.)

Chapter 7: Vitamins and Minerals (Most of the dietary suggestions in the book up to this point are put in terms of macro-nutrients [i.e. carbohydrates, fats, and proteins], but this chapter focuses on micro-nutrients. There’s a reason micro-nutrients are addressed so late in the book, and that’s that most people who are getting sufficient macro-nutrients from actual food [as opposed to the “stuff” sold at McDonald’s or in convenience stores] get all they need of micro-nutrients. But there can be issues with micro-nutrients such as iron, calcium, vitamin D, and Vitamin B12 depending upon one’s unique life situation. In other words, unless your doctor tells you that you need a supplement, you probably don’t.)

Chapter 8: Functional Foods, Super Foods, and Supplements (Probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics, super foods, and supplements. One area that gets short shrift in this book is the importance of one’s gut bacteria—which has become a huge part of the discussion of late. There is a little mention of it in this chapter, but not much.)

There are few graphics in the book, but there are many tables. I didn’t feel anything was missing in terms of graphics. None of these “Very Short Introduction” guides offers much by way of bibliography, and the “Further Reading” section tends to favor textbooks over popular works. This book is no exception in either regard.

I’d recommend this book for anybody who wants a quick low-down on the science of nutrition. As mentioned, the one area I thought it might have delved into in greater depth was the role of gut microbes. However, overall, I think it was well-organized and provided interesting food for thought (pun recognized, but not intended.)

View all my reviews

Beyond the Golden Temple: What Else Is There In Amritsar?

Tourists go to Amritsar for two reasons:

1.) The Harmandir Sahib (i.e. the Golden Temple) and adjacent Sikh sites (e.g. Gurudwara Baba Atal Sahib)

IMG_3427

 

2.) As a jumping off point for the Wagah Border Crossing Retreat Ceremony:

IMG_3623

 

It’s quite possible that your guidebook doesn’t mention anything beyond those two, but if it does it’s probably the Jallianwala Bagh, which is a small park that serves as a memorial to a massacre conducted by a British military unit against peaceful protesters in 1919.

IMG_2843

 

It can be hard to justify a trip to a city in which all the sights can be packed into a day-trip when it’ll cost either a lot in time or airfare to get there. So the obvious question is whether there’s anything else worth seeing?

 

The next item on most people’s agenda tends to be the awesome food of Amritsar. And one definitely doesn’t want to miss out on the Punjabi Dhabas, food stalls, or taking a meal at the Golden Temple’s Langar Hall.

IMG_2829

IMG_2866

 

The next most important stop is the park in the southeast corner of the intersection of Mall Rd. and M.M. Malviya Rd. Much of what this area has to offer is more kitsch than photogenic, but the centerpiece is the Maharaja Rangit Singh Museum, which is small but genuinely impressive–including the well-maintained flower garden on the way in.

IMG_2940IMG_2930 IMG_2929

 

Near the museum there are some restorations of structures that were around when this was the location of the Maharaja’s summer palace. (The Palace itself was neither open nor restored at the time of our visit in the fall of 2015, but there were some smaller structures that were worth seeing.) The gate to the south of the park is the most well-restored/maintained of these structures.

IMG_2891 IMG_2972 

Now, the kitsch stuff isn’t without its virtue for amusement purposes at least, and you’ll see it as you walk around the area. The zoo of plastic animals is the best example.

 

IMG_2947

 

Although you might just be surprised to find some interesting real creatures.

IMG_2956

 

There are also a few other sights like Gobindgarh Fort (it’s restoration and opening was in limbo at the time of our visit, and apparently remains so) and a few temples if you’re not templed-out.  The City Hall is presently in decay, but looks like restoration was underway and it may one day be noteworthy.

IMG_2853

 

There are quite a few bazaars as well. I’d lean toward the narrow corridors near the temple as opposed to Lawrence Rd, which is more modern but is unimpressive.

 

You can always take the time to get some work done while you’re in town. For example, there is readily available curbside dentistry.

IMG_3070

 

But seriously, I enjoyed Amritsar and found it to be well worth the visit–even though it’s not particularly close / convenient to much else and it has limited attractions. Like Varanasi, Amritsar has its own unique feel that set it apart from India in general. While Varanasi was steeped in Hindu culture, I suspect Amritsar’s uniqueness has to do with the fact that the population is largely Sikh and, therefore, the people and culture are distinctive.