Sunday, September 26, 2010

around the world in 80 diets (the book)

for those of you who've engaged me in discussions about nutrition over the years, i'd like to recommend one to add to your library. it's entitled What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, and it's written by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. it was published this year, and has been gradually making its circuit in press reviews.

you can check out the reviews from the LA Times and NPR:
in past i've written, and some of you have responded, and we have conversed, about the nature of nutrition and what comprises "good" nutrition versus "bad" nutrition. we've discussed this in terms of physical needs, personal lifestyle, societal context, as well as in more scientific terms of caloric requirements, nutrients, ratios (protein v. carbohydrate v. fat), glycemic index, insulin, timing, frequency, volume, ingredients, recipes, cuisines. we've also compared notes on different diets of different athletes in different sports relative to different sedentary or active modes of living in different societies.

one of the things i've realized over the years as a result of all this discussion is that as much as we end up believing that there are very specific and strict guidelines regarding the nutrition that is "good" for our lifestyle, there is in truth quite a bit of flexibility and freedom. even for athletes, i think there's more freedom than we think.

nutrition does have to fit within certain guidelines, but those guidelines allow for a fair amount of permutations in terms of the types of diets that can be enjoyed--and the key word is enjoyed. nutrition doesn't have to be boring. it doesn't have to be fixed. it doesn't have to regimented. it can be exciting. it can be diverse. it can be varied. it can, in short, accommodate our curiousity for things different and our desires for things new while still satisfying our needs for things healthful.

this book, i think, serves as a measure of proof for this. it presents the dietary habits of people around the world, and shows the range of calories and nutrients that are consumed. while some of it is not by choice, a fair amount of it is chosen by people based on their lifestyles in the context of their societies. the result is an amazing array of human dietary regimens. and what becomes clear is that as much as our food affects the nature of our living, so too does the nature of our living affect our food.

it makes for an interesting read. not just in terms of what it suggests about the nature of nutrition, but also for the education it gives regarding culture. in short, highly recommended.

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