Sunday, November 21, 2010

Green book of the week: The Art of Eating In by Cathy Erway

After having the Green Books Campaign we're getting back to the tradition of presenting you each week an interesting green book. And today we have a book that is a great fit to the upcoming Thanksgiving feast.

Our book is:

The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove

Author: Cathy Erway
Cathy Erway is a Brooklyn-based food blogger and freelance writer. Her blog, is based on a two-year mission to forego restaurant and take-out food in place of home-cooked meals.

Cathy began cooking at an early age, learning from her parents, who are both avid cooks and adventurous eaters. She studied creative writing at Emerson College. She has written for The Huffington Post, Time Out NY online, and various small online magazines, and has a feature article in Edible Brooklyn. She has hosted, competed in, or served as a judge at numerous cook-offs in NYC and participated in fundraiser events for Slow Food USA. Cathy has also taught cooking classes at Garden of Eve, a Long Island based farm.

Publisher: Gotham

Published on:
February 2010

What this book is about? (from the publisher's website)

In the city where dining out is a sport, one daring gourmand swears off restaurants and commits to cooking at home in a manifesto for a new generation of conscientious eaters.

Named one of Publishers Weekly's most exciting cookbook deals, Cathy Erway's timely memoir of quitting restaurants cold turkey speaks to a new era of conscientious eating. An underpaid, twentysomething executive assistant in New York City, she was struggling to make ends meet when she decided to embark on a Walden-esque retreat from the high-priced eateries that drained her wallet. The Art of Eating In reports on the delectable results of her twenty-four-month experiment, with thirty original recipes included.

What began as a way to save money left Erway with a new appreciation for the simple pleasure of sharing a meal with friends at home, a trove of original recipes, and a greater awareness of take-out food waste and whether her ingredients were ethically grown. She also explored the antirestaurant underground of supper clubs and cook-offs, and immersed herself in an array of alternative eating lifestyles from freeganism to picking tasty greens in the park. The Art of Eating In is a personal journey that transforms the reader as it transformed the writer, about the joy of getting back in the kitchen and turning something seemingly ordinary into something completely extraordinary.

What we think about it?
I mentioned that is book is a great fit with Thanksgiving because all in all this book is about the joy of food, and not just food (well, even junk food is technically food..) but good food that is prepared at home and is consumed with family and/or friends. And Thanksgiving is maybe the holiday that comes as close as it gets to this definition.

For the author, although it is a journey full of discoveries, the joy food does not come as a complete surprise as she comes from a family with a tradition of cooking and appreciation of the social aspects of food consumption. You can see it in her description of the Thanksgiving feast at her parents:

"At holiday gatherings with my family, rarely does cooking cease to be the center of activity. I don't see this as a strange quirk, or as archaic. Cooking and feeding one another are ways of playing out family roles as much as they are acts of necessity when your are with a big group of family members all in once. They were also an expression of hospitality for our guests."

It might not look strange to her, but the whole book is describing a food culture that is strange to most Americans.

As mentioned not too long ago in Grist, a survey conducted French food sociologist Claude Fischler and his colleagues, which surveyed 7,000 people from the United States and five European nations (France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and England) about their attitudes toward food and health, found a spectrum of attitudes, with the U.S. occupying one extreme end and France, the other. Grist described the American side of this spectrum:

Here in the good ol' U.S. of A, our national identity as disparate, atomized individuals is reflected in how we see our food: nothing more than a sum of individual nutrients that can be customized to fit the health needs and tastes of the individual. Americans value choice in their diets above almost all else. They want to build a diet especially for their bodies and what they choose to put in their bodies is always their choice.

Fischler explained in a lecture at the University of Washington that "the simple act of eating involves more than just you and your food -- society is also present, in the customs, in the place, and in your companions (or lack thereof)." Erway agrees with him: "The need to prepare food and to consume it is what tamed humans into living in interdependent societies instead of individually as hunter gatherers...Coming to the table for an unquestionably enjoyable act - eating - allowed for human interaction either meaningful or mundane - essentially, the opportunity to commune."

The journey of Erway explores not only the abandonment of restaurants and takeouts, but also other alternative ways of food consumption such as freeganism and urban foraging. In all, this is far more than just another experience of "a year without _______", which became so popular in the last couple of years. I see it more as unlocking the doors of food of perception that dominates the current Western food culture. This is an enjoyable journey into the land of sustainable food consumption, full with great recipes and honest personal accounts from what seems to be the busiest kitchen in Brooklyn. Last but not least, here's a warning: This book will make you hungry to be prepared!

Final green comment: Inside the book, published by Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group, there is no mention of the paper the book is printed on, so I can't know for sure if it is printed on environmental paper or not. Having said that, given Pearson's paper purchasing policy (Pearson is the parent company of Penguin US), there's a good chance it is printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. In any event, due to the issues the book deals with, we thought it earns the right to be part of our green books recommendations.

Disclosure: We received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting sustainable reading!