A diet your grandmother would approve, why boredom isn’t edible, and what peas have to do with time travel.
By Maria Popova
I lovelove, love artist Maira Kalman and revere the work of Michael Pollan, easily today’s most vocal and influential advocate of smart, sustainable food. So I’m thrilled with today’s release of a Kalman-illustrated edition of Pollan’s classic compendium, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual — the timelessly sensible blueprint to a healthy relationship with food, now delivered with Kalman’s characteristically colorful and child-like yet irreverent aesthetic. This new edition also features 19 additional food rules, including Place a bouquet of flowers on the table and everything will taste twice as good and When you eat real food, you don’t need rules.
From the very first page, starting with Kalman’s introduction, the book is an absolute — and guilt-free — treat:
Everyone eats food. That is the universal connector. Life is fragile. Fleeting. What do we want? To be healthy. To celebrate and to Love and to live Life to the Fullest. So here comes Michael Pollan with this little (monumental) book. A humanistic and smart book that describes a Sane and Happy world of Eating. It asks us, gently, to hit the Reset button on manufactured food and go back in Time.” ~ Maira Kalman
Kalman’s illustrations emanate the kind of thoughtful simplicity that underpins the message of Pollan’s classic, which is based on the premise that the wisdom of our grandparents might teach us more about eating well than the overly complicated nutritional scheming purveyed by the popular media.
Cannabis, tulips and what a potato has to do with our sense of entitlement.
By Maria Popova
While the world was busy getting excited over yesterday’s much-anticipated DVD release of Food Inc., an arguably more compelling revelation of truth about food was taking place. Because Food Inc. is a fine film full of eye-opening and well-researched information, but it, like many similar documentaries, has a serious preaching-to-the-choir problem due to the self-selection bias of its audience, composed mainly of people already familiar with the issue and interested in its resolution. These are the people who would go see a limited-release indie film in theaters, or actively pursue the DVD. But what about those who lack the awareness and thus the interest in issues that clearly impact them and should thus warrant that awareness and interest?
Yesterday was also the much-less-trumpeted DVD release of the excellent PBS series The Botany of Desire, which explores how humans have used the plant world to gratify our desires. Featuring the brilliant food advocate Michael Pollan, one of our big cultural heroes about whom we’ve gushed many times before, the series isn’t sensationalistic or alienatingly focused the large-scale, institution-level pitfalls of big agriculture.
Instead, Pollan peels away at the issue through four tangible case studies of everyday plants whose evolution we’ve manipulated ruthlessly in our quest for gratuitous self-fulfillment: Marijuana, gratifying our desire to change consciousness; the potato, filling our need for control; the tulip, reflecting our yearning for beauty; and the apple, which started from Kazakhstan’s forests and ended up as the universal fruit, satisfying our craving for sweetness.
The Botany of Desire is a fascinating and rich exploration of the human relationship with the plant world, an eye-opening reflection of the ugly sense of entitlement governing many of our social, biological and moral choices. Of course, how much such awareness translates into actionable change is a separate issue altogether, one behavioral psychology has been trying to tackle for ages. But it’s a step — and we strongly encourage you to take it.
Catch the full-length programming on PBS or grab the freshly released DVD from Amazon, and think about the story of the next apple you bite into.
Holes that fill a market gap, or what the iPad has to do with taking down Monsanto.
By Maria Popova
We all know the story — fast food is awful for us, dreadful for the environment, and one of modernity’s most gruesome addictions. Yet in a culture of constantly shrinking time budgets and an ever-increasing marketability of convenience, it’s increasingly difficult to reconcile our moral and nutritional ideals with our fast-paced workaholism. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation, at least not if it’s up to 4food — an innovative restaurant concept aiming to de-junk fast food for the digital age.
Founded by British serial entrepreneur and ex-music-exec Adam Kidron, former CEO of Urban Box Office, and rock musician Michael Shuman, 4food is equal parts good food and digital age fixtures. Not only are orders placed through iPad-based “Dynamic Menu Boards” or pre-ordered online, but they’re also fully customizable to your lifestyle and nutrition goals. The entire operation is designed with sustainability and ethical conduct at its core — from the local, organic, Monsanto-unaffiliated ingredients to the fairtrade worker compensation to the in-store recycling and composting programs.
We bring fast food that’s fresh, delicious, and nutritious to all ages, lifestyles, incomes, and ethnicities. No fads, fillers, or anything artificial. We’re revolutionizing counter culture, in real-time.”
The restaurant’s signature product is the W(hole)burger™ — a donut-shaped beef, lamb, pork, turkey, veggie, salmon or egg patty, paired with one of 25 ethnically and nutritionally diverse Veggiescoop centers, each with unique nutritional attributes. The “holes” from the patties are made into skewers for a perfect bunless, low-carb, shareable meal.
4food’s manifesto is a fantastic epitome of what every eatery should aspire to do and be:
De-junked fast food is made of quality, natural ingredients and customizable to your taste and nutrition goals.
Our foods don’t contain any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats or oils.
No artificial sweeteners. No preservatives. No artificial flavor enhancers.
None of our food is fried.
If it’s soy, it’s not Monsanto* — wherever possible we purchase whole ingredients that have neither been genetically engineered nor modified.
Our chefs use simple and straightforward cooking techniques to prepare and cook your food to order.
Our cows, pigs, and sheep are humanely raised while grazing and eating vegetarian diets.
Our poultry and fish are fed heritage foods with no artificial growth hormones or antibiotics.
You know (because we tell you) where all of our ingredients come from.
We provide personalized nutrition facts, advice, and menu recommendations every day in—store, at www.4food.com, and printed on every receipt.
We charge reasonable prices, when the rights of farm workers to earn a living wage, the integrity of our food preparation, and the quality of our ingredients are taken into account.
Your purchases provide real world job training to individuals transitioning back into the work force—to earn more than minimum wage.
We compost in-store and recycle. We employ sunscreen systems, LED lighting, and purchase renewable energy credits from alternative energy generators. We’re committed to increasing our use of sustainable power as we grow.
We incentivize you to market your custom W(hole)burgers™ online, so that we don’t have to. The money we save on marketing enables us to purchase better quality ingredients and keep our prices down.
4food is part Apple store, part European coffeehouse, part Michael Pollan‘s wet dream. The first restaurant opens its doors at 40th & Madison in New York on September 7.
An epochal intersection of art and science, ecology and culture, psychology and microbiology.
By Maria Popova
In 1634, Rembrandt painted his wife, Saskia, as Flora — the Roman goddess of flowers and spring. One large bloom droops over her left ear from the wreath crowning her head, dwarfing the other blossoms in scale and splendor — a single tulip, its silken petals aflame with stripes of red and white.
These tulips no longer exist. Today, their closest kin are known as Rembrandts. In the painter’s day, these living canvases of expressionist color transfixed the human imagination across cultures, casting a singular enchantment with their sudden and mysterious eruptions of contrasting color. Lay gardeners and professional horticulturalists all over Holland, France, and the Ottoman Empire planted tulip bulbs by the hundreds, by the thousands, hoping some would bloom in this inexplicable pattern of painterly stripes. On those rare and unbidden occasions when it happened, the tulip was said to “break.”
Gardeners went to extraordinary lengths to force tulips to break, their techniques still insentient to the newborn scientific method, still resonant with the echoes of alchemy haunting the atmosphere of their time: They would plant beds of white tulips, then sprinkle over the soil pigment powders of the hue they wished to see stripe the white petals, hoping rainwater would wash the bulb with pigment and somehow imprint the flower-to-be.
Because the history of our species is the history of humans longing for control of their fortunes and other humans exploiting this longing in the absence of knowledge and critical thought — from religions imbuing with mystical meaning yet-unexplained astronomical phenomena like comets and eclipses, to internet scammers — a new trade of charlatans emerged, promising surefire recipes (some involving pigeon droppings, others powdered plaster from the walls of old houses) to make the tulips break.
But what was really at play was something no one suspected, because no one had the reference-point nodes of understanding we call knowledge. What was really at play was an epochal intersection of science and culture, the story of which Michael Pollan tells with his signature enchanting erudition in The Botany of Desire (public library). He writes:
One crucial element of the beauty of the tulip that intoxicated the Dutch, the Turks, the French, and the English has been lost to us. To them the tulip was a magic flower because it was prone to spontaneous and brilliant eruptions of color. In a planting of a hundred tulips, one of them might be so possessed, opening to reveal the white or yellow ground of its petals painted, as if by the finest brush and steadiest hand, with intricate feathers or flames of a vividly contrasting hue… If a tulip broke in a particularly striking manner — if the flames of the applied color reached clear to the petal’s lip, say, and its pigment was brilliant and pure and its pattern symmetrical — the owner of that bulb had won the lottery. For the offsets of that bulb would inherit its pattern and hues and command a fantastic price. The fact that broken tulips for some unknown reason produced fewer and smaller offsets than ordinary tulips drove their prices still higher.
In an epoch when the microscope was still a novelty known to the very few and owned by the very privileged, when the discovery of submicroscopic non-bacterial pathogens was a quarter millennium away and the word ecology was two centuries from being coined, what the ardent gardeners and the ardent bulb-buyers and Rembrandt did not know was that a virus brought by another species was responsible for the rapturous breaking of the tulip; a virus the discovery of which vanquished the broken tulips and broke the spell their beauty had cast upon this ever-living, ever-dying world. Pollan explains the biomechanics behind the beauty:
The color of a tulip actually consists of two pigments working in concert — a base color that is always yellow or white and a second, laid-on color called an anthocyanin; the mix of these two hues determines the unitary color we see. The virus works by partially and irregularly suppressing the anthocyanin, thereby allowing a portion of the underlying color to show through. It wasn’t until the 1920s, after the invention of the electron microscope, that scientists discovered the virus was being spread from tulip to tulip by Myzus persicae, the peach potato aphid. Peach trees were a common feature of seventeenth-century gardens.
By the 1920s the Dutch regarded their tulips as commodities to trade rather than jewels to display, and since the virus weakened the bulbs it infected (the reason the offsets of broken tulips were so small and few in number), Dutch growers set about ridding their fields of the infection. Color breaks, when they did occur, were promptly destroyed, and a certain peculiar manifestation of natural beauty abruptly lost its claim on human affection.
Every time I think of the story of the broken tulip, I think of Richard Feynman’s Ode to a Flower.