Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book review: Gluten Free Girl

This book is part memoir, part recipes, part whole-foods apology. Shauna James Ahern's blog is usually a joy to follow, but an entire book of her gooey prose turned me off somehow. Her musings on food and life were a little self-congratulatory and definitely too cute. Most chapters contain a least one "OMG I love love food and I love cooking and I love grocery shopping. Isn't eating vegetables a profound spiritual experience?" paragraph. It's nice, but gets old after the umpteenth time. Her gluten backstory would have been better had it been told at the beginning, instead of bits and pieces throughout. Gluten-Free Girl (GFG) has a penchant for the short, Hemingway-esque sentences that get on my nerves. Ironically, she's also fond of SAT vocab, especially "enervate" and "redolent."

GFG's correct that people should think outside of the hamburger helper box, but her intense foodiness can be intimidating. I'm sure $25 bottles of excellent olive oil are delish, but that's the my entire weekly food budget. Am I a sellout because I use boxed organic chicken broth instead of making my own stock?

Unbearable tweeness aside, GFG's overall message is an important one. Cutting a harmful food out of your diet should not be deprivation, but rather an invitation to be more creative. Going gluten-free requires you to become something of a hippie, rejecting the fast-food buns, boxed cereal, and pre-packaged foods that are staples of American eating. You have to be willing to try new grains and new foods. Would I be so fond of salad and brown rice and Indian curry if I could eat wheat?

GFG is also right that Americans ingest way too many artificial ingredients and non-nutritious fakery. You can't live on fried foods and not get fat. She reminds me of another food writer, Ruth Reichl, in her rejection of childhood junk food. My mom is the same way. The generation that grew up in the 50's and 60's is realizing that there are alternatives to bland, overcooked, artificial convenience food. Wonder Bread, TV dinners, and cream of mushroom soup aren't that great after all.

Lucky me, my parents forced us to encounter healthy food at a young age. Homemade spaghetti sauce, raw vegetables and dip, cocktail shrimp, and sauteed green peppers were all favorite dishes. Soda was for illness or special occasions only. We never ever sipped Capri Sun. Sugary cereals were verboten until I was 14, when July heatwaves made my hugely pregnant mom relent to one purchase of Cap'n Crunch.

Shauna Ahern and her chef husband have an upcoming cookbook, which I am excited to see. In the meantime, I probably should visit the local farmer's market. Maybe I'll even swallow my pride and make my own stock.

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