| This is my first diary here. I hope it inspires me to hang out here more. Jill asked me to review a book called
Clean Plates: A guide to the healthiest tastiest restaurants in Manhattan for vegetarians and carnivores, by Jared Koch and Alex van Buren.
So, here I go.
I'm going to do a separate diary, I think, on why nutrition research is hard - if there is interest (let me know in the coments).
This is an interesting book. Two of the good things about it are, mostly, also bad things about it. That makes it a bit hard to review, but I'll try.
Start with the size. This is a little book. It's less than 200 pages, and the pages are small. That's bad - there would be more info in a larger book. But it's good, too: The book will fit in a handbag, a backpack, even a coat pocket or a big pocket in a pair of pants; that's what the authors intend.
Next, the topic. Partly, it's a nutrition guide. Partly, it's a guide to more sustainable food. Partly, it's a restaurant review book. Each of these parts is pretty well done (given the space constraints) but they get in each other's way a little. Are they recommending food and restaurants because they are healthy, or because they are good for the environment? There is some overlap, but they aren't identical goals.
But it's also good to have all this in one book.
The nutrition guide is generally very good. You don't need to read a lot of nutrition info before you realize that there is a lot of contradictory stuff out there. Never mind the snake oil salesman (THIS PILL MADE ME LOSE 100 POUNDS IN TWO WEEKS!) even serious nutrition research is all over the place. This book takes a nice, moderate approach. It doesn't advise a life of abstaining from all the foods you love, it advocates moderation. Koch (the nutritionist author) is himself a meat-eater, but he knows many people are vegetarians. He says there is no one right way for everyone. Of course, that makes it harder to give advice.
This section has some curious things - take eggs. He notes that when cooked a lot, the cholesterol in eggs becomes oxidized, making it worse (I didn't know that). He also notes that the whites contain an enzyme inhibitor that's countered by the yolk (I didn't know that, either!). So he advocates lightly poached, sunny side up, or soft boiled eggs, rather than scrambled or fried. OK. First, sunny side eggs are fried (by my definition of fried) but more importantly, while all the above is true, it's also true that the yolk contains all the cholesterol, nearly all the fat, and nearly all the calories; and it's also true that cooking kills the salmonella that may be in eggs.
Or take alcohol. He points out that red wine or organic beer are the best choices. Then he say that white wine usually has less sulphites.
That sort of thing isn't Koch's fault - nutrition is a tough business!
The restaurant reviews are more problematic. Although I generally agree with the reviews opinions of restaurants that I've eaten in, it's very unclear what's going on. First, they apply a set of criteria for inclusion, such as using filtered water and sea salt. I'm not convinced that NYC tap water is bad. But even if it is, then it's only bad for your health, not the environment. And can it be as bad as some of the food they recommend? For example, at Telepan (a really great restaurant, in my opinion) they loved the hanger steak with bone marrow sauce. Me too. But healthy? Good for the environment? OK, sure, a grass fed cow is much better than a factory cow, and Telepan is good that way. But steak with bone marrow is not healthy! Substitute something else for that entree, and I'll drink all the tap water you want.
The exclusion criteria, and the small size of the book, also mean that he misses a lot of good places. There's a shortage of good ethnic restaurants mentioned, probably because they violate one of the criteria. But a lot of ethnic food is really healthy, and a lot is environmentally friendly. A bowl of noodles with a little meat (Japanese, Chinese, Thai, or Korean versions abound) has just GOT to be better for your body than a burger or steak; and to my taste, it tastes a lot better than some of what is served in vegetarian places. Or go to a Greek place for some nicely grilled fish (choose a good fish!) with some hummus for an appetizer and yogurt with cherry sauce for dessert. Things like that.
Phew! All that negativity.
Really, it's a good book. It would be a VERY good book to send to anyone you know who lives or works in Manhattan who doesn't know much about this stuff, because they can learn a lot in a short span of time. It includes restaurants in all price ranges and most Manhattan neighborhoods (maybe a book on Queens is coming? Or Brooklyn?). I learned some stuff about nutrition, that's for sure, and people who aren't "into" the whole Vida Locavore lifestyle will learn a lot.