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Book Review: Clean Plates NYC

by: plf515

Tue Jun 23, 2009 at 13:03:27 PM PDT

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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.

plf515 :: Book Review: Clean Plates NYC
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So, I await comments (4.00 / 4)
and if people want me to write about why research on nutrition is hard, just let me know.

Thanks for the review... (4.00 / 2)
And good to see you here!

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).

Yes, please do write it if you can.  Looking forward to reading that...

OK (4.00 / 3)
I'll post it in the next day or two.

[ Parent ]
What's wrong with bone marrow? (4.00 / 3)
or a hanger steak for that matter? If their meat is local/sustainable, it's prob better for the environment than some other items folks would substitute, for instance, items you would find in some ethnic restaurants :)

So the restaurants aren't filtering NYC tap water? I was under the impression from testing (in the past couple years) that our water was good on the purity end and required min chlorination or some such thing. I have a filter that gets rid of all that and use tap for myself and my critters. Saves me a lot of money not having to buy filtered water for them, lol!~

If they do Brooklyn, they should include my 'hood :)

Bone marrow can't be healthy (4.00 / 2)
whatever cow it's from.  That's part of the problem: Is this a guide to sustaianability or health?  

And perhaps I wasn't clear on filtering - the authors insist on filtered water.  I don't know that that is as important as they think it is.

[ Parent ]
Bone marrow can't be healthy (4.00 / 2)
Why not?

And welcome to LaVidaLocavore.

Yankee Frugality: use it up, wear it out, make it last, or do without.

[ Parent ]
So? Not all fat is bad (4.00 / 3)
and we all need some fats in our diet, right? It's not like you're sitting down to eat a 10oz slab of fat for dinner.

Also, pastured meats have a higher percentage of good fat over factory meats.

[ Parent ]
Saturated fat is bad (0.00 / 0)
and very few of us have a problem getting too little fat in our diets.

[ Parent ]
Have you even looked into the fats in pastured meat and dairy? (0.00 / 0)
and yes, some folks have trouble getting enough good fat in their diet. I find some of the info on CLAs interesting . . .  

[ Parent ]
Osso Bucco not healthy? Ye Gads! (4.00 / 1)
This recipe looks pretty tempting.

AND Saffron Risotto! at the bottom of the page!

What a way to die.

Yankee Frugality: use it up, wear it out, make it last, or do without.

[ Parent ]
I'm with ya on that! (4.00 / 3)

Normal people scare me. But not as much as I scare them.....

[ Parent ]
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