Literary Dichotomy

I recently purchased two books on; one was a book on macrobiotics, and one was a book on mindless eating. One was recommended by someone I trust, while the other was one that I’d stumbled across online.

After reading both of these books (actually, I’m not quite done with the second book), I’m amused by the completely opposite nature of these books, and am intrigued by my reactions to each.

Before purchasing this book, I Googled the title and found the author’s blog. I followed her posts for some time before deciding that, yes, I did enjoy her writing style, and she seemed like a reasonable and intelligent person, so I would buy her book. Plus, the price was right, at about $12.

I probably should have Googled more of the actual practice of macrobiotics before purchasing the book.

This book was a quick read, and I loved Ms. Porter’s witty and accessible writing style. I still subscribe to her blog. But I just can’t get behind the actual practice of macrobiotics. The book explained everything to me, clearly and simply — enough for me to realize that I just can’t get behind the idea of foods having yang or yin energy by virtue of the direction in which they grow. (The fact that I keep getting my yin and yang mixed up is no fault of the author’s.)

I would read about the different grains, about vegetables, about ways to prepare these foods — then get jolted out of whatever credulity I’d developed when I would read a passage about how a sludgy liver stifles creativity. The left-brained me was craving an excerpt from some sort of scientific study, or discussion about the acidity or alkalinity of certain foods (which was mentioned on occasion), or anything to bolster my belief in this way of eating. Alas, I rarely got anything of the sort out of the text.

(In fact, when I Googled the words “macrobiotic” and “scientific” later on, I was gravely disappointed to find that studies rarely find in favor of the macrobiotic diet, in terms of reversing illness and disease.)

As a freethinker who doesn’t take anything on faith — not even teachings from my Zen teacher — I wasn’t able to buy into the idea of macrobiotics for the sake of yin and yang and its effect on the body. I can appreciate eating whole, unprocessed foods; or “slow” foods; or even vegetarianism. But I can’t link my spirituality to my eating habits.

I almost didn’t post the name of this book, or the author, or a link of any kind, just because I did appreciate the book itself so much, and I’d hate for someone to find this review and decide not to buy the book because of what I have to say about it. The fact that I didn’t personally get behind the ideas within is secondary to the fact that this is honestly a very good book about macrobiotics. Just because I wasn’t converted doesn’t mean it didn’t explain things well. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t be using those 80-some-odd recipes contained therein; I’m actually looking forward to trying barley and couscous and quinoa. Just not quite to the degree the book suggests.

The second book, on the other hand, is chock full of scientific studies centered around the science and psychology of eating. Every chapter has multiple endnotes cited, references specific studies, and gives provable information about what makes people eat more or less. Mindless Eating is so full of tips and tricks and facts and ideas that it will probably take me another reading before I can actually absorb it all. It’s a much slower and methodical read than the macrobiotics book, just because of all the densely-packed information written in a more formal, scientific tone.

It seems backward that I would have so much to say about a book I disagreed with, and so little to say about a book I’m so enthralled with, but the truth is that I’m unsure how to sum up all the information I’ve gleaned from Mindless Eating — especially since I’m not quite done reading it yet. One thing I can say, though, is that the reader might be better served to get this one from the library. Granted, I did just say that I’ll need to read it through again to get everything out of it; after that, though, I don’t see me using this as a reference book. This will have been more of a source for diet strategies, party food tips, and Jeopardy answers questions.

I just found it so amusing that I simultaneously bought two books about food that represented such different stances on the process of understanding one’s food consumption. They did agree on one thing, though: we should rely on internal rather than external cues to decide when we’re full, and we should eat more slowly, and chew more. Now that I can get behind.