Sunday, August 16, 2009


I hope you have had time to read a few books and see a couple of interesting movies this summer. I would like to mention one of each, both relevant to lovers of wine and food.

When I picked up The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace, I was skeptical of the story's ability to hold my attention. It is the story of the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold, and the circumstances surrounding the sale. It just did not seem to me that there was enough story here to make a book. I am happy to report that I was wrong. It is an interesting, fast read involving history, mystery, crime and the clash of personalities. It reads like a novel, in the same way books like The Perfect Storm and Into Thin Air do. The characters, many of whom will be familiar to wine lovers (Michael Broadbent, Marvin Shanken, Jancis Robinson), are well-developed and engaging. The reader will get a look into how wine appreciation came to be viewed as a pretentious endeavor. The exorbitant, over-the-top, competitiveness of both the collectors and sellers of wine will make the average wine lover's head spin. One does not have to be a wine aficionado to enjoy the book. It's a good, well-written story.

Last night I watched The Future of Food, a documentary by Deborah Koons Garcia, widow of Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead. The film discusses the history, legality and science of genetically modified foods. It gives a highly critical look at the agribusiness giant, Monsanto and the government agencies that are supposed to be regulating it. (Monsanto is a bio-tech company that has created and patented genetically modified organisms. For more info visit Monsanto's web site and the Organic Consumers' Association's site Millions Against Monsanto and form your own opinion.) The film also brings up the legal issues surrounding patenting living organisms and labelling of foods containing GMOs. It is not an unbiased look at these practices; in fact, no one from Monsanto, or any pro-GMO scientists are interviewed. The intent of the movie is to expose and bash GMOs; it does that well. Whether you agree or disagree with Garcia (I happen to agree), it is a thought-provoking movie that should move you to research the subject more.

Next week's post will be from Spain - if I have time!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer's End

Since the summers here are amazing, yet unbearably short, I have spent every possible moment outside and taken a break from writing, both my blog and my book. If only I could see my computer screen outside! School is about to start, and it's time to get back to writing.

If you'll forgive me, I'm going to start out with a bit of a rant. And it's on a subject, about which, you probably have strong feelings, or maybe you are just sick of hearing about it. It's health care reform. Am I the only one who thinks that both the left and the right are missing a very major point? Why is nobody even suggesting putting more resources into preventative health care? Wouldn't we save money, in the long run, if fewer people got sick in the first place? If we educated people about eating healthfully, exercising and managing stress? Why do we wait until someone is ill, before we think about health care? Wouldn't it be a good idea to take care of our health while we have it?

What if, at our annual physical exams, we were given nutrition and exercise counseling? What if we got rid of soda machines in schools? (The question should be, how did soda machines ever get into schools in the first place!) What if school lunches were chosen for nutritional value, rather than cost-effectiveness? What if schools made recess mandatory, instead of eliminating it? What if physical education and health classes consisted of more than dodge ball and condoms?
What if employers, instead of being forced to carry unaffordable health insurance policies for their employees, were encouraged to give stress-management exercises or gym memberships? What if we stood up to the giant agri-business lobbies and demanded real food? What if nutrition and cooking classes were offered to low-income households as part of social services?

I can hear some of the arguments against my proposals. Too expensive. Well, if we weren't (publicly and privately) putting billions into treating preventable diseases like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, there would be a lot more money to put into these programs.
Another argument I've heard is, "people don't want to be told what to do." Well, I've got news for anybody touting that line ---YOU ALREADY ARE BEING TOLD WHAT TO DO, YOU JUST DON'T REALIZE IT! The big agribusiness companies have some of the strongest lobbies in the nation. They control both the producers and the consumers. They mislead us with their labeling, making us believe that unhealthy, fake foods are good for us; they market to children; they even manage to control the government agencies that are supposed to be regulating them, by putting their board members on the regulating committees! For more detailed information, please read Marion Nestle's Food Politics and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation.

Of course, there are a few doctors making these points, Drs. Andrew Weil, Mhmet Oz, and Deepak Chopra, to name just a few. But they are on the fringe. Movements such as Slow Foods and Local Harvest are educating and encouraging people to eat locally produced, real food. Amazing people like Chef Alice Waters, and groups like Better School Food are working tirelessly to bring real, vital food into schools.

Please click on the many links in this post to learn more. If you are motivated, get involved. Please send me your thoughts and suggestions.

Life is too short to eat bad food or drink bad wine! Cheers!