This book is not a diet book in the sense of a weight-loss diet. It details the once-newsworthy information that eating unprocessed plant-derived foods is healthier than subsisting on hydrogenated palm oil, high-fructose corn syrup, and modified food starch.

Some years back, oh you young people, there was a study of levels of heart disease around the world. The researchers found that people with high-fat diets were not always prone to heart disease. Specifically, the folks in the Mediterranean ate quite a bit of fat, and didn’t have high rates of heart disease. This amazed people at the time, and led to a recognition of the important differences among saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, and healthy vegetable fats. It also led people who drank to decide that red wine was a health food. This is true in exactly the same way that it is true that dark chocolate is a health food.

I borrowed this book from Booksfree for inspiration, because Back-to-School is coming up, and at this time (July through August), the catering standards around here drop considerably. A reminder and some new recipes seemed like a necessity. One of the main reasons that we have so much trouble with healthy eating is that it tends to require more thought and more preparation time than unhealthy food, which is readily available everywhere. This is also true of activity. Our ancestors had no choice but to be active, because there was work to be done, but we have to make special efforts. This book gives enough detail about the benefits of a healthy way of life to encourage us to make the effort, and tips for increasing the convenience as well.

If you have been thinking about a more healthy style of eating, this book would be an excellent starting point. It summarizes eating guidelines from the American Heart Association,  the Cancer Society, and a variety of other organizations and individuals, and analyzes the similarities and differences. It reminds us what’s so great about vegetables, what’s wrong with processed foods, and how to fit whole foods into a busy schedule. It offers some tasty recipes, and lots of specific suggestions for various healthy foods. It supports its claims with research, and also goes into the non-food elements of the Mediterranean lifestyle (strong social connections, daily exercise, an unhurried approach to life) which seemed also to have a role in the health advantages of the Mediterranean life.

By now, of course, many Mediterraneans have embraced fast food and type-A behavior, and the rate of heart disease and cancer has risen accordingly — a fact which this updated book recognizes — but this doesn’t mean that we cannot benefit from the traditional wisdom of a healthier way of life.

This book also points out how other cultures’ foods can be adapted to the same principles. All the recipes are Mediterranean, but the information on how to buy produce and whole grains and what to do with them once you have them in the kitchen is relevant to all cuisines. Those of us who buy lots of lovely produce and then throw away the slimy corpses a few weeks later can certainly benefit from the many ideas of ways to prepare fruits and vegetables, as can those who dutifully buy the same four fruits and vegetables every week and suffer from boredom at the thought of produce. This book can be of use to all of us.

Except those who have embraced the alternative approach of sweetitude and meatitude. #1 son says he intends to have a shorter but happier life, living on pizza and doughnuts. Unfortunately, we know people who have taken this approach, and it does not always work. Sometimes it means living quite a lot of years in feebleness and misery, through a failure to die as young as one had intended. My own husband — who is in excellent health, in spite of himself — intended to die young. That was his retirement plan. But he is getting too old for that, now. He may end up being one of those folks who says “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

So there are those who knowingly choose to eat wrong, and those who have trouble finding the time, and those who need more skills, and this book offers some help for all of them. But there is another problem, I think. At least in the U.S., we have two strands of information about health.

First, we have information from the scientific community. These guys have been telling us much the same things all along. School books in the early 1900s said that cigarettes were bad for us.

But at the same time, the advertising for cigarettes encouraged women to “choose a Lucky instead of a sweet” and showed people dressed up as doctors saying that their cigarettes were “smooth” and easy on the throat.

For many of us, industry spokepeople are the main source of health information — whether we realize it or not. Add to that the dismal state of science education, which means that many people are incapable of evaluating data. The result is a nation of people who can be persuaded that pork rinds are an excellent snack choice.

The current goal of our food industry is cheap food with a uniform taste. Hydrogenated fats, salt, and high-fructose corn syrup are great for shelf life, and much cheaper than actual food, so that is what most of the packages on the grocery store shelves contain. Our mass-market produce and meat, through the cost-cutting methods of modern agriculture, taste like nothing much at all, so the packaged food industry sells us stuff (made of hydrogenated fats, salt, and high-fructose corn syrup) to make relatively fresh foods taste like the packaged foods we have been taught to prefer. The excellent book Something from the Oven by Laura Shapiro tells of the struggle by the convenience food industry to gain a footing in American kitchens. By now, they point out, very few people are comparing the taste of a cake made from a mix with the taste of a homemade cake, because so few of us have ever tasted a scratch-baked cake.

The party line on health within the food industry is “balance” — that all foods have a place in a balanced diet. This allows claims like “Lucky Charms is part of this balanced breakfast,” which should be no more convincing to us than the claims that certain cigarette brands were doctor-recommended.

The Mediterranean Diet does not suffer from this problem. It is a good piece of reporting. But you wanted to see the bawk, didn’t you? I have, through the magic of knitting jargon, told the knitters what the bawk is, though it must remain a secret from my family members and will therefore never show up here in a really good picture. Knitters, however, may want to make it. This is one of the main reasons for going to knitting blogs, after all — to find cool new stuff to make. So I want to let you know that the pattern I used (see yesterday for details) has some flaws, as nearly all patterns do.  If you look at the decreases at what we might think of as the left shoulder, you will see that they are nice and smooth, with a good match to the rib. The ones on the right shoulder, in contrast, are a mess.

This is my practice bawk, which I intend to keep, so I probably will not frog it (although I may — I think that this section will not show on the finished bawk, but I could be wrong, and will not know for sure till I finish it). But I will warn you that the directions for decreasing are ambiguous, and those for shifting from the cable to the rib are unclear. So a little charting ahead of time is called for if you want lovely shoulders for your bawk.