September 22, 2011


Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health. By Brendan Brazier. Da Capo. $20.

Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally. By Alice Feiring. Da Capo. $24.

     Many of today’s recipe books are advocacy books in disguise. Sometimes barely in disguise. Thrive Foods is Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier’s attempt to persuade readers to adopt a plant-based diet, not only for themselves but also for the world as a whole. Boxes called “Thrive at a Glance” appear intermittently in the book, giving lists of statements intended to connect the way individuals eat with the condition of the planet as a whole. A short one of these, with only three entries, begins, “Our fresh water supply is dwindling”; continues, “Producing animals for food requires more water than producing plants for food”; and concludes, “Industrialized animal agriculture pollutes large amounts of scarce ground water.” A longer box, with eight entries, starts, “The burning of fossil fuel releases CO2 into the atmosphere” and works its way to, “For the average American, switching to a plant-based diet would prevent more CO2e [carbon dioxide equivalent] from being released into the atmosphere than by [sic] eliminating driving altogether.” These arguments for plant-based eating are somewhat novel, but their connection to the health arguments that are more usually put forward (including in the book’s subtitle) is not readily apparent. And the rather strident political tone of the “Thrive at a Glance” boxes will likely be a turnoff for readers more interested in dietary advice and experimentation than in adopting Brazier’s personal sociopolitical viewpoint. Those who already share his feelings will, on the other hand, nod their heads and agree with his positions from start to finish – and are therefore more likely to pay close attention to the book’s recipes. They will also likely go along with some Brazier statements that are, at best, arguable: “Energy derived from good nutrition – cost-free energy – does not take a toll on the adrenal glands and so doesn’t need to be ‘stoked’ with stimulating substances.” (Aside from the dubious medical statement here, “cost-free energy” would be the equivalent of perpetual motion: consumption that burns more calories than it takes in.) As for the recipes themselves, they are mostly simple and fairly straightforward; many are unlikely to be anything that people preferring a plant-based diet have not tried already. Puréed white bean soup, smoothies of several types, candied grapefruit salad, guacamole, fresh fruit strawberry jam – these are scarcely surprising. Some of the dishes, though, are a bit more complex and interesting: summertime succotash with creamy rosemary-garlic sauce, beet ravioli with basil macadamia ricotta, West African yam and bean patties, BBQ red bell pepper kale chips, quinoa pilaf with Swiss chard and lemon, and others. Thrive Foods is unlikely to convince many people to adopt a plant-based eating regimen, except for people who find themselves instantly comfortable with Brazier’s worldview; but for those who already prefer a plant-based diet, there will be at least some recipes worth trying here.

     If Thrive Foods is for a relatively small audience, Naked Wine is for an even smaller one – although food-and-wine journalist Alice Feiring believes its ranks are growing. “Naked” wine is neither more nor less than wine made from grapes alone, without any of the 200 or so additives that the U.S. government has approved for use in creating it. The additives have value, which Feiring knows but downplays: some help preserve the beverage, some make the speed of wine production more predictable, some change the texture or color, some enhance (or are intended to enhance) the flavor. But Feiring argues that oenophiles find wine without the additives much preferable, despite its not-always-predictable flavor and inconsistent availability. Casual wine drinkers will find a lot of Feiring’s arguments rather arcane, and some of the discussions with winemakers rather abstruse: “‘You know, Alice, I don’t like sulfur. In the wine I make from the Fukuoka vineyard, there’s none at all. The wine is completely pure, but sometimes you have to add sulfur. Do you know that some people who are very vocal about not using sulfur use a particular enzyme called lysozyme?’ He laughed and shook his head. ‘The people who manufacture that stuff say that carbonic maceration users are their main customers in the wine industry.’” The interest in “naked wine” is part of a larger-scale movement arguing that anything “natural” in foods is inherently better than anything processed or manipulated by manufacturers – a movement peopled largely by individuals with the time and money to indulge in their predilection for the esoteric. “‘Carbonic is not the only way, Alice, just one. You see, inside the vintage, there is no dogma. When you work without sulfur, you must work very carefully, very cleanly, and work with nature. If you change your regions, you must adapt your ways of working. You have to notice everything. You cannot adapt if you follow a recipe.’” Wine lovers wondering what the naked-wine movement is all about, wanting to be part of it, or already taking part in it and wanting to hear extensive comments on its intricacies from other aficionados, will enjoy Naked Wine. Others are likely to find it to be much ado about not very much.

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