When was the last time you read a cookbook that had a lot to say about President George W. Bush? How about this from the first few pages of Ethical Gourmet: How to Enjoy Great Food that is Humanely Raised, Sustainable, Nonendangered, and That Replenishes the Earth (Broadway Books, 2006), written by CIA graduate and editor of the CIA's newsletter Kitchen and Cook, Jay Weinstein:
No administration has manipulated science to suit its own agenda as much as the administration of George W. Bush. Under the administration of George W. Bush, environmental regulators have been weakened, ecologically sensitive areas have been exploited for mineral wealth, polluters have been given massive breaks, and environmentalists have been maligned as nuisances at best, traitors at worst. (pp. 9-10)Jay Weinstein, is nothing if not refreshingly political. He goes on to outline how the Neo-Cons in the White House and Congress who are aligned with Christian Right organizations, are believers in rapture, “…that environmental degradation is part of God’s divine plan.” (Ethical Gourmet, p. 13) Things, indeed, look grim.
What is the book all about, beyond the political polemic? Jay claims it is "A combination lifestyle guide, shopper’s resource, and cookbook, this book brings together the concepts, sources, and methods for enjoying today’s consciously raised harvest.” (p. 2)
This is a far-reaching book, with huge goals. The author outlines the changes in factory farms brought about by pressures on McDonald's, Burger King. and other large fast food chains. He reviews Fair Trade coffee and the implications for child labor practices, water issues and buying locally-grown food.
For much of the book, he attempts to teach why and how grains, beans, and legumes should be the center of a meal and not just a dish. He offers over 100 recipes such as a Whole-Grain Health Bread (pp. 51-52) that includes not only whole wheat, walnuts, and raisins, but also spelt flour and amaranth. Other recipes contain no out-of-the-ordinary ingredients, such as three bean dips for Chickpea, Pinto, and White Bean Dip (pp. 57-59) inspired by New York’s Bright Food Shop that serves them as amuse-bouche. There is even a website for purchasing organic beans.
Pink sections break the text with more in-depth information. Take the waste in disposable chopsticks (p. 70-71)" “Japan is the world’s largest importer of temperate and tropical hardwoods. After construction, disposable chopsticks are the number one use for imported wood.” (p.70) "Know the Codes" (p. 105) is about deciphering the PLU code numbers to understand whether a vegetable is organic, conventional or genetically modified.
The most controversial section of the book is Meat, Game, and Poultry, which urges people to eat less meat or at least to choose alternative meats, like Yak. He outlines the humane certifications (p. 139) and discusses meats, starting with beef (pp. 144-156). Want Ethical Brown Stock (p. 154)? Use ethically raised veal/ Better yet, use beef bones and don’t bother with veal. The book continues with lamb, pork, poultry, and game. providing good recipes for each and plenty of information about humane producers.
What about Foie Gras? Jay falls in with the anti-foie gras crowd because for him any animal that is confined and not free range is inhumanely treated. “It’s widely acknowledged in the scientific community that these animals live the final weeks of their lives in great discomfort, permanently gorged... The one problem that remains is force-feeding, which is, in effect, an exaggeration of the birds’ natural practice of overeating before migration.” (pp. 196-197) He believes that farmers will find a way to encourage that behavior naturally -- and urges consumers to eat regular, unfattened duck liver instead.
The rest of the book takes a look at different fish species, from sturgeon to striped bass, and discusses which should be avoided and which can be consumed. This is an extremely valuable section given the confusion over eating fish, mercury, and Omega-3 fatty acids.
A final section lists The Ethical Gourmet’s Ten Commandments (p. 317), both a handy guide and a poke-in-the-nose of Christian Fundamentalist and Neo-Cons mentioned at the beginning of the book.