“My New Roots”

Sarah Britton. My New Roots. New York: Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2015.

A highly-stylized and comprehensive presentation of a synthesis between slightly contradictory tendencies of veganism and the ancestral diet, carried through tales of local-food celebration with a slight nod to grain-free cuisine and its creative applications of chia seeds.

A design-school graduate-cum-holistic health coach re-locates from New York City to Coppenhagen and finds work at a vegetarian restaurant upon discovery that her American nutrition certificate will not get her a job in Denmark. With continued blogging about her creative successes in the kitchen, “requests for cooking classes and lectures started pouring in.” (7-8) Of the tendency which suggests eating healthy, whole foods is a sure-fire way towards health, as she states an inspiring anathema for health calibrated by the pleasure of eating wholesome and carefully-constructed foods: “I get many emails from readers asking for the nutritional breakdown of my recipes, and I can happily tell them that it doesn’t matter because every one of those calories is good for them. Health is the natural consequence of using whole foods, organic ingredients, and conscious cooking techniques. What you eat becomes something to celebrate, instead of something to scrutinize. For me that means abandoning diets and embracing this way of eating as a lifestyle, because that is exactly what it is. It is quite simply the most liberating way of eating and living.” (11) This expression of the incidental nature of eating well is respectably inclusive, though subject to the foibles of false claims of ideological neutrality. “It’s not about what the food is or isn’t. The bottom line is, it’s delicious and it just so happens to be good for you.” (11)

But the book is not free from reference of the miraculous powers of micronutrients and other components of food whose names are indecipherable by the palate. Her recipes are often accompanied by quips about the virtues of the ingredients using scientific terminology, which compliment the lay-enthusiasm which begin each recipe. For example:

“BLUEBERRIES: Blueberries rank at the top of the list when it comes to antioxidant-rich foods. Their anthocyanin content is extremely high; these are the nutritious, colorful pigments that give many foods their deep shades of blue, red and purple. Happily, new studies show that freezing blueberries does not lower their overall antioxidant capacity or anthocyanin concentrations. This is wonderful news if you like to pick your own berries in the summer and freeze them, or if you can only purchase them from your grocer’s freezer.” (120)

Potential mis-steps of this blurry scientism crossed with poetic aesthetics and vernacular appreciation of consumption are indicates right about here: “It is not a coincidence that certain foods give us what we need during specific times of the year: high-water-content foods in the summer, such as crispy cucumbers and tomatoes cool us down; sweetly rich, starchy, calorie-dense foods like pumpkins and beets to fuel us through the winter.” Evoking the cosmological significance of the timeliness of cultivars developed by human activity (perhaps the origin of their non-coincidentality), the aesthetic and seasonal appeal of certain kinds of foods does not necessarily correlate to Britton’s descriptions (pumpkins, too, are 94% water, and are not particularly calorie-dense).

Amidst our continued contention around what constitutes healthful, whole food (a crude and version of this contention demonstrable in the recent yet already out-dated disagreements between low-fat and low-carb paradigms), there is something re-vitalizing about an approach which suggests that healthy choices can be spear-headed by such a sensuous approach to not only internal health, but also external surroundings. While this certainly results in some suspicious conclusions too-easily drawn (or which mistake our aesthetic preference for the kind of intuition whose direction might have little to do with gourmet consumption), the most interesting contention here seems to me to be the potential class disparities between the lifestyle presented in Britton’s work, and those of her readers. This is but one reflection of a phenomena certainly much bigger than is fair to use to gut Britton, but what can we make of how lifestyle choices formerly adopted out of necessity have been glamorized, and the ways in which the ethical implication of a diet such as the one depicted in this cookbook— the romanticization of cooking beans and whole grains — seem to be part of what makes it so compelling? As alternative lifestyle options gain popularity, will those who have tended the knowledge they depend upon receive any credit or benefit (i.e., support to continue the work they have been doing against popular recognition) for its emergent circulation? Will such a rustic and humbly wholesome diet, whose indulgence is in the guiltless and sensuous pleasure of season garden delights, continue to drift out of grasp from the audiences which comprise her readers, while meanwhile those clever with design have support and resources to re-compose their heritage with fraught colonial origins? The visually-rich component of Britton’s work is certainly important, and a celebration of the beauty of food should be unrestricted. What might a healthful approach look like in which the celebration of well-being (and the dispensation of day-to-day information which is so foundational to it) circulates in such a way as to be multi-directional? What other institutional accessibility ought to be in place such that a celebration of life through healthful food is not a substitute for accurate scientific information, when such data is necessary?

This issue of how health innovation, and innovation generally occurs, seems like it ought to be credited; that within this economic structure, self-promotion is a necessity, yet the true ancestral antecdents of this development often go unacknowledged. This seems like a similar issue regarding the remuneration of domestic labor of women that was dear to second-wave feminism; except here, we enter a paradigm that is less staunchly gendered, and which extends to creative labors of all kinds. I think a big part of why this author is so interesting to me is her near emblematization of a popular strain of contemporary domestic fantasies; presumably she does not suffer from the stress of poverty, and yet somehow there is a hint of populism when she expresses the hardship of managing her own business, raising children, and still putting picturesque family dinners on the table. It all seems as easy as simply doing the domestic work — is it?

Britton capitalizes the word Earth and has been introduced to Traditional Chinese Medicine. (11) Britton teaches you how to soak grains and beans, how to make sprouts, and how to clarify butter. She writes, “the first time I cooked dried beans, I felt like I had discovered the Promised Land. What a triumph! What a revelation!” (15) Sally Fallon receives no credit in the cook-book. Britton celebrates her own success, espousing upon the seed and psyllium packed loaf titled “The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread” which “launched My New Roots into the blog stratosphere.” (40)

She gives readers a grasp on the components of a largely-vegetarian meal (sauce, grain, vegetables).

I want to cook “Roasted Pumpkin with Black Rice and Tangerine Tahini Sauce,” (188-9) and “butternut stacks with kale pesto, kasha, and butter beans.” (222) Sushi made with soaked sunflower seeds.