Lynn Rossetto Kasper has been doing some reading in her field this summer that she thinks you'll enjoy. She speaks with MPR News' Tom Crann about some books on provocative topics, as well as an interesting cookbook. An edited transcript of their discussion follows.
TOM CRANN: Your first recommendation is actually about a man battling food deserts and it sounds like he's winning. How's he doing it?
LYNN ROSSETTO KASPER: This is about a man named Will Allen ( The Good Food Revolution ). He's based in Milwaukee, started back in the 1990s when he found a vacant lot next to the largest housing project in Milwaukee, you know filled with trash, etc., maybe two acres and five broken-down greenhouses. And he bought this. He didn't know exactly what he was going to do, but he knew the people in the projects were not eating well. He knew firsthand a great deal about the lives they were leading and he figured there's got to be something that can happen inside of a city.
From those, I think, three acres, five small greenhouses, he feeds 10,000 people a year.
The secret here is: he looked at dirt in a way that nobody had ever looked at it before. And this was the deal -- he says if you are going to grow good food, you have to have good dirt. What he discovered was much of what was going into the garbage -- the trimmings, the whatever, as they would harvest -- earthworms would turn into great dirt.
He now has training centers around the country, he lectures all over the country at universities, land grant colleges, etc., about how to make this happen, how to make urban agriculture work, so the word "locavore" takes on another whole meaning.
• The Good Food Revolution by Will Allen.
CRANN: The next book is by a guest you had on your show recently. It's a book you say you can take along to the farmer's market but it's not a cookbook. It's about phytonutrients. What are we talking about?
ROSSETTO KASPER: This is some of the most interesting new nutrition science out there. We're talking about Jo Robinson, a science writer, who has done a book called Eating on the Wild Side: the Missing Link to Optimum Health.
What Jo claims is that over the past decade, new technology has allowed scientists to study many, many, many nutrients that are found in plants that we were not aware of. Phyto means plant. We're talking antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, vitamins, minerals, trace minerals. She has gone through the literature to the tune of 30,000 papers over that decade, assembling this material. What it comes down to is it's not whether or not you eat five apples a day, it's whether or not you know which apple to eat. Because from one type of fruit or vegetable to another, the amount of nutrients in there change.
What she has in the book is a chart which let you compare the nutritional values of fruit and vegetable items.
CRANN: And what kind of apple do we need to be focusing on?
ROSSETTO KASPER: She said forget the Golden Delicious, which is the largest-selling apple in the country. She claims you might as well be drinking high-fructose corn syrup. The Granny Smith is packed with nutrition and other tart apples as well.
It's a fascinating read and a new interesting take on nutrition.
• Eating on the Wild Side: the Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson .
CRANN: Finally, a cookbook. In your line of work, I imagine it has to be pretty extraordinary for it to rise to the top, for you to get excited about it. This one is by an Englishman who just has a great name.
ROSSETTO KASPER: Oh yeah, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. You can't make that up. In England, this is a man, almost god-status. He's a chef. He's a farmer. He's a wonderful writer. He thinks onto the page. And he thinks about food in a way, if you've never walked into a kitchen, you're going to find him intriguing to read.
But he's done a book. His restaurant is the River Cottage, which is very famous in England. This is his vegetable book. It's simply called River Cottage Veg. He has these fabulous simple things you can do, like get yourself a mandolin.
CRANN: Which slices things very thinly.
ROSSETTO KASPER: Really, really, really thin. Or use a vegetable peeler, and go and buy everything that looks interesting in the market. So get the kohlrabi, get the beets, get the onions or whatever.
Shave them paper-thin so you can almost see through them and have lots of color on the plate. He has a great dressing of lemon, honey and a shot of that hot English mustard, and a little oil. It's that kind of simplicity.
He also does a chocolate-beet ice cream.
CRANN: That sounds really good.
ROSSETTO KASPER: But if he's doing it, it's going to be really good. He does a Thai dressing on tomatoes you would never have thought to use. But all dead simple. And this book is not getting the attention it should.
• River Cottage Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.