A Hot Date with A Great Book: Eating on The Wild Side

Where do our fruits and vegetables comes from? Not from the supermarket, of course. That’s just where they are sold. Nor do they come from large commercial farms, local farms, or even our backyard gardens. That’s where they are planted, tended, and harvested. The fruits and vegetables themselves come from wild plants that grow in widely scattered areas around the globe. Most of our blueberries are descended from wild “swamp blueberries” that are native to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The wild ancestor of our beefsteak tomato is a berry-sized fruit that grows on the flanks of the Andes Mountains. Our hefty orange carrots are related to scrawny purple roots that grow in Afghanistan. -J. Robinson, Eating on the Wild Side

Eating on the Wild Side

I consumed Jo Robinson’s, Eating on the Wild Side as quickly and delightfully as a handful of wild strawberries. This concentrated, fact-packed book of food history and food science couldn’t have arrived in my life with better timing – it was late February and all I wanted to eat was buttered toast. I’d begrudgingly pick up a bundle of kale at the market and want to weep with boredom. Things were getting dire in the crisper of my refrigerator.

On a drive to work one day, I heard a podcast episode that included a couple of quotes from Robinson’s book, and my attention was immediately piqued; I ordered it the next day. When the book arrived, I experienced a wave of excitement when I held it in my hands, as if my spirit, literally, had been hungry for this exact thing. By the time I reached the second chapter my brain was doing joyous back flips and my stomach was rumbling.

Consuming Robinson’s book was like a hot date with your partner after co-parenting a mostly tyrannical 3 year old all winter (no reflection on my personal life, none at all, move along), and it inspired a great surge of vitality into the way I was thinking about my relationship with fruits and vegetables. I suddenly saw them in a new light: Fruits and veggies, you endlessly adapting nutritional powerhouses of complexity and flavor – I want you! 

That next Sunday, at the Farmer’s Market in Lewiston, I thought WHOA PURPLE CARROTS YOU’RE LOOKING MIGHTY FINE TODAY MMMM HMMM!

For those of you who feel like you need a charge in your relationship with the plants that you understand, in theory, provide essential keys to health, but about which you also occasionally feel blahhh – you’ve got to check out this book.

In the meantime, check out a few of these facts from Eating On the Wild Side. (And yes, these facts are accompanied by a hefty list of research citations at the end of the book; Robinson doesn’t skimp on anything, including food science.)

• Tearing Romaine and Iceberg lettuce the day before you eat it quadruples its antioxidant content.

• The healing properties of garlic can be maximized by slicing, chopping, mashing, or pressing it and then letting it rest for a full 10 minutes before cooking.

• The yellowest corn in the store has 35 times more beta-carotene than white corn.

• Cooking potatoes and then chilling them for about 24 hours before you eat them (even if you reheat them) turns a high-glycemic vegetable into a low- or moderate-glycemic vegetable.

• Carrots are more nutritious cooked than raw. When cooked whole, they have 25 percent more falcarinol, a cancer-fighting compound, than carrots that have been sectioned before cooking.

• The smaller the tomato, the more nutrients it contains. Deep red tomatoes have more antioxidants than yellow, gold, or green tomatoes.

• The most nutritious tomatoes in the supermarket are not in the produce aisles— they are in the canned goods section! Processed tomatoes, whether canned or cooked into a paste or sauce, are the richest known source of lycopene. They also have the most flavor.

• Storing broccoli wrapped in a plastic bag with tiny pin pricks in it will give you up to 125 percent more antioxidants than if you had stored the broccoli loosely wrapped or in a tightly sealed bag.

• Thawing frozen berries in the microwave preserves twice as many antioxidants and more vitamin C than thawing them on the counter or inside your refrigerator.

Jo Robinson has done her research, and combined with a smooth and entertaining writing style, she delivers a truly fascinating read. If you need inspiration like I did, you can get this book here.