If you buy one book for your kitchen, make it Joanna Blythman’s What to Eat…

We are bombarded daily with messages about the food we eat. Newspapers, TV and the internet telling us about the latest “superfood”, miracle ingredient or diet or health scares. Then there’s health claims on packaging, supermarket promotions and advice from celebrity chef’s or experts. All of this can create a constant background noise of conflicting, confusing information and mis-information.

Against this background, Joanna Blythman has thrown us a lifeline: a no-nonsense reference book with independent advice on What to Eat.

The book opens with 20 principles of eating made simple, with headings such as “practice vegetable-centric eating” and “adopt a ‘closest to home’ buying policy”.

There is a section on how how to keep to your ethics without breaking the bank. With rising food prices there are some tricks that can help reduce your weekly food spend. For instance, taking time to look for alternatives to supermarkets.

The book is then divided into different food group chapters, from vegetables through to larder staples. For each type of food Joanna gives extensive and comprehensive guidance – a lot of work has gone into this book. Even providing inspiration on ways to prepare each food, she answers the questions you ask yourself when you’re shopping or looking through the ingredient’s list in a recipe : Is it good for me? How is it grown? Is it a green choice? When and where can I buy it? and Will it break the bank?

Something very likeable about the approach of the book is that Joanna doesn’t harangue her reader for not adhering to idealistic food rules and isn’t critical. Instead, she lays out the ethics and encourages the reader to follow them.

Nutrition is described as a science that is “work in progress” – so true. You only have to think back to the nineties when sunflower margerines were touted as healthier than butter. Joanna was one of the few dissenting voices warning us of the dangers of hydrogenated fats and the transfats they produce.

I read Joanna Blythman’s The Food We Eat when it was published in 1996. At the time I was looking into studying nutrition and working at a company, whose clients included NutraSweet. The Food We Eat answered a lot of the questions I was asking about food. Just to put it into context, the internet was just starting up. Sixteen years later (eek) with with all that background noise, What to Eat provides clarity. By informing readers, it equips them with the knowledge they need to make ethical food choices.

If you have a local independent bookshop buy a copy of What to eat there. I bought mine from the lovely Bookends in Christchurch, or buy it online at Waterstones.

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