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FPP#3: Figuring Out What to Eat

Today's first paragraph:

What should we have for dinner?

Some context: We're reading nonfiction. The query about dinner appears in italics, in a slightly more formal font than what follows. It's not a header or the title of a section; there's no extra space before the next paragraph, just a stress on that opening line.

Now imagine you're on West Burnside, browsing new arrivals in the Green Room. (The hardcover won't be here until April, but let's pretend.) Within arms reach, dozens of face-out covers stare at you with innocent, puppy eyes. If you've bothered to pull this one off the shelf, you won't give up after one sentence, right?

The author continues:

This book is a long and fairly involved answer to this seemingly simple question. Along the way, it also tries to figure out how such a simple question could ever have gotten so complicated. As a culture we seem to have arrived at a place where whatever native wisdom we may once have possessed about eating has been replaced by confusion and anxiety. Somehow this most elemental of activities — figuring out what to eat — has come to require a remarkable amount of expert help. How did we ever get to a point where we need investigative journalists to tell us where our food comes from and nutritionists to determine the dinner menu?

Woo hoo! Long and fairly involved! How's that for enticing? Props to the writer for telling it straight, but possibly you're in the mood for something less demanding. Before you give up, though: Remember those professors that inflated their syllabus on the first day of class to scare away lazy students, weeding the group down to size? Some of them turned out to be pushovers. The author is confident, at least, and that's generally a promising sign.

I kept reading because the first full paragraph gave just a wide-angle, aerial view. Say the words "native wisdom" and feel your head fill up with thin air. But I've skimmed ten pages of the writer's previous book, so I came to this one with some ideas. I wanted to wait for the zoom. And here it came:

For me the absurdity of the situation became inescapable in the fall of 2002, when one of the most ancient and venerable staples of human life abruptly disappeared from the American dinner table. I'm talking of course about bread. Virtually overnight, Americans changed the way they eat. A collective spasm of what can only be described as carbophobia seized the country, supplanting an era of national lipophobia dating to the Carter administration. The latter was when, in 1977, a Senate committee had issued a set of "dietary goals" warning beef-loving Americans to lay off the red meat. And so we dutifully had, until now.

Three paragraphs. A hearty serving this time. "I feel bloated," my friend Hooman would say. Please don't let slip to your nutritionist how we've indulged you. Instead, tell us how you feel. Would you read more?

Sidebar: Have you ever tried some form of the Atkins diet? How'd that go for you? Doug, if you're reading, fess up.

Come back Monday to find today's author and title, along with another opening passage from a not-yet-published book.

[Rewind to the previous First Paragraph Preview, or skip straight to its author and title.]

Update: Read more about this book.

÷ ÷ ÷

Dave interviews authors for Powell's. He created our Out of the Book film series. He likes cats and dogs.


Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Girls
    Used Hardcover $2.95
  2. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural...
    Used Hardcover $10.50


Dave is the author of Out of the Book, Volume 3: State by State

4 Responses to "FPP#3: Figuring Out What to Eat"

  1.  
    SuperSuper February 9th, 2006 at 7:44 pm

    Is it nitpicking to complain about that "was" in the next-to-last sentence? "The latter WAS when..."? Why does it bother me so much, one casual, passive verb?

    Never done Atkins myself. Do they still put Atkins (or low-carb) stamps of approval on food packaging? Did they stop when the fad died down or have I just stopped noticing?

  2.  
    bicycle February 12th, 2006 at 12:38 am

    it's true and completely twisted that for a couple years ordering hamburgers without buns and sandwich meats with salad instead of bread was not the least bit unusual. you'd have thought the FDA announced that carbs damage reproductive organs and increase the incidence of male pattern baldness. if the government really wanted to shut down Big Tobacco, they'd just have to figure out how to make cigarettes fattening. 4,000 calories a pack.

    i definitely want to read more. it sounds interesting. but i agree that "was" is lazy. it's a great paragraph, the third one -- collective spasm, carbophobia, national lipophobia -- and "was" lets a tiny bit of the ordinary back in.

  3.  
    pop!goes February 12th, 2006 at 1:05 am

    MOO! MOO! MOO! the cow says. EAT! MORE! BREAD!

  4.  
    Silver March 6th, 2006 at 4:43 am

    I would definantly read more of this. If anything else it promises not to be dry, slightly entertaining, and maybe even informational.

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