If 2009 was the year of the baking books, 2010 was the year of the media cookbook. Sunset magazine, Bon Appétit and The New York Times (review coming later this week) all published their decades-thick reflections on the molten chocolate cakes of the 1990s and the bulgar pilafs of the millennium. Just in time for New Year's resolutions, we get another magazine mouthful, The Men'sHealth Big Book of Food and Nutrition: Your Completely Delicious Guide to Eating Well, Looking Great, and Staying Lean for Life.
The grocery store stand eye-catching title pretty much sums up the latest “non-diet” diet book from a slick magazine's sales perspective (those half-page glam shots of pears, cranberries and other produce could as easily be a low-slung denim style guide). So yes, the book appears to be aimed at the stereotypical single guy who feeds off the corporate expense account on Wall Street Journal weekdays, then lolls into a steady liquid diet of beer, wine and Bloody Mary's on the weekend.
If that sounds like someone you know, someone who probably already needs a New Year's Resolution bailout, then by all means, turn the page for more (the recipes are actually pretty good). If not, we suggest you skip the oddly paradoxical lecture on the power of tarragon to both increase and “release” the appetite (page 108: “By increasing the secretion of bile and acids into the stomach, tarragon improves gastric efficiency and whets the appetite.”) and come back for our review of the Vegetarian Times' Everything Vegan cookbook tomorrow.
To say The Men'sHealth Big Book of Food and Nutrition is a cookbook is a stretch, as only the last 100 pages are devoted to the “100 healthiest meals on earth.” Not that the Introduction skirts around the fact that this is a “rule book” for eating. After plowing through the pages, we're told: “And to quote that hairy guy from the Men's Warehouse commercials, you're going to like the way you look.” Good to know. But are we going to like the book?
The book is divided into eight chapters, written in what we can only describe as Man-glish, beginning with a FAQ section (“Does nuking food destroy its ingredients?”), a chapter on why the standard diet advice doesn't apply today (“OK, so diets don't work. What's a man to do? Quite frankly… eat like a man.”), and one about the “lies” told on food labels and in restaurants, or as the subtitle dubs it, “Creepy food facts popular restaurants don't want you to know.”
So what about the recipes? They're actually pretty solid (Do we sound surprised? We were.). For instance, in the “Sandwiches and Burgers” section, even the most basic grilled chicken sandwich gets a slice of real Swiss cheese, nothing fat-and-flavor-free, to go along with the grilled chicken, red onions and fresh jalapeños piled on top. The fish stew (halibut or orange roughy) with chickpeas and couscous and that “easy roast salmon” (drizzled with balsamic vinegar and lemon juice and sprinkled with bread crumbs, pepper and parsley) sound like potentially flavorful, and easy, weeknight mains. But there are some oddities, like those “low-cal oatmeal cookies” in the “Sweet Stuff” section that taste a bit hypocritical – the recipe relies on both Splenda artificial sweetener and reduced-calorie margarine, hardly all-natural products, when fake food additives are vilified in chapter five (“Stop Swallowing Food-Label Lies”) in favor of all-natural foods.
So yes, while this is yet another diet and nutrition book with its preachy fresh peach tone and calorie-restricted menu pages, for some reason, it is oddly compelling. Or at least in that same way that Men'sHealth and their mindless magazine ilk can suddenly become addictive 5-minute flip-through fare in the grocery store checkout line. Besides, we all know that flipping through the pages isn't the same as buying the magazine — or that diet book.