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Good recipes, poor text
on 10 March 2010
I excitedly ordered this book on my beloved Amazon Prime account over the weekend. I've now read it and felt it necessary to write a review. First, for those that don't know, Victoria Boutenko is a well-known figure in the raw food community. Victoria immigrated with her family to the United States from Russia, and as many immigrants and second-generation Americans find, SAD (Standard American Diet) foods combine nicely with disease. Victoria learned about raw foodism, and dubious, she decided to give this way of life a try for the sake of her ailing family. The only time they looked back came seven years into their massively improved health (having remedied diabetes, asthma, hyperthyroidism, edema, and a myriad of other afflictions). This is where greens came into the picture.
That is the history. Now, as for the book... I must admit, I was disappointed. The recipe section is great, and granted, I ordered the book assuming it was simply a recipe book. So, in that sense, I got what I wanted. At first, I was pleased to discover about seventy-five pages worth of actual text... until I read the text.
Where to begin? There are some amazingly good points in the book, and I absolutely support the daily consumption of green smoothies. (I learned to do this already and have found that my best days start with greens.) Perhaps her most informative point is that rotation of greens is key due to alkaloid build-up. Plants developed a natural defense against extinction: alkaloids. When Rocky the raccoon finds a glorious field of spinach, he can't eat all of it. It would make him sick as the alkaloids in the spinach would build-up in his body. This way the spinach cannot go extinct and Rocky will eventually have to move onto, say, a field of clover. These alkaloids are fine for the body in normal consumption, but if the only green I eat is spinach in abundance (as in smoothies), in a few weeks time, I may find myself feeling slightly poisoned. This to me, was incredibly useful information.
Keeping on with the positive, the appendices are excellent--unfortunately two of the three aren't written by her. The first appendix is written by a man who helped treat a 400-pound man with sciatica. The second appendix is written by the 400-pound man, who through green smoothies and raw food, has dropped to well under two-hundred pounds and loves to live life again. They are beautiful and not full of sweeping statements.
Not full of sweeping statements... like much of Victoria's book. Medically speaking, the book is aggravating, but it is aggravating for the literary as well. Sweeping statements are nobody's friend.
What upsets me is that I largely agree with her views--that the western diet is failing, that medicine treats symptoms and not causes, that people simply need greens. I just find some of her points grossly misrepresent certain situations. For example, on page eleven, she writes of how the SAD is failing and she uses examples of braces for teeth, glasses for eyes, overweight and acne-infested adolescents, and rates of ADD in school children. There are so many things wrong with this that again I ask, where do I begin? She completely ignores the fact that modern technology has allowed more people who need braces and eye glasses to acquire them, that their abundance may not be devolution but simply evolution. She ignores that countries like America are obsessed with braces and straight teeth. She writes of wisdom teeth, saying the narrow jaws of modern people is the result of poor parental nutrition, hence why children need wisdom teeth removed. There are an abundance of theories surrounding wisdom teeth though! One states that perhaps humans have wisdom teeth as teeth would frequently be lost throughout life, therefore, the wisdom teeth would eventually push the other teeth forward, replacing the missing teeth and aid in the process of chewing. It is hard to determine what theories are correct, though she simply ignores other scientific and sociological possibilities and utilizes information to her advantage. Beyond this, ADD diagnosis is a beast--involving problems in the education system, failure of the medical establishment and to an extent, lazy parenting (get the kids off the couch and run around with them!). It is unclear whether ADD actually exists in as rampant a form as US statistics would show. I believe I've only met three children who truly express ADD, though I've met dozens taking ADD medications. Absolutely diet plays a role, but I believe that is all that should be conclusively stated. Diet will not solve all issues surrounding eye care, tooth care, and ADD. Acne will probably still affect adolescents. Even being overweight cannot be fully remedied by diet; exercise is key too (which I'm sure Victoria agrees upon, though her generalizations leave me to feel I must state these things).
Again, on page 32, she makes a marvelous point: protein obsession is the result of a cultural phenomenon based on a few books (and, in my opinion, its recent discovery in 1838). I too am amazed by the amount of people talking about protein. Victoria makes the brilliant comment, " I often wonder why nobody is asking, 'Where can I get my phytonutrients?'" Spot-on. If all the body had was protein, we would die of protein poisoning. Truly. What bothers me is Victoria then writes, "Consider this: cow's milk was green grass just four hours before the cow was milked." First of all, I need to research how cows convert grass to milk before I can make any scientific arguments... but what I can say is that such a statement then could beg the reverse. If milk was grass, what is the difference? She completely ignores the physiological responses and needs of the cow.
At one point, she decides that since our genes are 99.4% identical to those of primates, we should eat more like primates. This makes me want to bang my head against a wall. While it would be great if we could all be Bonobo monkeys, well, it wouldn't.... I can't even delve further into this can of worms.
Moving onward.... Anecdotes are a tricky beast. Doctors seem to have disdain for them, but then they use them. As I've read time and time again in my medical literature books, when all doctors are bleary-eyed at a conference while someone is reading off a paper regarding latest medical research, all ears perk up when anecdotal evidence enters into the report. It is human... even if its not utterly scientific. In Valerie's book, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence. She discusses how her daughter Valya offered fresh grass or high quality dried hay to six horses and all six horses took the grass. This bothered me immensely as if you offered six healthy individuals a tasty strawberry or cooked spinach, they may well all take the strawberry--on that occasion. Give someone too many strawberries though and they'll be begging you for the cooked spinach.
My final irritants: she has a section on green smoothies for pets, which if you knew me, you'd know this would obviously excite me, and it did. In fact, as the anecdote is a two-headed beast, there were a couple great anecdotes in this section. One anecdote told of how a friend's cat was convulsing and Valerie's husband, Sergei, suggested the cat be let outside even though it was an indoor cat. The cat immediately went to get some greens and quickly began to feel better. Another tale told of a friend's cat fed on very cheap dry food and how the cat ate every last house plant, likely in effort to garner more nutrients. Of course I like this section: she expresses love for domestic and wild animals and even delves a bit into nutritional issues... but that is the problem, she delves a bit. Immediately, I began thinking, but cats are almost entirely carnivores. In fact, cats won't eat fruits at all (which she mentions) and I have yet to hear of vegetation being important for a cat. As far as I've researched, cats only vegetation comes from the insides of their prey, which is not to be entirely scoffed at, but simply recognized. Cats most important foodstuffs: meat and taurine. That's it, so far as I've read.
She has some recipes for green smoothies for Fido and Fluffy. I like this. I love this! Nonetheless, canine and feline nutrition is a loaded subject and I do worry that including it with minimal information could be more harmful than helpful. I once received a recipe book for dogs and was taken aback by the use of garlic and raisins in recipes--both toxic for dogs. Yes, I understand, larger quantities are necessary, but we don't eat apple seeds (usually) as they contain arsenic. One would have to eat a lot of apple seeds to become ill, but we avoid these things, don't we? It is a little known fact that avocados are poisonous for dogs as well, so at the very least, I would have liked to see some disclaimers about feeding green smoothies to pets and wild animals (she does this too).
Ultimately, the recipes are great, but I could have done without the text--or better yet, a severe editing job of the text by someone with a more scientifically-geared brain. If you want great smoothie recipes, I totally recommend this book. I totally recommend drinking green smoothies every day--even better if first thing in the morning. Clearly though, I do not recommend the textual portions of this book--they're disappointing at best.