The dust jacket may suggest a straightforward health guide, but break the binding on this book by Joe Schwarcz, a McGill University professor and Discovery Channel Canada regular, and you’ll find a livelier take on wellness. Using a Q&A format, Schwarcz tries to clear up confusion on eating well, exercising, and, uh . . . whether amphetamines are as bad for elephants as they are for humans. (Yes.) He tackles everyday curiosities — for example, why store-bought ice cream uses “modified milk ingredients.” (It’s a cheaper, concentrated form of milk with a longer shelf life, he says, but harmless health-wise.) Sometimes, his answers get a little bit saucy. Does an apple a day really help prevent cancer? “Maybe,” says Schwarcz. “Almost certainly if you’re a laboratory rat and have apple extract pumped into your stomach every day throughout your life after being exposed to a carcinogen.” Hey, sorry we asked.
One nice thing about fruits and vegetables: They grow out of the ground, including the ground in your own back yard. In her new book, Tanya Denckla Cobb surveys community food projects across the country, following organizations and individuals making an effort to avoid corporate farms by growing dinner close to home. Cobb profiles such groups as the Home Gardening Project, based in Portland, Ore., which creates raised-bed vegetable gardens for those in need, and Farm to Table D.C., which helps connect local farmers directly with District restaurants. The book offers some guidelines for self-starters, including advice on how to organize a community garden and the basic requirements for keeping chickens in your back yard (if you want to kick things up a notch). Why toil in the dirt? Mainly, to have better access to fresh, nutritious and flavorful produce. But it can also be easier on the pocketbook. “The National Gardening Association estimates that a well-maintained food garden yields on average a $500 return, based on average market prices of produce,” writes Cobb.