Cookbook? No. Invaluable resource? Yes! I am a food information junkie. Professionally I am often called upon as a resource for food facts. I keep a good library of cookbooks and food related books both at home and at work. So when a colleague of mine sat down at my desk and asked about the book sitting next to my kitchen bible (The Food Lovers Companion) I told him it was my food New Testament. I have had this book in my possession less than a week and it has a ton post it notes sticking out of it and has earned a space at my desk as opposed to my shelf. The Whole Foods Companion is a well laid out resource book covering the world of botanically based foods.
Dianne Onstad is a strong proponent of vegetarian, natural cooking however you do not need to follow her food philosophy to get a huge amount of information from this book. Short of a brief mention of animal products in the introduction you are not hit over the head or bombarded with reasons not to eat meat. Instead she spends her time and energy showing the virtues of "Whole Food" and I am glad she did.
The book is divided into chapters (fruits, vegetables, grains, etcetera) with foods sorted by popular use. This can cause a little confusion for the in the know searcher who may be looking for tomatoes in the fruit section (as this is where botanists place it) as opposed to the vegetable section where it has been placed. I don't think that I can even call this a criticism, as it is a bit of a no win situation, just something the reader needs to keep in mind when looking for the trickier items. As recommended in the introduction, if you are having trouble finding something the index will help you out.
Once you have located the food you were searching for you are greeted with well-organized and sorted information. If you are specifically looking for the health benefits of a specific food a quick glance will bring the reader to the "health benefits" heading. Some of the other headings are: culinary uses, varieties, buying tips, full nutritional information, definitions and general information. You will also find a wealth of relevant quotes, folklore and stories.
The amount of information on each item varies from a quarter of a page for some items to multiple pages for other. The scope of product covered is truly amazing. I consider myself a fairly educated food professional and I loved the number of items I kept coming across that I either had very little knowledge of or in many cases had never heard of.
I know that they say not to judge a book by its cover, but you can take a line from the cover of this one "a guide for adventurous cooks, curious shoppers and lovers of natural food". Whether you are new to cooking, a culinary student or a seasoned professional this is an outstanding resource that will be well broken-in in no time.