|taste the rainbow - fresh veggies from the farmer's market|
I am not a very opinionated person. It is a rare topic that gets me excited or angry. But if you start talking to me about food, you may have a hard time getting me to stop. I love recounting my latest cooking experiments, telling about a new cookbook or ingredient I've discovered, or going all preachy and giving you my eating philosophy. I actually don't talk to people very much about why I eat the food I do, because I find that I can't relate to most people. When I overhear people talking about their attempt to be healthy with low-fat this or that, Healthy Choice meals, low-calorie snack packs, substitute sweeteners, and worst of all, margarine, I have to leave. It is amazing to me how many people still have such a skewed view of what is healthy. I don't even try to talk to most people about it, because they just don't get it. And I understand, because I was sort of there at one time.
I was a lucky child with a mother who cooked dinner every night and with a lot of fresh ingredients. Now my memory may be failing me a bit, but about the worst thing I remember is occasionally eating rice-a-roni and coveted Little Debbie snacks for a lunchbox snack, though she made plenty of homemade treats. I had grown up with the common misconceptions that slowly built up over the last few generations - for breakfast people eat boxed cold cereal, margarine is healthy, fatty food makes you fat, etc. However, in my late high school years, my parents were introduced to the book The Schwarzbein Principle by Diana Schwarzbein. This book advocated balanced meals - a proper amount of redefined food groups of protein, fats, green vegetables, and carbohydrates (includes grains, starchy vegetables, and fruit) - and eating them in their most natural state possible, while avoiding those things that are not natural - preservatives, refined sugar, refined flour, low-fat, hydrogenated fats, etc. The reason the author gives for eating this way is that it has the power to prevent and REVERSE degenerative diseases, especially type II diabetes. As a doctor, she was able to put this into practice with her patients and see the results. The real value of this book was it really got me to start to question commonly accepted views about healthy eating.
So it all comes back to the simple truth that diet (meaning the food we eat) and how much we move are the two most important elements of a healthy lifestyle. Not really surprising. But, even though most people know this, they are confused about what eating healthy really means. The labels say low-fat, low-calorie, high in antioxidants, whole grain, lowers cholesterol, etc. But the real secret is eating food with no labels at all, or at least minimal labeling - fruits and vegetables, legumes, quality meat, poultry, and fish, eggs, whole grains bought in bulk. Michael Pollan really summed it up with his eating recommendations in In Defense of Food: eat food (food must be real food, not processed food, which means we have to spend some time in the kitchen), not too much, mostly green. Mostly green? That means vegetables! It's sad that many American's least favorite foods are vegetables: peas, brussels sprouts, broccoli.
A while ago I read French Women Don't Get Fat. I was highly impacted by the author's pure delight in eating fruits and vegetables. The secret is to eat them fresh, in season, and ripe - and the place to get these, short of your own backyard, is a farmer's market. France thrives on farmer's markets. So eventually I found a farmer's market near me and started going. It took me a while to fully warm up to them, but once I did, I became forever hooked. And thankfully, many others agreed with me, as farmer's markets are becoming more available (including winter markets) all over the country.
After browsing the markets, I joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) where I pre-paid for 20 weeks of the farm's harvest. I picked up my bag every week and then tried to figure out how to use it all. I used it as a learning experience to help me learn how to like vegetables better. I documented what I received each week and then what I made in my CSA series on this blog. The CSA introduced me to kale, chard, garlic scapes, beets, and as of this year kohlrabi, delicata squash, and fennel. CSAs are economical in that the amount of food received is cheaper than buying it a la carte, but if you don't eat it all, then maybe not.
Now that I have a baby who's about to start eating solids, I am determined to feed her with whole foods and help her learn to love vegetables (along with my husband and me). I still have much to learn and need to change some aspects of the way I eat (abominable sugar), but as Diana Schwarzbein emphasized, ANY change in the right direction will still benefit your health.
As I've learned more about food over the years, the principles that resonated the most with me were ones I could support with the health guidelines provided by God. This food quest is at it's base spiritual - the stewardship we have to take care of our bodies, having healthy, strong bodies so we can serve others, respecting the earth and all of God's creations, teaching our children truths, developing self-discipline by controlling appetites, and taking care of my family as a wife and mother.
In summary, here are some things I live by and some things I still have to work on:
1. Eat food in season and locally grown.
2. Preserve food when in season.
3. Eat less meat - most meals should be vegetarian. When meat is eaten, it is more for flavor than the main attraction.
4. Make as many items from scratch as possible, using whole ingredients.
5. Use a wheat grinder for freshly ground flours.
6. Grow a garden.
7. Enjoy eating - not just the treats.
And here are the books and resources that have gotten me to where I am. There are many more worthwhile resources, but these are the ones I have encountered. Please share if you have recommendations.
The Schwarzbein Principle by Diana Schwarzbein
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Food Matters by Mark Bittman
French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano
French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon
Forks Over Knives
Super Size Me
recipe blogs or cookbooks
Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson
Tender by Nigel Slater
The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters