Thursday, May 7, 2009

Food Matters & Stuff

As I sit here looking out the window on a lovely (relative) Spring evening here in the Puget Sound watching as the youngling attempts to mow the lawn, many things strike me about how lucky we are; I have a great job, we have a roof over our heads, fresh food to put in our bellies, a dog that loves us unconditionally, etc, etc, etc...

We live in the land of plenty and as Americans we tend to waste and / or squander a lot of what we have. Here are a couple that I think about...

  • Food - I have always felt we probably throw out 20% of what we buy for food just because it spoils and that may be a low estimate; land of plenty again.
  • Livestock - raising livestock in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), dreadful places where the animals we eat are made to lie and sleep in their own waste, made to breathe the dust from that same waste, where ruminants (animals with digestive systems built to eat grasses and weeds) that cannot naturally sustain life on grains are fed nothing but grains and then pumped full of antibiotics so they don't get sick from this unnatural setting and diet which then end up in our bodies as we eat these animals that lived an unhappy, medicinal life. All to fatten them up and make them more marketable for humans.

So I've been thinking about these for some time, the first was the reason we began to try and live on a budget and be more mindful of the food we already have and try not to throw out nearly as much (or if at all possible, zero). To eat well, eat everything we buy and stay healthy. As I began this project now becoming more of a lifestyle, I began to read more and more about natural, whole foods and knowing already that one of the keys to living well on a budget was to stay away from processed foods, it made me feel more strongly about what we put in our mouths.

Anyone who knows me understands that food and drink are very, very important to me; more important even than my health as I've let food get in the way of that and now suffer from some chronic conditions because of it. In the past few months I've learned even more about food and the relationship we (I) have with it; some of that from the recent exercise in empathy that some of you no doubt followed as part of the United Way of King County's Hunger Awareness Week. I eat too much, I like the act of eating, I eat for pleasure, I treat food as my best friend, I eat to relieve stress, or because I'm bored, or tired, or cranky, or well anything else. I just eat.

Earlier in the year I read "In Defense of Food" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma" both from Michael Pollan. Now that is when I decided that although we love beef around our house, we would no longer consume feedlot beef (read CAFOs above just to get a better idea of why). Now we still buy chicken and pork from the regular grocers (baby steps) but we do our best to at minimum buy those products from the Pacific Northwest ranchers. I'm certain that eventually we will move away from factory farms altogether and buy only pasture or range fed chicken and pork as well as beef but for now this works. These books not only made me more aware of the state of agriculture in our great country and how it has progressed to get to the place it is now from the smaller family farms of yesteryear but it put me on the path to try and walk the walk as well. We vote with our dollars and I want better food for my son and your kids as well. Better food = variety, color, vitamins, minerals, taste. aroma; "the whole enchilada" so to speak. On the cover of and a number of times inside "In Defense of Food" Mr. Pollan writes three easy to remember "rules" that could easily be adopted by nearly all of us -

  • "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants" - seems pretty simple, pretty economical and pretty healthy huh?
  • "If your Grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, it probably isn't" - Grandma didn't have a lot of processed food to cook with. Processed foods are broken down into the individual nutrients and the reconstructed into "food products" and real nutrition doesn't work that way. Our bodies were meant to consume and utilize for fuel whole foods where the nutrients interact with one another to make a healthy whole food.
  • "Don't buy any food with more than 5 ingredients" - This also speaks to the matter of whole, natural foods as after the first 5 ingredients in most packaged food, the ingredients tend to be fillers, emulsifiers, preservatives, etc.

Anyway, a few months went by and I picked up a copy of "Food Matters" by Mark Bittman, a researcher, food writer, cookbook author and enthusiastic cook. He took the whole idea of better food, CAFOs, global warming (livestock raised for food contribute more pollution to our environment than all the cars, trucks, trains and any other fossil fuel burning vehicles combined), natural whole foods and health and wrapped it all up in this easy to read, fairly short tome that also includes quite a few recipes to get us started. Now Mr. Bittman does not propose a diet necessarily but he does tell how he lost 35 lbs in a few months, how his pre-diabetic conditions went away, how he began to feel better and save money all while lowering his personal impact on the health of the planet. His method? He essentially eats a vegan whole food, whole grain diet until 6pm and then eats whatever he wants after that. He also understands this won't work for everyone but what he touts is essentially the same thing that Michael Pollan mentioned in his "In Defense of Food"; eat less quantity but better quality. He quotes Michael Pollan a number of times in the book and also uses some of what appears to be the same research but he takes this all a step further than just the research and reporting of it to all of us - he puts it into practical practice. His idea is to eat less animal products but when you do, eat the best quality you can and his diet has become mostly plants. Sound familiar?

Now, I've gotten a bit windy and I hope I haven't lost any of you to my ramblings and more than anything I hope this does not come off as preachy. I find the whole thing interesting and am learning that I can still love food if it's healthy, whole, natural just as long as it's tasty. Below is a recipe that I've come to really quite enjoy these past couple of weeks; it's tasty, filling and satisfies me all the way until lunch each day:

Breakfast Bulgur

  • 2/3 C Steamed bulgur (I add a pinch of salt to the water when I stir in the bulgur)
  • 1/2 tsp Ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbl Shredded fine coconut
  • 1oz Chopped pecans
  • 1oz Dried fruit (so far I've used both pineapple and cranberries but will continue to experiment)
  • 1 tsp Walnut oil
  1. Mix it all together and serve at room temperature or slightly warmed
That's about it for tonight, off to make some pasta with fresh cheese, grilled chicken, mushrooms and asparagus.


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