What do you eat? Do you eat food? Well, most of you would scoff at that question. Who doesn’t eat food? But it’s a legitimate question, once I clarify what I think of as food.
Food doesn’t contain more than 5 ingredients that most people can’t pronounce immediately. Sure, we’re smart enough to work out a 17-syllable chemical name after some phonetic reading, or indoctrination in the food ingredient reading cult of Nutritionists. But do you know what Xanthan gum really is? (I picked that one because I could spell it, since it’s only 2 syllables.) I sure don’t.
Food doesn’t have a shelf life of several months without freezing or canning.
The word ‘enriched’ doesn’t enter into food. It doesn’t have to be chemically altered to put nutrients back into it.
So. Do you eat food? I know that for most of my life, I haven’t. I love me a Totino’s Party Pizza as a movie night munch. I could scarf a whole loaf of fluffy, pillowy white bread with nothing on it. Mmmmm. Chips? I can usually take them or leave them. I take them to the couch, and then leave the empty bag in the trash can when I’m done with them. Trust me I know my way around the junk food circuit, which is responsible for my ample size. Don’t even let me start on the fast food chains. I saw Super Size Me. If you haven’t, I would suggest it before your next drive thru detour.
But in the last several weeks of trying to learn how to lose the weight, I’ve discovered that what I thought was food really isn’t. Real food comes from nature, not from a factory. Real food contains so many antioxidants and phytochemicals that are naturally occurring that food scientists haven’t even begun to isolate all the health benefits of fruits and vegetables.
I bought some oat flour this morning where the ingredients list consists of one thing: ground whole oats.
Hey! I can read that the first time through!
I also bought some yeast. Not the rapid rise stuff either. The stuff that takes some time. I will give making a loaf of bread a shot. Why is this? Why have I been on the rampage for information on farmers markets, local food options, and humane treatment of livestock for the meat I buy? Why am I scouring websites looking for ways to make my own bread, my own cheese, and learn how to can and preserve?
Well, to start with, I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In it, she endeavored to go a year eating as locally as possible, growing much of her own food herself, and finding it locally for what she couldn’t produce on her own. If there was no viable option for local food, she either did without, or as in the case of wheat flour, she found as close a supplier as possible. She managed to feed her family of four for about fifty cents per person per meal.
I was under the misperception that eating free-range, hormone and antibiotic free meats and home grown or organic vegetables and fruits was expensive. You mean it’s not?
I’m learning that the expense of this kind of food is not so much the money handed over to the cashier at the check-out line but the time and effort it takes to find and purchase local foods or produce it yourself. Plants produce several food units per plant depending on what you choose to grow. For instance, we planted three tomato plants last season, and for a couple weeks, we had more tomatoes than we could possibly eat before they rotted. I didn’t know how to can then, so I had no way of preserving them for later use, and I gifted a lot of them to neighbors and family. Three plants were less than $10 from the nursery in April and we got so many tomatoes out of them in July and August that the equivalent at the grocery store would have likely topped $50 or more. Since Mike isn’t big on eating tomatoes by themselves or on his sandwiches or salads, I had to get creative with recipes so they didn’t go to waste. I ate a lot of tomatoes myself. And believe it or not, it didn’t kill me to slice one of those beauties up and eat it with some salt and pepper instead of getting a bowl of ice cream or some chips for a snack.
So the idea of trying to lose some weight has led to a desire to eat healthier. In the past, I would have reached for the nearest, most popular fad diet book and tried to eat healthier that way. But the buzz of late has become not low-fat/low-carb/glycemic index fad dieting, but getting back to nature. Perhaps American waistlines have increased so much in the last thirty years because we’ve gotten so far away from nature. The benefits of eating more naturally, more locally become forehead-slapping obvious once they’re pointed out. Eating locally means you find out what has been done to the food by the grower. You know if it was chemically treated for pests. You know if the cattle were fed grains or grass. You know if the chickens received hormones in their feed. You know that it didn’t take thousands of gallons of diesel to reach you. You know that food you grow in your garden has certain nutrients based on soil you tilled and worked yourself.
And might I remind you, 50¢ a person is less than the boxed stuff on the shelves that has a use by date starting in 2010.
The human body works in a certain way. Evolutionarily speaking, we’d eventually adapt to bleached and enriched flour if we keep eating it. Growth hormones fed to cows that transfer into milk will eventually become a non-issue since our bodies would change to handle it. But that could take hundreds if not thousands of years. I won’t be around then. And frankly, I don’t like the idea of my body being the guinea pig of Big Food industry to find out what is healthy and what is not and to continue that way of life until my great great great great great great great grandchildren can metabolize highly processed food in a way that won’t mean heart disease and diabetes for them.
Wow, there’s so much more to this healthy thing than I thought. I almost don’t know where to start. I do know that the idea that I eat corn based products from boxed foods and that corn also goes into the packaging of those boxed foods gives me pause. Why don’t I just eat the cardboard, for all the nutrition involved in those powdered seasoning packets.
I’ve been running on the treadmill at work lately. That’s where I’ve started. Learning to eat healthier includes more fruits and vegetables. Grilling, baking, roasting, and less deep frying, less breaded things, smaller portions. I find myself less snack hungry when I eat more fruits and veggies with my meals. And the thing is, I’m actually ENJOYING learning how to do this. And you know what? It feels right. It doesn’t feel like a fad. It feels like I’ve been trapped inside the ironclad idea that food science held all the answers. But you know what? We’re fatter than we’ve ever been and the thing difference in the last thirty years is the industrialization of our food and our penchant for sitting around doing nothing. I’m going to break that mold. My ass-dent in the couch is going to get shallower, and hopefully the ass that made the dent will get smaller.
I don’t want to eat the box. Not anymore. But I have no idea what I’m doing, so this is an experiment of sorts. If anyone has any suggestions, advice, comments, information on local (St. Louis area and Metro East) farmers/markets/locavore groups, I’m all ears. I’m going to be trying new things, like gardening, growing my own food, composting, finding more local meat and dairy producers, reducing the amount while increasing the quality of meat I eat (namely grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free), new recipes, new ways to preserve foods so I can capture them at their peak ripeness and enjoy them throughout the year without having to rely on thousands of miles of transportation costs, both monetary and environmental, to bring me and my family those foods in the off season. It’s gonna be a little crazy. I’m hoping I will learn a lot. I have no plan, other than to try to get as much off the interstate food industry grid as I can. But I don’t want my kids growing up thinking a nutritious meal has to be made in a lab. Let’s see if I can get the nature back into a natural diet in my house. It starts at home.