Friday, July 22, 2011

The Politics of Food

Whew!  The last week or so has been a whirlwind wrapped up in a heat wave with a little extra craziness thrown in for good measure.  Now that things have calmed down a bit, I can actually get back to "normal," if there ever was such a thing.

I was trying to find a way to bring up how food has become increasingly political in a natural, easy going manner.  Enter Ann from Cooking Healthy For Me!  Ann commented on my previous post about organics providing a perfect starter topic on food, politics, and preference.  While Ann appreciates organic food, "sometimes finances dictate."  An honest statement and a perfect conversation starter. 

Food is a political topic.  By that I don't mean the standard American Democrat/Republican kind of "political," though both parties certainly have their own ideas about food, regulation, subsidies, and other topics.  What I mean is that food choices and food lifestyles are not only about preferences and tastes, but also about all of the other issues attached to food.  Some people will only purchase meat that is hormone free, grass fed, free range and antibiotic free.  Others won't buy produce that has seen pesticide.  Still others will only buy items that bear the "fair trade" label.  The lists of will and won't buy items stretch as far as the eye can see.  While some choices are perplexing, others seem rigid and others yet seem out of our financial scope, none of them are intrinsically wrong.

Though our food choices are packed with politics, they are also extremely personal.  Everyone is on their own path to wellness and their food lifestyles are purely their own.  Just because I say I'm going to try and replace a chunk of my produce with organic varieties, doesn't mean you have to.  I'm not better than you or anyone else for making that choice.  It just happens to be where I currently am at in relation to my health goals.  Some folks are just starting out, and simply adding more fruits and vegetables into their diet is a wonderful first step.  Others are leaps and bound beyonds me with some of the cleanest food lifestyles out there.  I don't feel inferior to them for where I am on my path and neither should you.

Where things get complicated, as if they weren't already, is in the financial department.  If finances didn't come into play, my crispers would be stocked with wholly organic produce.  Only the finest free range chicken and antibiotic free eggs would be allowed in my refrigerator.  But, once I return to reality I realize that my good intentions can't always be made manifest.  And you know what, that's ok.  I am a huge advocate of living well, but also living within your means.  What that means to you and what that means to me can be totally different things.  That's what's fun about food and lifestyle choices!

I'm excited about my commitment to cleaner cooking and eating.  My husband is joining me as well and even making some healthy swaps of his own.  Positive changes are definitely catching!  So stay tuned!  I have a great, and cost effective, recipe to share with you (complete with photos!) soon.   

Monday, July 11, 2011

Be Organic! B-E Organic!

Organic foods weren't popular when I was younger.  We had one health food store which kept moving locations because they could never pay their rent.  For a short time we could order seasonal produce from a local purveyor, but I think we were the only family who opted in.  We lived in a small town and not many people were really on board with the organic movement at that time.  As a kid, I was heinously embarrassed by anything in the house that wasn't Kool-Aid, Little Debbie or Kraft.  I couldn't realize or appreciate the fact my parents were trying to put something better on the table than high fructose corn syrup, pesticides and FD&C Red #40.

Now that I have a few years' distance from the "assimilate, resistance is futile" days of young adulthood, organic produce is a hot-button issue.  Buying organic is now a status symbol.  You aren't somebody unless you shop and eat organically.  And while you might not want to listen to your co-worker's diatribe on the virtues of leading an organic lifestyle, they aren't wrong.

Pesticides are creepy and you shouldn't eat them.  That should go without saying.  We were taught at a very young age that you don't eat products that are designed to kill.

Anyone else remember this?

Like most people these days, I'm looking to get the best value for my dollar.  I know I've been one to pass up the organic aisle at the grocery store because I didn't consider it cost effective.  I wash my fruits and vegetables before cooking them or eating them, I filter my water, everything's good, right?  Well, not so much it seems. and The Environmental Working Group have compiled lists about the most notorious offenders.  I was shocked to realize a good amount of the fresh produce we buy and eat are highly contaminated!  

The World Health Organization tells us that "Long-term exposure to pesticides can increase the risk of developmental and reproductive disorders, immune-system disruption, endocrine disruption, impaired nervous-system function, and development of certain cancers. Children are at higher risk from exposure than are adults"  That's scary stuff, you guys.  I can't bury my head in sand about this and I can't keep up with the Joneses when that means putting myself and my family at risk for things like reproductive disorders and cancer.  Grapes aren't worth all that!

Grocery shopping day is Wednesday, we can't stand shopping on the weekend, so this week we'll be making a new traffic pattern in the grocery store.  This week it is out with the "dirty dozen," and in with safer and healthier produce.  While it may cost a bit more now, it will do far more good in the long run.


Friday, July 8, 2011

"Summertime, and the living is easy!"

There truly are few things sweeter than the abudance of produce summer offers.  There are plump cherries, sweet little blueberries and refreshing watermelon slices as far as the eye can see.  I'd like to share with you a quick, healthy, and oven-minimal dessert which will mindfully wind down any summer meal.

Broiled Peaches with Greek Yogurt

  • 1-2 peaches or any other stone fruit
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 individual container (or several spoonfuls) plain Greek yogurt
  • honey to taste
  • scant handful chopped walnuts
Get your broiler nice and hot.  Wash your peaches, or other stone fruit, and dry thoroughly.  Slice in half and remove the pit.  Sprinkle a touch of sugar on the cut surfaces.  Place sliced fruit under your broiler.  After fruit is nice and bubbly, remove from oven and pop on a plate.  Scoop the cool Greek yogurt into the divot.  Drizzle honey over top and sprinkle with walnuts to finish.

This is a wonderful way to utilize any stone fruit you've purchased that might be a few days off from being ripe.  Also, it is easily adaptable for nectarines or plums.  You could even broil pineapple slices, though you may want to back off the sugar as it is so naturally sweet.

This is a dessert that will satisfy even the most discerning sweet tooth.  Perfect for a summer evening!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nutritionally Negative

This past long holiday weekend the husband and I traveled out of state for a wedding.  Weddings are a perfect time to really let your hair down and live it up.  Unfortunately, it's also a time to overindulge.  Doubly so because during the weeks leading up to the wedding, if you're like me, you watch what you eat like a hawk so as not to be an embarrassment in the photos that will never ever die.  Triply so when said wedding takes place where you grew up and in close proximity to familiar (but no longer easily accessible) foods.  Quadruply so when you add family and the traditional area wedding cookie tables into the mix.  And so on and so on and so on.

All of this over-indulging leads me to my newest personal eating discovery: nutritionally negative foods.  Have you ever gone to breakfast, indulging in the gloriously decadent or notoriously greasy offerings, only to feel hungry and unfulfilled a mere thirty minutes later?  Have you ever stopped in for a sandwich brimming with luscious meats and cheeses on fluffy white bread and then felt as if you didn't eat anything shortly thereafter?  Me too.  After plowing through more cookies than I have fingers on which to count them, eating a breakfast that was delicious but devoid of nourishment, and wolfing down sandwiches lacking sustenance, I was hungry.  Really, truly hungry.  One of the good things to come out of my "I will not look like a stuffed sausage" mantra pre-wedding, was that I was able to identify honestly substantial grub.  I made quinoa salads and ate whole fruits.  Lean chicken breast and grilled fish were the entrees du jour.  Anything less than 64 ounces of water in a day just wouldn't do.  I banished excess salt and limited sugars to just a bit of Splenda if the need arose.*

Given my strict adherance to a healthier way of living, why did I fall back into bad habits?  Probably because I felt I deserved a treat...or 15.  We all do deserve a pat on the back for putting ourselves and healthy living as a priority.  But eating junk mindlessly is no reward.  Who, after much dedication and progress, rewards themselves with a kick in the teeth? 

It feels very good to get back into the swing of things, but I can already see the storm on the horizon brewing.  It's a birthday weekend this weekend full of all the cake, drinks, and dinners out that come with it.  I'll be posting some healthy, filling and nutrtionally sound recipes this week partly as a reminder to myself to eat conscientously and partly if I need a penance for my misdeeds.

* Sugar, artificial sweeteners, agave, HFCS, honey, stevia, etc. are a whole other bag of cats.  The pros and cons of which warrant a post unto themselves.  We'll get there, promise! 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Here We Are At Last

Starting this blog has been a long time in coming.  Blogger tells me that I've been a member since November 2010.  It means I've sat on this blog, and all the good intentions that come with it, for almost 8 months.  Granted in that time period the holidays have come and gone, as have several birthdays, and finally, the most personally pressing, my wedding.  But this busy-ness is a perfect introduction to this whole project.  I can reflect back on my food decisions and patterns during those busy times to really figure out what works and what doesn't.  Afterall, it's much easier to be mindful and thoughtful of what you're cooking and eating when you have the time energy to devote to it.  Entering into present and future endeavors with a clear understanding of where you've been is key for growth of any sort.  Even if it is a fledgling food blog.

I've stripped my main point down to the brass tacks here.  If I eat like shit, I feel like shit.  Plain and simple.  Or is it?  To answer that, no, it is neither simple nor plain.  What I define as "shit" might be someone's day to day diet.  What I aspire to, another person may consider that the norm.  Food and food choices are highly personal and, ever increasingly so, highly political.  What makes me feel like garbage (mentally, physically, emotionally or otherwise) might not affect the next ten people I see in the same way.  But pinpointing what foods make me feel, for lack of a better word, good and what foods make me feel like trash is necessary.  I can't clean up my cooking or eating habits without knowing what foods belong in what piles.  You need to try on that dress from 3 years ago, looking at yourself in it from every angle, before deciding to keep it, donate it, or just pitch it.

So here we are, at the point where I'm looking at my culinary closet deciding what fits and what is beyond help and has to go.  Will there be mistakes?  Yep.  Will there be set backs?  Oh yes.  Will I find myself eating gelato straight out of the freezer with the lights off because calories don't count in the dark?  Probably.  I want to sort through all the crap as best I can to live a healthy and fruitful life, and boy is there a lot of crap out there.