Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why and How I Eat

All right, so the explanation of the title of this post might seem obvious: I eat because if I didn’t, I would starve, and I do it by placing food in my mouth, chewing, and swallowing. As you may have guessed, this is not what I mean. I want to talk a little about why I eat what I do, as well as why and how I try to be aware of what I’m consuming and take pleasure in having it. I’m not going to get into a lengthy discussion about the problems with the food industry in North America, or the problems with what and how people are eating in North America, because then this post would be much, much too long and I’m sure I would still have more to say on the subject. But I will say this: most of us are not thinking enough about what we’re eating, why we do, and whether or not we should. People are seeking convenience and economy, and dinner has become something we grab from a drive-through window and eat in the car, or throw in the microwave, and devour in front of the television. Meanwhile, the Big Food industry is destroying our planet and destroying our bodies. It is also abusing the animals that produce much of our food, and abusing the farmers who grow and raise our food. This state of affairs will not stand, but very little will change until there are some changes in policy when it comes to the sale and manufacturing of food (the subsidization of corn, for example, needs to end). It’s not all about policy, though, and the vast majority of us need to start making some changes to what we’re eating.

Where I’m getting my information: I’m constantly learning, and I learn from many different sources. I read a lot. I read food blogs and magazines on a daily basis, and I read food-related books regularly, many of which are about food ethics and sustainability. Right now, I’m about a quarter of the way through Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and it’s fantastic. So far, I was more or less already aware of most of the stuff he’s talking about, but he goes into more depth than I’d seen before, so I’m learning a lot. I’m also in culinary school, so discussions with classmates and chefs about food ethics and sustainability is a common thing in my day-to-day life. The more I find out about this stuff, the more I want to learn, the more I want to change my own habits, and the more I want to inform others, and change the world. Honestly, get me started, and I could talk about this stuff all day, which I’m trying very hard not to do in this post.

What I’m eating: My diet, for lack of a better word, is constantly changing and evolving. Lately, it’s been changing more quickly than it had in the past, mainly because I’m learning more about food than ever before. This includes what I learn in culinary school, so culinary fundamentals, techniques, theory, and so on, as well as what I’m learning from the reading described above.

So what exactly are these changes? I’ve started to cut out processed food almost completely (and by processed food, I basically mean anything with more than three ingredients), buying mostly whole foods and making everything I can from scratch. Also, no more fast food. I’m eating a lot more organic foods, but not all. There are some limits to what I believe is worth the extra cost for organic, what I trust as what I believe organic means, rather than the USDA’s definition, but that merits a whole other discussion. I have started buying mostly organic dairy products, though. I’m trying to eat as locally as possible, and if that means no tomatoes in December, then so be it! The biggest change I’ve made is with my meat consumption: it’s gone way, way down. I used to eat meat about five to six days per week. Now, I eat it about two times per week. I’ve also changed the quality of meat I eat: I’m buying only organic and humanely-raised meat (I’m lucky enough to live near a Whole Foods and a PCC Natural Market that allow me to do this), and again, local as much as possible. Also, when I do eat meat, I make the portion sizes much smaller than I used to. The reduction of my meat consumption allows for an increase in fruits and vegetables (I’ve been loving the leafy greens lately), whole grains, and legumes.

These changes happened about as organically as they could: I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to start eating this way. I’ve learned little by little, so I’ve made changes little by little. I sought out more vegetarian recipes, and so I cooked more vegetarian meals. I barely even thought about how much less meat I was eating until after the change had been made. I started trying out different grains and legumes, and now many are regular staples in my pantry. I discovered that if I was eating less meat, I could afford to pay more for local, organic, and humane, and the more I read about it, the more I realized that this was a necessary change if I was going to continue to eat meat at all. I read more labels, and think more before tossing something into my shopping cart. It was easier than I expected to make these changes, and gradually, I know that even more changes will be made.

How I eat: I’m trying to take my time more when I eat. I’m also trying to think more before I put something into my mouth. I’m trying to think about how fortunate I am to have access and to be able to afford more than enough food to sustain me, and this affects the quantity and quality of what I do eat. I try to remind myself that the reason I am eating is to sustain myself, and that eating too much will, in one way or another, hurt me, and also probably hurt others. I also take pleasure in eating. This means taking my time with food, chewing well, and identifying the different flavors contained in it. I try to think about (without obsessing about) what harm or good the food I am eating is doing to my body, and I try to adjust my consumption accordingly. I come from a family where family dinner—all of us sitting around the table each night to eat, to talk, and to spend some time together—was a nightly occurrence. Dinner in front of the television was simply never an option, and I think that we have all benefitted from this, both nutritionally, and in our relationships with each other. Family dinner is actually an important topic to me, and something that I would like to talk more about another time, but I just wanted to mention here that it is something that I strongly believe in.

I feel like I could continue this diatribe for a lot longer, but I’ll end it here because I think I’ve at least given a good overview of my own personal food philosophy. One more thing though: the best way to learn about food, to think about food, and to understand food is to cook food, and that’s why I do it every day.

But enough about me, what are your food philosophies?

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