The path to good health is paved with complex and contradictory jargon; a topic fraught with angst, spin and – sadly – negative energy. I’m a cook, not a nutritional scientist, and the culinary road my family and I travel, via this site’s recipe blog material, is subjective. However, being healthy – physically and mentally – is the crux of our family unit, so indulge me as I toss my philosophy regarding food and eating into the flames.
We know what we’re supposed to eat – and not eat. You can’t get through a day without a barrage of conflicting dietary information, which takes the fun out of cooking and dining. I’ve exercised my entire life – jogging, hiking, swimming and yoga – which offsets the occasional Pork Belly Taco. Butter is not my enemy, it’s my friend – in moderation. Home-cooking allows me balance; a way of taking control and exercising restraint, while eating the foods I love with the people I love.
My only dietary rule is a strict avoidance of highly processed foods and refined sugar. And for me, eating primarily lean proteins, savory grains, produce and “the good” fats are key. That’s about it. Then I relish my treats because I’ve earned them.
About that salt shaker. In the past I’ve received flack because – aside from baking – I don’t put exact amounts of salt in my ingredient lists. I do, however, always include kosher salt in my recipe instructions, but only directing the follower to “add kosher salt to taste”. For me, the addition of kosher or sea salt in a recipe releases a flavor profile like a peony’s first blossom. But, as in everything else, excessive sodium can produce unwelcome, sometimes life-threatening, physiological and metabolic changes. My dinnerFeeds instruct you to add salt, as your palate and good judgement allows.
Most importantly, I’ll address my above reference to mental health. Feeding our health is more than just feeding our nutritional health. What we put into our mouths, in my opinion, is secondary. Sharing our day-to-day lives while passing a plate satisfies those primal neuro-transmitters invisible to the eye. Even if families and friends can only carve one home-cooked meal together every week, this is something – something big. Inhaling the aromas of a simmering dish, then breaking bread with others is a ritual signaling we’re loved and safe, that we have each other’s backs in the crazy world away from the table.
Onto nutritional health. My kids and I eat it all; well – almost – steering clear of processed food, excessive sugar and salt, canned peas and refrigerated tomatoes. But that’s about it. I have a weakness for fried food – can’t help it – it’s the Alabama in me. But, in general, my diet and recipes are nutritionally sound and well-rounded. When I categorize a recipe as “healthy”, it’s not based on scientific data or the latest food scare or craze. It’s the type of recipe I gravitate towards that makes me feel good about myself. My daily diet is usually based on the Mediterranean Food Pyramid, but sometimes – dad gum it – fried chicken makes me feel good about myself. I don’t count calories, or fat grams – except in jest. If you say the word “diet” to me, I gain 5 pounds. It’s a fact.
I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance. She’s a well-educated, single mother with a demanding job, and was justifying why she and her child lived on a diet of processed, fast food. (She also expressed dissatisfaction about their lack of energy and excessive weight.) I played the devil’s advocate to the point where she stumped me – where for once I had no answer. Here are some of our conversation snippets.
She-speak: Processed food is cheaper than food sprung from the soil – that’s why such a large population of Americans, like me, are overweight.
An extra-large pizza with pop for a family of four costs over $20.00. And that doesn’t include a delivery fee or tip. Rumor has it that a full meal for four at a food chain costs more. Compare that to purchasing a pound of turkey cutlets, a head of broccoli and sweet potatoes. I used these ingredients to make a dinner last night, and my grocery tab was around $15.00. That plus about $2.00 of miscellaneous pantry staples. I didn’t purchase the pricier organic vegetables and free-range turkey breast for this meal, which would have been ideal. But if I had, I’ll bet using those ingredients would still be cheaper than most fast food meals.
She-speak: But fast food and restaurant dining are ready when you are – quicker and easier to satisfy hunger pangs than a home-cooked meal.
Me-speak: Not when you have rudimentary cooking know-how, and the willingness to drive to the grocery store instead of Burger King. It took me less than 30 minutes to make last night’s healthy and tasty turkey dinner, (an example of one of many on this site), and it would have still been yummy if I’d eliminated the sauce. Or skip making the cutlets altogether and purchase a baked chicken from the store; steam veggies on the side and throw sweet potatoes in the oven.
She-speak: O.K. Maybe. But cooking is another job for me. And the reality is, if you really want the truth, my daughter and I prefer fast food to fresh.
Her reply stumped me. I had no rebuttal because there are no easy answers. If you were raised on a diet of processed food, it’s understandable that would be your preference. But maybe one day she’ll have a eureka moment, and realize what she and her daughter are eating is not food – maybe some factory made by-product at the end of the chain – but not food that our bodies are equipped to process. Maybe a paradigm shift will enable her to not view cooking as work, but as a pleasure, even if only once a week. She could divide cooking responsibilities with her daughter. Maybe – maybe not. But ’nuff said. This is not a forum of proselytizing finger wagging, it’s a forum of fun.
This dinnerFeed site is a compilation of hundreds of recipes and the myriad ways that cooking entertains, nourishes and relaxes me, my family and friends. Nothing more, nothing less. If I coax a smile upon your face or sauté pan into your hand, I’ve done my job.
On the island of Okinawa, off the coast of Japan, the inhabitants practice a culture of calorie control called hara hachi bu, which means eat only until you are 80% full. It’s a great strategy for weight control, as it takes a few minutes for your stomach to alert your brain that you’ve eaten enough. But it left me wondering about that remaining 20 percent. Therefore I end this healthy “treatise” with a haiku, which I wrote in the Japanese tradition of 17 sound units, divided into three parts.
Hara Hachi Bu
Okinawan sage advise
Twenty left for wine.