Sunday, June 3, 2007

Everyone Has an Opinion...

...on what to eat, that is.

In fact, there are not one, but two books, with that title available on, both addressing the same subject. There are books on fast food, and slow food. There are books about traditional diet and vegans diets and at least 1001 diet books, many written by celebrities, or by people who would go on to become celebrities.

I'll admit to having been obsessed with the issue, more than half my life. I think my first brush with nutrition "wisdom" was the old 3-2-4-4 propaganda put out by the dairy industry which so thoughtfully provided posters to be plastered on the walls of the home economics classroom. I think we received pamphlets as well, exhorting us to consume 3 servings of dairy, 2 servings of meat, 4 servings of grains, and 4 servings of fruits/vegetables daily.

I've read about food combining, both in terms of natural hygiene and complementary proteins. I spent 12 years as a vegetarian, and 6 more after that eating a mostly vegetarian diet with a small amount of fish. I've seen the food pyramid, and the vegan pyramid, and the Mediterrranean version too (alas I've yet to see a Egyptian or South American pyramid). I've read Dean Ornish and Joel Fuhrman. I've read Sally Fallon and Patience Gray. I've read Peter Singer, Michael Pollan, and Barbara Kingsolver. I chose, after 18 years of not eating any flesh except for fish, to consume pasture-grazed beef.

I've read about the local food movement, about organics, about whole foods, and about seasonal eating. In fact, I'm still reading about these things, but these days I've pretty much come up with a philosophy of eating that works for me and my family. Here it is:

1) Eat food that has been raised naturally and humanely. For us that means foods raised without synthetic fertilizers or toxic herbicides and pesticides. It means beef from cows that are pastured year round, and eggs from a local flock that roams the farmers gardens and eats organic grain. It no longer includes eating fish on a regular basis, due to depletion, pollution, and the ethics of treating fish and people humanely (by-catch being an issue with fish, and pollution and devastation being an issue for humans, as it witnessed in the shrimp farming industry of Bangladesh).

2) Eat food as close to its natural state as possible. We choose raw dairy, and whole grains, and plenty of uncooked vegetables. We eat fruit, preferably fresh although naturally dried is okay too. We eat nuts, preferably raw. We prefer that our grains not be processed beyond removing inedible outer husks and grinding. We want the bran and the germ.

3) Eat sweeteners that have been processed as little as possible. Honey and maple syrup are our favorites (although honey wins the local contest). We buy Rapadura in small quantities, knowing that it is unrefined, is organic, and is fairly produced and traded. We use very little sugar; evaporated cane juice is saved for special occasions.

4) Eat locally grown and produced foods as much as possible. We've been working towards this one, and now either grow our own or happily buy most of our produce at the local farmers' market. This is our first month without bananas (although I gave them up 3 months ago).

5) Eat in season. This applies to most everything, although we allow for year round consumption of storage foods, such as apples, garlic, grains, and beans.

It can really be put into one sentence: eat organic, local, toxin-free, ethically-produced, whole foods, in season. I would add: put your heart into every meal and enjoy every bite.

With such a simple philosophy we can focus on what we will eat, and not what we won't. McDonald's isn't on the table. We don't eat high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial flavors and colors, or preservatives, and because of our food philosophy we don't even have to bother checking labels for these ingredients, because we aren't buying the kind of food that contains these things.

For instance, we'll eat fresh sweet corn, or organic whole grain cornmeal. We have a small amount of organic corn starch on hand for thickening. We don't have to worry about HFCS, dextrose, corn oil, or any other fractionated parts of corn.

We're searching for one producer of grassfed beef in our state, we'll buy part of a steer, and that will be the beef we eat. We know we don't eat meat at restaurants or at family gatherings. We don't want a gray area; it has to be 100% grassfed from California.

We eat local fruit. I've yet to go to the farmers' market and find that no one has fruit, even in the dead of winter. This is a citrus town.

Really, I'm tired of the obsession. I don't want to read anymore books debating vegan vs. low meat vs. high protein. I don't want to see the "studies" published that elevate a food or beverage one year and tear it down the next (and perhaps elevate it once again). I don't want to think about antioxidants when I eat a pomegranate; I just want to see the gorgeous translucent fruit, feel the juice on my chin, and taste the sweetness.

Really, I just want to eat, and I've stopped caring what anyone thinks. I think I've figured it out well enough to eat this way for the rest of my life, secure in the knowledge that I eat real food, and that no one can tell me anything that goes against that.

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