Saturday, May 07, 2005

What's your food philosophy?

Reading through my blogroll tonight (yes, insomnia surfing), I came across a great article by Emma Goldman at War on Error about personal food philosphies. Emma's own philosophy boils down to:
1. Buy local.
2. Buy organic or "natural" food.
3. Not eat a lot of animals,
4. When I do eat animals, not eat animals that have been treated badly.
5. Cook from scratch and utilize ingredients that have been minimally processed.
6. Eat seasonally.
Go on and read her whole food post--it is great.

My own philosophy lines up very similarly to Emma's. I switched to a vegetarian diet when I was 15, the specifics of which have changed and evolved greatly over the years. My own day to day diet choices are therefore a little different from what Emma lists above, but what I aim for myself, and highly recommend is:

1. Learn About It
I am astounded at how little people often know about their own nutritional needs, the value of their food, the way their food is produced, or the health/environmental/political impact of their diet choices. Knowledge is power, folks.

If you're looking for a good primer and fascinating read about nutrition, I highly recommend one of my favourite books (which I honestly would take to a desert island), Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford. It covers food, nutrition and diet choices from both a western standpoint and from the view of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

I've been interested in food for years and years. I took becoming vegetarian seriously, but even before that, I could sit down and read and enjoy a cookbook. I'm not in the kitchen much these days (although the new apartment has a wonderful kitchen and I'm hoping to lure myself back into more cooking), but I my new interest is traditional chinese food cures, and how to incorporate TCM concepts on food and diet into what we eat.

2. Make Conscious Choices
To be honest, I try to apply #1 & #2 to just about everything, not just eating. Works real well with politics and voting, too.

3. Buy the best quality food that I can.
I don't mean "fancy" foods. I mean, what is nutritionally dense?--I buy brocolli over cauliflower as a general rule, and skip iceberg lettuce for mesclun greens, baby spinach, or romaine. Is it fresh? Is it free of chemical preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors, synthetic sweeteners, and other chemicals that are going to make me sick? Is it organic? Is it free of hydrogenized fats? Is it unprocessed? Is it good quality, clean-burning fuel?

4. Prepare it myself, when I can.
Prepare it from scratch, when I can.
Do the best, when I can't.

This one has been a big challenge while I have been sick. This winter, we've had a lot of take-out meals from the hot bar at Ellwood Thompson, the spectacular natural foods store in Richmond's Fan District. Their food is prepared daily from fresh ingredients and it is organic...we really lucked out when they put the hot bar in. We invested in a Zojirushi rice cooker this winter, so we can make congee at home instead of ordering it take-out from Full Kee--it is so easy to digest, and makes wonderfully,tasty convalescent food when I'm really low and feeling blah about food.

5. Eat simple meals.
A simple meal with a few ingredients is much easier for me to digest and enjoy. And then I really get to *taste* what I'm eating.

6. Eat locally and seasonally.
I guess I started to really learn the merits of this first hand in Japan, where central air conditioning never really caught on. Eating not just locally-produced but also indigenous foods, i.e., adding more seaweed to my diet, and seasonal foods, really helped me acclimatize as the seasons shifted. The concept is also consistent with traditional chinese medicine concepts of healthy diets.

From an economic standpoint--it costs less to eat food that hasn't been grown in hothouses or half-way across the world. From a political standpoint, it keeps the money in the community. And from an environmental standpoint, there aren't the environmental costs of the fuel investments in growing against the weather and transporting around the globe.

7. Eat a plant-based diet.
Some people eat meat, some don't--I've never been on a vegetarian jihad. If you follow #1 & #2 above, and you know what you're eating and making conscious choices, that's good enough for me. But your mom was right--make sure you get some veggies in there, too. I eat so little these days (and even less when the insomnia is raging), that eating *enough* fruits and vegetables can be a real challenge. So I work on it, and I don't beat myself up.

8. Don't beat myself up.
Didn't want to forget that one.

9. Listen to my body.
When I'm eating quality foods, and paying attention, it is amazing how much my body can tell me about what I need. (I miss getting natto-maki cravings; happened all the time when I worked in Japan.) Another challenge with the insomnia is that when I get tired enough, my biofeedback shuts off, and I don't feel hungry, let alone get food cravings. But the husband is good at feeding me--after making a huge effort over the years to figure out *how.*

When the husband and I got engaged, he was living on take-out Hunan Chicken and Hardee's Burgers (if he were awake right now he would ask me to point out that this was *before* Hardee's was bought out by Carl's Jr, a distinction that is lost on me but is very important to him). Since we got married, he's made a lot of changes in his diet to accommodate what I can eat and to help take care of me. We've now reached the point where he'll say, "You seem really stressed out. Let's give you a vitamin B and we can have some congee for dinner tonight," or, "The weather is starting to get warmer, let's go get some green vegetables for dinner tonight." (And yes, I lucked out beyond measure. I know. )

10. Eat less, not more. Eat quality over quantity.
Again, my current challenge ranges from eating enough to eating at all. In general, I try to eat more frequent, smaller meals, which agrees well with my health and metabolism.

11. Eat for health.
We eat food for a lot of wierd reasons, if you think about it: status, comfort, habit, punishment, control. I try to think of food as fuel, first. And then enjoy it greatly.

I love the Tassajara Cookbooks by Edward Espe Browne, and they say all of what I've just tried to write with less words and more poetry.

So, I'm really curious. How many of you *think* about what you eat? And, if you make conscious eating choices, what is your own food philosphy?
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