Friday, June 26, 2009


In my family, we like food.

When the cousins get together, reminiscing invariably turns into discussions of great restaurants, great dinners, and great celebrations. Uncle Doug might talk about the perfect margarita. We might mull over the merits of gingerbread pancakes vs. buttermilk. Having scattered throughout the U.S., there are various regional cuisines to talk about.

Almost all of our family gatherings, of course, center around food. Grammy's potatoes and beef Wellington, Nanny's piroshki with fried bananas for dessert (that's the cuisine of the Russian-Guatemalan connection, in case you were wondering) my mom's Grittibanz at Christmas (it's a bread in the shape of a boy), and almost anything my Aunts Deb and Lisa can whip up. Big dinners with philosophical toasts are our specialty. I am pretty sure that the cousins will develop their own traditional recipes as well.

While my dad came from humble beginnings (his tales of roll throwing and miscooked okra stick in my mind) he developed a passion for cooking when I was in high school. My favorite dish of his was "Thai peanut chicken" which involved a sauce made of peanut butter and salsa. I know it sounds bizarre ... but trust me, it was awesome.

So ... where is this talk of food going? Well, it's hard to be even a little bit green without considering where our food comes from. I know that this is a hot topic right now, with the documentary Food, Inc. coming out, featuring Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food. In case you live under a rock and haven't heard: the food industry is a major contributer to our environmental woes and our ill health. If you're interested, watch this clip of Pollan on Real Time with Bill Maher.

Even if you're annoyed with those vegetarian pamphlets that get passed out at community festivals, this vid is worth watching, if only for its discussion of the way the development of agriculture screwed with the development of humankind, and Pollan's discussion of the durability of Twinkies. Pollan, however, is refreshingly undogmatic about food, and admits that some food processing, such as canning and freezing, is necessary. In this video, they also discuss meat production.

I am not a vegetarian.

I'd just like to get that out there, because here in Texas, my eating habits are viewed as extreme. And extremism is seen as difficult, radical, unrealistic. While I do not view vegetarianism as extreme (although it is sometimes difficult in Texas) I eat poultry and fish, but no mammals. And that's mainly for reasons of sustainability - the production of beef has a major impact on the environment. But I have nothing against the occasional eating of cow or pig. I simply don't indulge in it, because after 16 years without eating red meat, I get sick if I try to eat it.

You may have noticed that recipes have been making an appearance more often than craft ideas lately. That's because I've been thinking a lot about food, and trying to reduce the amounts of processed/refined foods (particularly refined grains and sugars) in my diet. Let me tell you, it's not easy, particularly for someone who spends much of her time traveling. But I'm beginning to see that it's worth it. Here are a couple of reasons, just from my personal observations:

1) Food tastes better. Probably because processing cuts out a lot of the nutrients, it also cuts out a lot of the taste. And while I'm not gonna lie, I LOVE white flour, adding whole grains like bulgur and quinoa -- along with more fresh herbs, fruits, and veggies -- has added whole new taste sensations to my diet. And isn't that what the food industry is trying to manufacture -- new taste sensations? It's all because they took the taste out in the first place.

2) Food is more fun. It takes a lot more organization to eat consciously, but that also means spending time thinking about food, planning recipes, and shopping for organic and unprocessed goodies. The bulk area of my grocery store is my new playground, as I try to decide what new things to try.

3) Food is healthier for me. Yes, unprocessed/minimally-processed foods have more nutrients. And just anecdotally, I can say that my skin looks better, and I feel better when I eat this way and cut back on total calories. Am I always successful? No way. Like I said, white bread is my friend. But she's a fickle friend. While she is glamorous and I want to be around her, I know she's no good for me. I struggle daily to make choices that are healthy, but by making incremental changes, I hope to make a real difference in my own health.

4) Food is healthier for the planet. Cutting out red meat consumption, though I did it without much conscious thought, made a big shift in my diet toward one that is more sustainable. Now, I'm trying to shift again, toward more organic, seasonal, and local foods. This is tough, and it's not always cheap. It means time, and as I said, organization. This type of eating, however, is going to be better in the long run for the entire world. And if you think that going organic is a luxury of the wealthy nations, check out this NPR story on how industrialized agriculture has created problems for the Punjab, and how organic agriculture is one solution.

Eating mores sustainably is something that can begin in small ways: for example, switching from yogurt with artificial colors to yogurt without. After making one small change and adapting, another can be made. It doesn't have to be about one huge transition. I'm hoping that with the current media attention on food, that this choice is one that more people will start making.

Coming up soon: a recipe for homemade hummus, an Auntie Chronicles article on the perfect baby shower gift, and more.

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