Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Food Priorities

Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to what my blog really is, and how far I will really go to eliminate processed foods. Check out this very cool family in North Carolina who is eating nothing but whole unprocessed foods for 100 days. Very Cool! But I have been pondering the finer points of the experiment as it relates to me, how processed is too processed, and are there certain foods that I should not eat regardless of the circumstances? Then one step further, are there foods that I would not allow my child to have at all, even outside the home? They are not easy questions.

Last week I caved. Work was crazy last week. Intense meetings all week ended in some very good work done by all. But I was concentrating on my job, not food. In a frosty plexiglass container beautiful red and silver cans of Coke and Diet Coke bobbed gently in ice water. Although catering was a healthy mix of salad and roasted veggies and a variety of sandwiches, I couldn't help myself. I grabbed a Diet Coke. I just wanted it. I figured that the Diet Coke would be better than regular Coke, but why? High Fructose Corn Syrup is no great ingredient, it is processed and high in calories. But was I really choosing aspartame, a non food chemical, over a processed food? Huh? Where is the logic in that?

Needless to say I was very conflicted over the decision and had some considerable internal dialogue about it. When I sat down with my lunch and Diet Coke a dear friend and colleague, who happens to have subscribed to the email service of The Table of Promise, innocently said 'Oh I am surprised to see you drink that.' Now dear friend-I know you will read this, no offense taken, you really would have to work overtime to offend me. But the statement did give me pause.

I have been at other functions where family or friends have apologized about the food being fattening or not organic. So I thought about my food priorities so I could set the record straight. I don't want people thinking I am offended! BTW-Michael Pollan has already committed most of these rules to print in Food Rules. But the below is a list of MY top priorities after 3 months of living this way. By the way, these are listed in order of importance, not every food has to conform to all rules.

First, I think food should be real food. What do I mean? Food should not contain chemicals or preservatives, additives or chemicals. Food should be straightforward and simple and as close to it's whole state as possible. I also think that if it is not possible to make a certain product in your own kitchen or if you cannot buy the ingredients without a chemistry degree or some kind of wholesale business licence, then it doesn't belong in my body. I am happy to let others cook for me, but you gotta do it my way. That means Cheetos and American Cheese are out. Same goes for anything with chemicals, nitrates, non-natural preservatives. Bye bye Diet Coke. You were a good friend for many years, but, it's me not you.

Second, food should be healthful. I love a good pie and I go though a stick of butter a week cooking for my family (and about a liter of olive oil a month), but I eat a lot more raw veggies and lean grass fed meats than some of the more fattening stuff I sometimes blog about. The reason I am able to eat stuff like cheese grits and cherry pie and salmon covered in cream is because I usually consume nothing but oatmeal or yogurt, nuts, raw veggies and some chicken before dinnertime. The amount of veggies and fruit I eat in a typical day is way larger than any other food group.

Third, food should be local. I think it is important that we support our local community. I am way more interested in buying a product from a local source that may or may not be organic rather than finding one that is certified organic but trucked in from California. I am not dissing on anything from Cali, but I live about 3000 miles away from there. (I actually have some serious California envy, I wish I lived closer, but I will save my California food affair for when I am in closer proximity) So it makes more sense that I would eat stuff local to me.

Lastly, food should be organic. I do actually believe this. But it is the least important in my food priorities. 'Organic' as a term has become so commonplace these days that many people believe that it is synonymous with 'healthful'. The only thing the term organic refers to is how the product was raised. It cannot be genetically modified, it cannot be sprayed with pesticides or fertilizers and for processed foods it cannot contain certain unapproved additives and preservatives. I have looked it up-check out what the USDA says about it.

For my food priorities, there are all kinds of 'grayish foods', like salad greens that are neither local nor organic, or strawberries that are local but not organic. Or locally made breads. What about organic American Cheese? Most foods do not conform to all my rules, but it meets a few. Sometimes we don't have a choice at all. I eat the catering at work when it is served to me because that is what is offered, but I'll choose the most healthful offerings (most of the time). My grocery store has many organic choices, but not everything is available to me at all times due to seasonality or limited availability. I actually kind of like not being able to get anytime I want. It makes it special. I like to eat organic and local, but if I cannot, I am going to eat food, like real fresh food such as meat and veggies and fruits and whole grains.

So I use the above rules to decide what the buy. If the organic local tomatoes look like they are on their last legs, I will sometimes opt for the local non-organic ones and other times I will buy a different vegetable altogether. I try to shop seasonally without too many recipes in mind. But it is all about balance. The more I think about this the more I realize that it is hard to put into words that EVERYONE will understand. Perhaps it is more art than science.

Tomorrow, what is just totally off the menu?

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