Monday, March 29, 2010

"Good" Food

I was talking with my mother recently about her efforts over the last two years to establish a farmers market in her area, and my new project of getting involved to improve the school lunch program here. We were talking about some different sources (blogs, other websites, books) tout healthy recipes or ideas, but that some of them are not helpful for us because different people have different ideas about what constitutes 'healthy eating' or 'good food.' Due to those differences, I thought I would take a few minutes to briefly explain what I believe to be the important things in food. (Please note that we don't have any food allergies to worry over, and have reached these conclusions via thoughtful reading of the Word of Wisdom and other nutrition book, and consideration of the information gleaned from books and documentaries about mainstream horticultural and agricultural practices in this country and the politics driving them.)

The staff of life
Grains are important, and they should be whole grains at least most of the time. With that said, wheat does not have the corner on the market. I don't care for the taste of regular red wheat myself, so I use some white wheat (still whole wheat, just lighter flavor), and I also use oats, cornmeal, and I've recently begun learning to use quinoa. I hope to continue to diversify the grains I use. (I do use regular white flour too, more on that later.)

The spice of life
Variety!! If we ate the same thing every day I would probably shoot myself out of sheer boredom (that is if my family didn't shoot me first). We enjoy eating foods from other countries, we enjoy trying new recipes and new foods. We have vegetarian meals, we have meat-lite meals, we have meat-heavy meals. We eat a variety of grains, a variety of legumes, and a variety of vegetables. Due to our preference for a variety of flavors in our meals, my herb/spice/condiment collection is fairly extensive, and yes we use everything in it.

Moderation in all things
There is almost no food that is "off limits" in my kitchen (mostly just caffeine and alcohol). If I want brownies, I make brownies, with white flour and white sugar and lots of butter. I am not afraid of sugar or butter or white flour or deep frying. We do not do these things often, but it is normal to want something like that sometimes, and I would rather go ahead and enjoy a treat, rather than making it strictly taboo (because that tends to make cravings worse).

'Naughty' and real is better than fake
I don't fancy the idea of mummifying myself before I've even died, so I try to avoid preservatives in my food. Since most prepared foods have preservatives, if I want something I'd rather make it myself. It's true, brownies aren't good for me, but I would so much rather make my own (with all those 'bad' ingredients) and know that there are no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

Living as a Locavore
I'm not a hardcore locavore, in that yes, I do buy some foods from out of state, but I try to get all my perishables from in-state or at least within a few hundred miles. I grow some vegetables, I support my farmer's market, and our dream is to have a small homestead and raise chickens, sheep, a milk cow, and the occasional beef cow. We also hunt and fish for local wild meat.
Foods that are shipped from halfway across the world--even if they are cheap--are not earth friendly. They are not very yummy either, since they had to be picked long before they were ripe, and then shipped thousands of miles to get to me. I would rather limit the foods in my pantry and know that they are fresh. Fresh produce has more flavor--and more vitamins--than pre-picked/chemically-ripened produce.
I know a lot of people who focus on whether a food is organic, but for me that is not as big an issue as whether it is local. I will wash my fruit anyway, and while I prefer that it not have been sprayed with anything (because that kind of farming isn't sustainable), I look for that 'grown in Alaska' tag first.

Ethics Matter more than Dollars
Animals raised on factory farms are fed diets based on maximum weight gain, not on the best nutrition for the animal. They stand in their own filth all day, and are shot full of antibiotics to keep them from sickening and dying before they reach the slaughterhouse. The meat/milk/eggs from these animals are poor at best. So I willingly pay more to get local meat from smaller farms.
Secondly, for things that have to come internationally (such as spices), I try to look for the 'fair trade' sticker. Fair trade means that the workers involved are making a living wage. Firstly I think that's just the right thing to do, but secondly a decently-paid worker is more likely to do good work, so I think fair trade (as opposed to cut-every-corner-to-save-every-penny free trade) brings better products.
As Michael Pollen says, I 'vote with my dollar' about what I think is important in food. No, it's not as cheap, but it is better for us nutritionally, and my conscience tells me it's the moral thing to do. If I really care about what I am putting into my body, then the price tag shouldn't matter!


Mallory said...

This post reminds me of the film Food, Inc. Have you seen it? Very interesting documentary. Although, it scared me to think of some things that we do eat!

Carrie said...

Great thoughts Jenni! Right now I am working on "food compromises" to stretch our budget, like buying whole chickens and eggs free-range/pasture fed and boneless/skinless chicken breasts not. It is a tough decision to decide where to cut things out, isn't it?

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