From Oliver! (Columbia Pictures, 1968)
You Are Still What You Eat
To most people today, food is just something to put in our mouths to keep us from starving. It isn’t anything worth paying attention to. It just doesn’t count toward our well-being, just our bodies.
Did you put down your phone to savor the mashed potatoes? When was the last time you didn’t eat in front of the computer at work? What was the last, full-flavored fresh fruit you ate without distraction? Did you know that fresh ripe fruits and vegetables aren’t supposed to keep more than two or three days?
Food is More Than Survival, it’s a Social Event
Sitting down to eat is more than just eating what is on the plate and leaving the table. Mealtimes are a time to relax, to talk with family or friends. A time when your life literally slows down for a period of time. A time to catch up – in real time with real people. Eating a meal creates a connection that all people share best over.
Relaxing and Feeding the Body
Our bodies are on the go constantly. They always have been, whether we were hunters, gatherers, or farmers. However, we now live in a world of “Hurry hurry!” Our electronics beep at us, from the time we listen for the alarm, to the time we finally put them all on their chargers so that we can go to sleep.
Eating a meal at the table makes our bodies slow down. It’s a time-out that we desperately need. Eating good food fuels our cells, those that keep the blood flowing, our hearts pumping, and our brains working properly.
Good food tickles our sense of smell, and delights our taste buds with sweet, savory, bitter, salty, and sour. Yes, scientists have discovered that we have five taste sensors, with savory found near the back of the tongue.
For example, what’s your first thought when you think of a juicy piece of pear, ripe off a tree? Sweet, yes. How about a carrot, sweet but earthy. Or homemade French onion soup? Savory, salty, and delicious. Be mindful of what you put in your mouth, not only its taste, but also texture and temperature.
That’s what eating a meal is: slowing down, real connections, and deliciousness. Savor every bite of food. Savor every bit of conversation with the people you’re sharing your meal.
Relaxing and Deeding the Mind
At the same time, because you’ve put away your phones, your laptops, tablets, and turned off your computers, your mind is getting a rest. Yes, when you’re eating with people, your mind is still functioning, but it’s a different kind of use.
You’re with others who are made of the same flesh-and-blood that you are. They’re interesting. They have ideas and thoughts and beliefs that will open your mind to newness. They also want to hear your ideas and thoughts and beliefs. True, you might disagree with some of theirs as they with yours, but it’s real. They aren’t at the other end of a disembodied signal of a cell phone, or a news piece on a tablet. They’re real and your mind relaxes.
Relaxing and Feeding the Soul
Most of all, good food soothes your soul. The connection that you just can’t get with your electronics. A smile from your father at the other end of the table. It’s all about connections and it feeds the soul as much as the food does your body. A connection you only get when you slow down and enjoy food with your family or friends.
Good food and good eating is not conducive to holding a business conference while trying to enjoy a plate of well-made food in a restaurant. If your boss insists that you attend a meeting during your lunch hour, it’s within your rights to insist that you get paid, otherwise, you’re going to go elsewhere for lunch.
If you’re worried about losing your job because you refuse to meet-and-eat, you have a couple of choices:
- Remind the boss (in his office and away from others) that – in America, at least – that unpaid lunch means getting away from business for awhile, or
- Remind him that he will need to pay you for attending the meeting – and you’ll still be required by law to have an unpaid, no-business lunch
No, he won’t like the reminders. However, your health – physical, mental, and soul – are more important than any business.
You see, eating at your computer is no different than him calling for a meeting. You must, for your own health, get away from the computer during lunch. Your eyes need the break. Your brain needs the break. Your body needs the break. Got up to stretch!
Every country has its national comfort food. Foods that everyone eats, even if the recipes are slightly different. Every section of every country also has comfort foods. In the American south, comfort foods include hot biscuits and thick country gravy; in the Pacific Northwest, comfort foods include salmon and whole grain breads.
In northern Italy, spinach, unsalted butter, and fresh egg pasta makes its way into a lot of foods. The central section has its braised meats, stews, and chestnuts. In the southern portion, red sauces, olive oil, and eggplant are more the style.
France, split into eight specific regions, has a wide range of comfort foods. Beginning with rich foods like duck and truffles in the north, you make your way south through seafood and crepes, root vegetables and savory tarts, beef, spices, olives, and cheeses. And, of course, the wines and champagnes in all regions.
Where Did the Fun Go in Eating?
Once upon a time, eating was fun. It was hard work to grow, barter, and get all that you wanted or needed. In the end, you had wholesome and even fun food.
Now? The story is much different. Every news station you watch or listen to, every movie you see, and even in the grocery stores, you see the word “diet” pushed. Hard. And they aren’t talking about the kind of foods you eat as a whole, the meals of good, healthy foods.
No, they’re talking about starvation diets. The kinds of things that you’re “not supposed to eat.” The kinds of diets that insist you do away with whole areas of foods. I’m not talking about those with food intolerance or allergies who must avoid certain foods.
Michael Pollan wrote several books about food. What he found out can be summed up in his own seven words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. When you explore further what he’s talking about, he’s talking about whole food, nutritious food. He calls over-processed, cooked-to-death-and-scientifically-recreated stuff “edible foodlike substances”. They aren’t food in the healthy sense. (Look up his books: The Omnivore’s Dilemma; In Defense of Food; and Food Rules; links are in the Appendix below.)
Following on the heels of non-nutritional food “stuff” is the shaming. Movies are especially cruel. They show unrealistically thin women, whose fame gives the message to younger women: Thinnest is the way to be. They also make fun of the chubby, the fat, and the obese. Men can sometimes get away with being “fuller” or even obese, but women don’t.
The messages in movies (as well as TV shows, media in general, and on the news) is simply these:
- Skinny is the biggest message of being “in” and popular, but that’s followed closely by the phrase, “Is that all you’re eating?” (Message: shame on you!)
- Fat is the biggest no-no, with “fat” being relative in the minds of moviegoers, directors, agents, and the actors themselves. “Fat” can be as little as ten pounds over optimum weight, to 210 pounds over. They’re bombarded with the phrase, “Are you eating again?” (Message: shame on you!)
- Normal weight… there is no “normal” in the movies.
I’ve even seen magazines (all women’s magazines) carry the same type of mixed message on their covers. For example, one had a photo of a luscious-looking ice cream dessert, with a bright sun-shape emblazoned with the title of an article for losing weight to get into that new bathing suit.
Now, the government is getting in on the act. They want to pass laws that put a Band-Aid (TM) on the symptoms of the current obesity problems.
The solution, of course, is taking our own health into our own hands, and eating whole foods – not the processed “foodlike substances.”
Grow Your Own Food (yes, even in apartments)
No, not talking about the complete, “back to nature” experience. Instead, plant a garden, wherever you happen to be living. Even if you’re renting, your landlord isn’t likely to bother if you keep your garden looking nice.
Growing your own fruits and vegetables is possible just about anywhere. You can grow food in your backyard. Some folks even suggest that you dig up your front lawn too. If you don’t want to get down on your hands and knees and weed, put up a raised garden. You don’t have to bend down. Look at the list for other ways you can garden (these are especially good if you’re in an apartment, whether on the second floor or on the top floor, or anywhere in between):
- Big containers / pots, usually of plastic or ceramic, with some terra cotta
- Vertical gardening, made with fencing
- As a tower with the soil in the middle of it (tuck the plants or seeds between the wires)
- Against an outside wall to hold smaller containers
- Small containers / pots, again usually of plastic, ceramic, or terra cotta (you can make containers by cutting out a section from 2-liter soda bottles, horizontally)
Just a note: Check with your city’s rules before you dig up your front lawn. Putting in a rock garden, or using bark mulch to landscape is one thing. Putting in an entire garden is something else again. Some cities fine their citizens for having a garden in the front yard (as “unsightly”, a “nuisance”, and “unsuitable ground cover”). Michigan, Florida, Missouri, and Oklahoma are just a few states wherein this happened.
On the flip-side, one woman (in Los Angeles) grew veggies “wild”. She planted on a narrow strip of land between sidewalk and a fence. She expected people to eat it whenever they wanted to. (I think she put up a sign saying, “This is for anyone who’s hungry.”) Not on the park-side strips, between street and sidewalk; that’s illegal in most states. But between sidewalk and a fence.
Want more whole food news? Newspapers still carry recipes to go along with Wednesday ads from grocery stores. Those recipes treat food as whole. At any given time of the year, you’ll find recipes for cold or hot soups, and either creamy or not; quiche, that savory eggy-cheesy pie that includes local vegetables; salads made of greens or fruits; fresh fish, barbecued beef or chicken, or a pork roast with side dishes; and even desserts like sorbets and cobblers and cookies. There’s always a host of good-for-you foods.
What Is Not Food
Unfortunately, these same newspapers (as mentioned above) carry coupons for – you guessed it – those over-processed “foodlike substances.” Coupons are seldom given for the fresh foods. There’s no point (for the manufacturers) in it. Coupons are a dead giveaway that they’re asking you to try dead “food”.
As mentioned before, Michael Pollan calls non-foods “edible foodlike substances”. You know, that processed-to-death and boxed-up stuff they call “food” but isn’t anymore. Yes, some of them are timesavers, but at what cost to your health, your well-being? Not to mention your body, mind, and soul!
The Point of Menus
Menus help in several ways, including eating what you and your family likes, saving money because you’re only buying what you need when you need it. It also saves time, because you won’t be asking “what’s for dinner?” at 4:30p in the afternoon. You’ll know what’s for dinner. Even if you change your mind about which day to eat what, you’ll still know what you’re having.
People have the wrong idea about menus. They aren’t like a work schedule; menus are far more flexible. You don’t have to abide completely by the day listed. If you’re hungry for tuna, and it was scheduled for two days from now, eat it today anyway – and make whatever today’s dinner was on the original tuna day.
When making up menus, get everyone involved, including the children. If you have boarders, renters, or extended family living with you, include them in the decision-making process, too.
Shopping for Food European Style
Now that you know what you’re having for dinner for the next couple of days, shop as the Europeans do (notably, the French and UK). Buy only what you’ll need for the night and maybe the next day. That includes fresh fruits, vegetables, and breads; it also includes meats.
Buy local veggies and fruits as much as possible; some cities have once-a-week farmers’ markets, some are three days a week. If you’re lucky enough to live near farms that sell their own produce, go there. The fresher the food, the better the taste!
If you must shop on your way home, make sure you’re not ravenous. About 30 minutes before you leave the workplace, eat a handful of nuts or something with protein to dim the pangs. That way, you can shop for only what’s on your list (remember to bring it with you in the morning!), and not buy anything else because you’re not that hungry. A little hungry, yes, but not enough to sabotage your menu or budget.
Shop the “Ring” Outside the Aisles
Shop only on the outer rim for food, except for the staples (flour, rice, beans, salt, honey, spices, or coffee / chocolate). Staples are still necessary. Keep a well-stocked pantry on hand for the days you cannot shop
Go to the produce section first. Choose the freshest, in-season vegetables and fruits. Choose as many local as you can. Choose as much organic as you can afford. Then, still following the line of foods outside of the aisles, buy your meat, dairy, and bakery items.
If you don’t need staples, avoid the aisles. They carry the dead food “stuff”. Certainly, very little of it is nutritional. The manufacturers cook even canned foods to death.
Just a note: Going back to real food, fresh food, doesn’t mean giving up modern conveniences like a breadmaker, crockpot, stove and oven, or microwave. In this “hurry hurry” world, appliances like these make eating whole foods easier.
Types of Menus
The kinds of menus vary by your own culture, and the foods that you really like to eat. Sometimes, it’s a little fattening, salty, or sugary. But, when eating a good variety of whole and real food, that little bit of “forbidden” is okay.
Now, as for the kinds of menus to create, you have numerous choices. Far more than I can list here. But, I’ve included a fair number of them, all ethnic / cultural to someone:
Ethnic / Cultural
- Middle East
- United Kingdom
- Mexico / Spain
- Germanic / Nordic
- Asian / Oriental
- Native American
- Vegetarian / Vegan
- And so many more!
Pick and choose what you’ll have on your menu tonight, and maybe tomorrow. But, don’t buy for more than a couple of days. You don’t want your fresh food to rot.
Never diet again; simply eat food, not too much, and make it mostly vegetables and fruit. Starvation diets never work over the long-term. Simply change your mindset; take your time to do it. “Cold turkey” isn’t fun, and you’ll revert to old habits if you do so. Just learn to eat smaller portions as the French do.
Try not to eat alone very often. If you’re married/partnered, eat at least one meal every day without the electronics. If you have a family, insist on at least one meal every day with everyone. If you’re single, try to invite a friend or two 2-3 times a week.
Oh, and if you decide you want the “Dinner hour” to be when everyone sits at the table, keep it at whatever time suits your family’s lifestyle. If you both work at night, dinner can conceivably be at 7am!
Conclusion: Fresh and Whole Foods are the Best Choice
Those who don’t like to cook may find all this a little more difficult. Picking up real food instead of a boxed mix is a different mindset. It isn’t easy to develop new habits of shopping, eating, and cooking. But, you can do it. It’s imperative if you want to learn to appreciate real food.
For those who like to cook, this is likely not even news. However, you can treat yourself to a few recipes below.
Food is not meant only for survival of our bodies. It’s also meant for the well-being of our minds and souls. Start eating real food, whole food again!
The article is based on the current food pyramid:
- Meat, legumes & eggs
- Sweeteners / Fats
It doesn’t take into account the many foods one is intolerant of or food allergies.
Quick note: an intolerance involves the gastrointestinal part of your body; it’s painful, but won’t kill you. A true food allergy, on the other hand, involves the immune system; if not treated immediately, it could be lethal.
For those days that you don’t want to drag out the measuring cups for portion control, here are a few easy measurements with props:
The Grain Group
1 pancake (1 ounce or 5″) —- compact disc (CD)
1 cup of pasta/spaghetti (2 ounces) —- a fist
The Vegetable Group
1 medium baked potato (1 cup) —- computer mouse or a fist
1/2 cup serving —- 6 asparagus spears; 7 or 8 baby carrots; 1 ear of corn on the cob
The Fruit Group
1/2 cup of grapes (15 grapes) —- light bulb
1 medium size fruit —- tennis ball or a fist
The Milk Group
1 1/2 ounces hard cheese —- 9-volt battery or your index and middle fingers
1 ounce of processed cheese —- your thumb
The Meat and Beans Group
2 tablespoons peanut butter (= 2 oz. meat) —- ping-pong ball
3 ounces cooked meat, fish, poultry —- your palm, a deck or cards or a cassette tape
Bon Apetit! (Recipes)
Quick Egg Nog
- 1 egg
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoon powdered sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon vanilla
- Dash of nutmeg
Drink up while it’s cold. (Serves 1)
Savory Beef Pie
Baked Pie shell (one crust):
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoon ice water (must be this cold)
Mix flour, salt and shortening together just until crumbly; sprinkle ice water over the mixture, and then stir until mix leaves side of bowl. Roll out on a floured surface until approximately 1/8-inch thick. Carefully drape into 10″ pie pan; flute the edges. Prick bottom; bake 15-18 minutes in 350-degree oven. Set aside.
- 1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
- 1 pound mixed vegetables of your choice, cooked and drained
- 1 pound diced potatoes, cooked and drained
- 1 to 1/2 cups mushroom soup (recipe to follow)
- 2 cups cheddar, shredded
Mix the beef, vegetables, potatoes and soup together; pour into baked pie crust. Sprinkle shredded cheddar over top of mixture.
Place in 350-degree oven; cook for 25 minutes until hot through and cheddar is melted.
Serve hot. (Serves 8)
Homemade Mushroom Soup
- 6 ounces fresh mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons onions, chopped
- 1 to 1/2 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 tablespoons flour
- 2/3 cup light cream
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cut the mushrooms into slices.
- Melt butter in large frying pan. Add in onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Cook until onions are soft.
- Blend in 2 T. flour and stir.
- Add in the chicken broth and heat until slightly thickened while stirring frequently.
- Stir cream with additional 1 T. flour and seasonings. Add in cream mixture to soup. Heat to thicken while stirring frequently.
Serve hot and enjoy! (Serves 4)
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup milk
Mix well and spread over bottom of 9”x9” baking pan.
Spread over dough:
- 2 cups fresh non-tropical fruit (berries, or apples, or pears; along those lines)
- 1 cup sugar sprinkled over the fruit
Pour 3/4 cup cold water over all of it.
Bake 30-35 minutes (or until done) in 375 degree oven.
Serve hot or cold. (Serves 9)
GENERAL HEALTH WARNING: The information, and advice provided by this article, this site, and those authors / webmasters who are on this site is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Any person suffering from conditions requiring medical attention, or who have symptoms that concern them, should consult a qualified medical practitioner.
Before starting any new diet and exercise program please check with your doctor and clear any exercise and/or diet changes with them before beginning. No one here claims to be a doctor, registered dietitian, or professional nutritionist. No one here claims to cure any cause, condition, or disease. No one here provides medical aid, or nutrition advice for the purpose of health or disease prevention, and none claim to have formal medical training.
Take a look at this site to get a better idea of portions: http://caloriecount.about.com/article/when_you_cant_measure_estimate_portions
Daily news of food, food “innovation” and its hazards
If you want to keep up on the food news while you’re educating yourself on what to eat, and how much of it to eat, try looking at these sites:
There’s a whole line of subscriptions to the newsletters above. Check them out!
Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto