Saturday, April 9, 2011

Some More Food for Thought for Foodies

*Beginning Note: I may still wander back to that sexy, slippery topic of last week, but it seemed good to inter-space something heavy with something light.

A few years ago (September of 2005; good heavens, nearly six years ago!) I swung a hard right (left?) away from all things processed and straight into a more natural, and health-conscious lifestyle. I was raised on pb and j's, and spaghetti-os, and by the time I moved from Mansfield, Ohio to NYC the focus of my rebellion was clear. It was a process, of course, no pun intended. For a while I was proud of myself for chopping fresh broccoli I swiped from the crudite platter at some school event into my Campbell's broccoli and cheese soup. Over the course of a few years, I started getting produce from the farmer's market when possible, baking my own bread, searching out humanely-raised meat (when I ate meat at all; I was poor), and going organic (again, when I could afford it.) On the plane ride home from my honey-moon I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and became a born-again locavore. I didn't give up the bananas over night, but these days at least 50% of our groceries come from the farmer's market, including all of our meat and eggs. We have our little cheats of course (for the past two days I've walked to the grocery store to buy one Californian date to eat with my New York State cheddar cheese) but all in all we take this seriously! This summer we're joining a CSA!

And now, I am happy to announce, I am eating more processed foods. If you've been following along for a few weeks now, that statement may not shock you in the least. If you're a dedicated locavore and it does, you're in need of an intervention you poor, vitamin-deprived soul!

Processed foods have a very bad rap in healthy-eating, vegetarian, raw, clean, organic, local, etc, eaters. It's not that the reputation is unearned. Pick up a box of oreos and start reading and you'll likely never go near one again! On the other hand, I don't think any of us think soy milk grows in happy little pods, just waiting to be squeezed into those charming, recyclable cartons. We eat processed things all the time. Particularly if we're enjoying substitutes for things we're not eating: tofu, gluten-free products, dairy-free products, etc. Chocolate's processed, agave nectar is processed, organic whole-grain cereal is processed, frozen veggies are processed, dried spices are processed, you get the idea. We all eat processed foods to some degree, and anyway, I'm a firm believer in the significance of coming full-circle.

Alright, I've left you hanging long enough. I'll quell the WTFs in the audience. I've started processing the foods myself. All that stuff I'm buying at the farmer's market has found its way into a big pot soon after entering my house, and ended up sitting in lovely little eight-ounce jars on the canned-goods shelf of my pantry. That's sort of the rock-star method of home-preservation, but I also have a bunch of rosemary tied with a blue ribbon hanging rather romantically from the bedroom window lock, and quarts and quarts of autumn concord grapes in the freezer, just waiting to cool me down and satisfy my sweet tooth once things get hot and sticky. This is both incredibly empowering, and a little mind-blowing because...

my first step down the road to a healthier me was a giant one back from processed foods, and now I've run back to them with open arms. My second step was a giant one back from sugar, and in nearly six years, I have never looked back. Everything gets checked for sugar: how many grams per serving, how big is a serving, and how far is it up the ingredient list? I'll use sugar if I'm baking cookies, but if I'm making hot cocoa, I'll use agave nectar, thanks. Now if you jump into that rock-star preserving world of the boiling water canning method, the first thing you'll notice about the recipes you encounter is likely to be how much sugar you add. With things like old-fashioned jams, this is sort of expected. The high sugar content allows the natural pectin in the fruit to do its job. So I add it, and try not to think about it when I spread it on my toast. But what about spiced apple chutney (an ambrosial substance, by the way)? What about vin d'orange (another home-made miracle)? In the case of the former, there are two cups of brown sugar in a recipe that makes about six cups finished product because two of the other cups are apple cider vinegar. A food item is only safe to be canned in boiling water if that food item is sufficiently acidic. All that sugar is necessary to tame that vinegar bite to an irresistible tang.

So, when I say I'm eating more processed foods, what's really eating at my stomach's conscience is that I'm eating significantly more sugar than I have in a long time. All in all I feel sort of ok about this; spiced-apple chutney and blood orange marmalade are not items that you eat much of at a time; they're condiments after all. I've made these items in my own home, from local (no, the oranges aren't local, I confess to another cheat), organic sources. It's making me ponder just how subjective, most of the time, our decisions to eat what we eat and not eat what we don't eat really are. I got into this issue in my Thanksgiving Post. I was feeling a little ornery after one too many preachings from vegetarians so it takes a somewhat hard line on the issue. I want people to educated themselves; to get the full picture, and then decide what to eat or not to eat!

Well of course I do, and I try to be educated myself, but ultimately, there will always be more that we don't know. It's a running gag in the nutrition industry that today's super-food is tomorrow's carcinogen and vice-versa. Maybe, it's time I ask you to look at what you eat in a kinder, gentler way. One of my favourite yoga teachings is that you're perfect just as you are; you are exactly what you need to be right now. Of course we're constantly striving to grow, but in this moment, you don't need to be anything that you aren't already. So, it's ok if you eat mangos from Chili all winter long because they have so much prana. It's ok if you eat tofu that was grown by a major corporation to get your protein because you want the cows and chickens to be allowed to live. It's ok if I eat bacon from a local farm that raises their animals with respect and compassion because I just don't see a world in which no one eats meat as viable. We're all doing the best we can. Good job. That said, it's never a bad thing to examine those decisions...I'll get back to you if I find a way out of the sugar dilemna...if you happen to know a good source for canning recipes with the health-nut in mind, please do pass it along!

live Omily, and eat what tastes right!
~em

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