Saturday, April 12, 2008

Call yourself a Fast Foodie

"Eat Food. Not to much. Mostly Plants." That is Michael Pollen refrain in his latest book In Defense of Food. I love this book because it is one of the first "nutrition", and I use that word very lightly and somewhat ironically in this case, that doesn't use reductionist nutritionism and very simply, sums up all the things I have been touting in my own lifestyle and blog.

I realized as I was reading this book, underlining practically everything (bad librarian, thankfully I bought this book...) that I had never really explicitly defined myself or my food philosophy (another irony pointed out in Michael Pollens book is the age of Nutritionism- the more we know about nutrients and the health of food, the unhealthier AND unhappier we get). I have started to call myself a "special needs eater" because it is much easier than listing the things that make up my diet. Who wants to say to people, I am a gluten/soy/corn free vegan, and I don't eat processed foods or refined sugars (as long as I can avoid them) and eat locally and organically? That is too complicated, too exclusionary and frankly gives a exclusionist or avoidance air that is typical of people with "food" (and I kind of smirk and cringe using that term now) issues. The fact of the matter is the only reason I have to define myself that way is because of the modern concept of what food is. The reality of the situation is, the things I "avoid" I don't recognize as food. Nor does Michael Pollen. And do note that the vegan part of that is ONE of eating models that fits into my personal philosophy about eating. So what is my food philosophy? What have I been touting all along? I came up with a better summation: I am a Whole Foodist (not to be confused with Whole Foods(Paycheck) the store which is just as big of perpetrator in the non-food industry as any grocery store). I am a Traditionalist.

When I was in culinary school, there were two parts of my education: the nutritional side and the culinary side. What we didn't do, as is the current way of nutritional science is try to remove the nutrients & the benefits and focus on them or target them. We learned nutrition in the context of the diet, which is frankly not done regularly in Western thinking. For instance, we would learn about Micronutrients and then go in the kitchen and cook *gasp* with whole foods- fruits, vegetables, alternative grains, seeds, nuts, meat*, fish*, dairy*, booster foods (seaweed, maca, herbs, spice, etc) and oils (NOT vegetable canola oil, no no no not ever bad bad bad). I put * by meat, fish and dairy because I am talking about specific circumstance/non-processing-i.e. free range, organic, grassfed or wild, non-hormone, natural products, not just your everyday available. Think about it this way. Eating is a process of taking in the earth and the sun, so you want that process to be as close to natural as possible. Therefore everything in the food chain must be healthy from the soil itself to the animal or plant that is living off of that (which is why I eat local and organic!!).

One of the most important thing that Michael Pollen reminds us of in his book and I have been cooking/living by is that as much as reductionist science can isolate nutrients that are healthy and positive for us, they can not tell us how those nutrients work together in a particular food (and now I use the word food to define ONLY the bold items above-not store food) to make it do what it does. Alot of what is common in the Western Diet (aka SAD-Standard American Diet) is to fixate on a particular nutrient and put it in very thing. Look at soy, and now Omega 3. It is popping up all over the place! Americans are looking for a magic bullet, but the fact of the matter is they need a new paradigm. Actually an old one: Eat Food. When you look at traditional cultures from around the world they have lived and thrived on a variety of diets. Some eat meat, some fish, some plants, some dairy, but the common thread is- it is all food. Study Weston A Price's work or even take a look at any traditional cooking and you will see it.

To me that is why I feel so confident in the kitchen and the meals that I produce. I know they are healthy and good for my body because I use real food. Check out my kitchen and you won't see much/if any "store food", that is, stuff from the middle aisle- pseudo food stuffs that have been processed, packaged, refined and refortified and then stuck with a label full of healthy claims. Anything I get from the middle of the aisle comes from whole foods. Which is why the first thing I tell people when they want to reform their eating and undo the damages, is to read labels. I don't even give people specific things to avoid or not worry about. I think reading a label will make you put down the product as soon as you stop recognizing the ingredients as food. For instance, I look at the peanut & almond butters that I buy: ingredients: the nut. Period. That's it. I look at some other brands and there is palm oil and other weird things....

I believe in Eating for Health, holistic nutrition which doesn't remove the nutrition from the context of the mysteries of the foods that provide it. In my kitchen, I let the food speak for itself and bringing back another of the lost tenants of the Age of Nutritionism (and do note that "ism" defines a set of beliefs, like a religion-which is very different from nutrition), the enjoyment of eating. In Western culture, we eat less food (as I define it), became less healthy and enjoy the act of eating less (or moreso, we feel more guilty about it). I love to eat and I find once I began eating the Whole Foodist way that one of the things that was returned to me (albeit it look the longest to return) was the ability to enjoy food guilt free (as you will note this is something I still struggled with at the beginning of the year). But it is freaking fabulous to turn all the tenants of the Western Diet on its head. I eat food, not to much, am way more healthy and enjoy the hell out of myself. I think this self-defining is important because to again list myself as I am a gluten/soy/corn free vegan, and I don't eat processed foods or refined sugars (as long as I can avoid them) and eat locally and organically, because that doesn't sum it up. Because really, my food philosophy allows me to be vegan or non-vegan (I really could eat that wild boar if I so desired) and not compromise any of my own tenants. I simply choose right now to be vegan and partially because the type of meat I described as food is hard to come by and expensive and doesn't work with my lifestyle. There is infinite flexibility in Whole Foodism. Once you break the chains that the Western Diet has on your body (its like crack, your body is addicted to something that is not good for you), you will be reunited with the pleasures of food. And it is so great! And it is very liberating. Most "health conscious" Americans live in a state of bafflement and anxiety about what they should eat, but not me because nothing I have said requires remembering a complex set of acceptable and not acceptable foods. Here are the things that I and Michael Pollen both tout:

--Eat Food (fruits, vegetables, alternative grains, seeds, nuts, meat*, fish*, dairy*, booster foods (seaweed, maca, herbs, spice, etc) and oils)

--Read Labels. Avoid processed and refined and GMO products (sugars, flours, corn, soy). Avoid it if you can't pronounce it or recognize it, including high fructose corn syrup.

--Enjoy local and organic plants mostly. Stay to the outside of the grocery store. Go to a farmer market.

--Ignore health claims and avoid the products that make them.

--Indulge in amazing culinary delights made by hand from Food ingredients. Real food takes time, cooking connects you to your food.

--Eat mostly plants, especially leaves (not seeds-wheat, corn, soy).

--We don't NEED meat, but a little won't hurt you just remember as Michael Pollen says, "you are what you eat eats too.

--Eat diversely: local, in season, from healthy soil.

--Enjoy eating, take your time with it. We should be spending more time and money and energy on food and cooking than less. It is THE most important thing we do.

--And finally, one thing that I have shared with the people that I have cooked for and helped nutritionally is: don't look for a magic bullet (Michael Pollen also says this). You won't lose 30 pounds in 30 days or be able to eat bacon wrapped steaks slathered in cheese for every meal, but in the long run (and that is all that matters), every fiber of your being will be healthier. You are what you eat!

That is the Whole Foodist way, or even better, the Fast Foodie way. I would take the time to read Michael Pollen's book, it may be the only "nutrition" (ha!) book you ever read again.

More Fast Foodie Originals

In the vein, I was talking about above, I have been looking for a homemade counterpart to breakfast cereal. While I have been eating a certified GF granola for a while which I can get behind, I still prefer homemade. Yesterday I made a veritable mashup of things to get the combination of grains, nuts and seeds I like at breakfast and so was born:

Nutty Don't Call me Oatmeal

2 1/2 cup (yield from one cup uncooked) brown rice-cooked
3/4 cup raw oats (do not cook!)
1/2 cup raw trail mix blend (nuts, seeds, unsweetened dried fruits)- your choice. Mine had dried cherries, goji berries, almonds, seeds, dried cranberries.
2 teaspoons maca
1/2 teaspoon stevia
dash of pumpkin pie spices

When the rice is still warm but not cooking (off the heat), stir in the oats to combine. Add trail mix and other ingredients. Let cook and store in a airtight container.

To serve, scoop out approx. a cup into a bowl, top with bananas and berries (or whatever fruits you like), prunes (take em or leave em) and a bit of hemp milk or almond milk, enjoy immensely.

After a long first week of work, I just wanted to come home on Friday evening, flop on the couch and eat some delicious gourmet vegan food. So I whipped out the Artful Vegan, by far the hardest and most gourmet vegan recipe book from Millennium Restaurant in SF I have and pulled out the recipe for Saffron Sweet Potato, Fennel and Roasted Garlic with Meyer Lemon Cream from it. The recipe was not too complicated but boy was it good and intensely satisfying. Here is a picture for now, I will update with the recipe later. But speaking of food, all this talk about deliciousness has made me hungry!


  1. Devon,

    I love to read your blog. I know i say that all the time, but I DO!

    I love Michael Pollan and what he preaches. I'm still a ways off from truly practicing it all, but I do my best given my circumstances. I work toward changes one day at a time.

    What I have a hard time with is how to bring this...this...thing, this others. Farmer's Markets are great...they're also expensive. How can we ask the single mother of 4 who's living off one paycheck and time-strapped as well to go to the Farmer's Market instead of Safeway where she can get double her money's worth? Oh and when the only Farmer's Market is on Saturday and across town and completely inaccessible by public transportation? Or how about the towns/cities that don't have Farmer's Markets?

    In this society where money is tight and priorities are misplaced (I mean, if you ask me, save the $60 a month you spend on cable and put it toward healthy food)'s a complete uphill battle.

    I just get frustrated by all of the granola heads in their own world who want to preach this lifestyle but don't want to do anything to help others achieve it.

    I hate the Whole Foods thing. I hate the bandwagons people jump on (as you mentioned - Soy in everything, Omega-3s, people buying Hybrids without even realizing the environmental impact those have)...

    Anyway, pardon my rant. ;) I just want to see this movement toward FOOD really achieve some widespread impact. People wonder why cancer and autism has gone up and I just can't help but think it must have something to do with the fact that the SAD has so many synthetic chemicals in it.

    Great post, great words. :)

  2. Nourishing Traditions is a good book about real food, despite the organ meats and eggs and butter. Simplicity is the basis of her thinking. Real food. I've stopped saying if I'm vegetarian or not because, like you, it's too hard to explain it all.

    As for farmer's markets and the other comment, they really aren't any more expensive than buying a box of processed cookies. Rice and beans are about the cheapest protein/carb meal you can have. And, now lots of markets have programs for low income folks. Co-ops with organic produce will also accept the food stamp cards, so really there's no excuse other than not wanting to take the time to cook. But with pressure cookers, slow cookers, etc, that's not really an excuse either. Ok, now I'll stop my rant.

    Viva whole foods (not the Food Hole, as we lovingly called it when I worked there) and the whole food revolution!

  3. I agree with you, Alison, but part of it is also education.

    Unfortunately the people that we want to get to stop buying processed cookies and chips are also simply uneducated about how to cook in healthful ways and how to cook to have leftovers and make additional meals from that.

    You say there's no excuse other than not wanting to take the time to cook; but when both parents are working and don't get home until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. because of long commutes and their kids are hungry, and they don't even know what a slow cooker starts to become apparent why places like McDonalds are so successful. They market to these people and try to say that they're providing healthful foods (look, Mom, we have salads for you, too) while keeping the prices low.

    Whole Foods is for rich people. I'm sorry, but it is. I call it Whole Paycheck. Even I cannot afford to shop there and I am not low income. And yes, I'm willing to bet they accept food stamps, but if you don't educate the people who are on food stamps about how to USE the veggies and fruits they could buy with them, they're not going to buy them.

    The 5 A Day Campaign is wonderful, but it's not enough.

    There was a survey awhile back where some percentage of parents answered that yes, their kids were getting vegetables 4 times a week and then answered that those 'vegetables' were french fries.

    It all comes back to education.

  4. I agree with you both :) and definitely am not giving any props to Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck), I don't shop there at all. I think their existence is one of the reasons that people think eating right is expensive! My co-op, farmers markets etc are not that expensive.

    I do think education and our culture/priorities are out of wack. Unfortunately, it would take a mass paradigm shift to make things better. That said, everything I said about my own paradigm is something that individuals can achieve through very minimal work. Reading a label, is it that hard? Eating an apple instead of an apple fritter? As for helping others achieve it.....that's what I am trying to do :)

  5. I love this topic and could go on forever! I agree, Sarah, that education is key. I realize people work long days and it's just too bad that our society has made them believe that they have to forgo healthy eating because their trying to make a living. But it isn't terribly hard to put some beans and rice in a slow cooker before work and then have a meal (albeit simple) done when you walk in the door in the evening. Then with the money they could actually save on food they could possibly cut down their work week and spend time with their family they work so hard to support. Of course this is an ideal and not likely, but one can dream, right?

    One problem I see is that the inexpensive stuff like bulk beans, rice, etc can't compete with commercials and ads that people get drilled with every waking moment. Then they see ads for places like Whole Foods where it is superexpensive and don't see another option, because those places choose to keep their expenses down too and don't advertise as much. I'm amazed at how much cheaper the local co-op is compared to other co-ops even. It seems that even co-ops have gotten mixed up in trying to compete with gourmet stores and offer almost as many packaged foods as a regular store. Ahhh, the politics of it all.

  6. We really could go on about this, couldn't we??

    It's such a fascinating topic. I totally agree with you, Alison.

    But what's interesting is that even I, who is an educated person, never really knew about co-ops until you mentioned them. I mean, I knew Cheese Board in Berkeley was a co-op. But as far as grocery stores...

    I just moved up to Santa Rosa and I'm sure there are co-ops here but how would i know they exist unless somebody actually told me?

    Same with the slow cooker...I'll be honest...I grew up with crock-pot cooking from my mom but is that what a slow cooker is?

    I guess I see myself and then I think "wow, if _I've_ had a hard time finding some of this stuff...and I CARE about eating healthy and cooking more, etc...then what do people who aren't looking for it do?"

    Same as the rice/beans thing...I couldn't agree more. But how do we reach those people?

    The advertising dollars just aren't there and can't compete with these multi-billion dollar corporations.

    Because I'm so passionate about health and healthcare in this country, it really bothers me a lot, which is why I could go on forever about it. :)

    Unfortunately, there never seems to be enough time to get involved with all of the things we want to be involved with.

    But this 'conversation' alone has sort of inspired me to see how I might be able to get involved in my new community up here to do some outreach and awareness.

    So for that, I thank both of you ladies. :)

  7. Sarah,
    I was just thinking about that yesterday, how it really is pretty much iimpossible to know about it all unless you self-educate or happen to know someone who knows about it all.

    Advertising has been so successful at convincing people that it is really expensive and time consuming to eat well. It's such an uphill battle.

    Devon! Great post! I love these conversations!


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