Food (not so) fabulous food
My ex boyfriend and I used to always argue in the egg section at the supermarket. That’s because I was happy to pay a bit extra for the free-range organic variety and he wasn’t. It reflected a fundamental difference in our attitude towards food, and although certainly not the sole reason we eventually parted, contributed.
I refer to this in light of a recent radio interview I heard with author and journalist Michael Pollan, whose books including The Omnivores Dilemma and his latest, Food Rules, you may have heard of. Pollan’s main thesis, that we need to eat less, and our diet should be plant-based, resonates hugely.
Pollan doesn’t just advocate eating less meat – for our own good as well as the planet’s – he’s a strong advocate for home cooking, arguing that preparing a meal is not as big a challenge as many of us think. To prove it, he recently timed how long it took to microwave dinner for his family. “It took us 40 minutes to get all that stuff defrosted and on the table. And to serve it all hot at the same time was virtually impossible.”
His point is that we spend a lot of time buying fast and/or processed food: shopping for it, waiting for it, microwaving it at home, and that this is as time consuming, if not more so, than whipping up something from scratch.
Then there’s the fact that many of us consume concoctions prepared by others without ever bothering to find out where what we’re putting in our mouths actually comes from. As an aside, I remember watching the movie Fast Food Nation and being horrified when the pimply teen at a Burger King expectorated on the beef patty – sourced from a cow slaughtered brutally in an abattoir – before delivering it to the customer.
The good news is, to counter this very dismal culinary trend, a new political force is emerging, arguing in support of simpler, healthier food; less processing, more sustainable agriculture and more locally grown produce. Slow Food, part of a much larger movement promoting a more considered way of living, is just one example of this. You can read about it in a recent blog post, and hear one of its major proponents, Carl Honore, at next year’s Happiness & Its Causes conference.
You can also begin to change your own approach to dining by following Pollan’s 7 rules for eating wisely:
1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. “When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can’t pronounce, ask yourself, “What are those things doing there?” Pollan says.
2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
4. Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot. “There are exceptions – honey – but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren’t food,” Pollan says.
5. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. “Always leave the table a little hungry,” Pollan says. “Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, ‘Tie off the sack before it’s full.’”
6. Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It’s a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. “Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?” Pollan asks.
7. Don’t buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.