On eating

There are other countries, such as Italy and France, that decide their dinner questions on the basis of such quaint and unscientific criteria as pleasure and tradition, eat all manner of “unhealthy” foods, and, lo and behold, wind up actually healthier and happier in their eating than [North Americans]. We show our surprise at this by speaking of something called the “French paradox”, for how could a people who eat such demonstrably toxic substances as foie gras and triple crème cheese actually be slimmer and healthier than we are? Yet I wonder if it doesn’t make more sense to speak in terms of an American paradox–that is, a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of eating healthily.
– Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Over the last two years–and especially the last few months–my relationship to food has changed considerably. I grew up in the southern US, home of one of the worst diets in the world: everything is deep fried, sugar filled or made of highly processed flour. The worst stuff is all three. For such an agriculturally based society, there is a seemingly paradoxical dependence on the industrial food supply, and a remarkable lack of connection with the natural world through food. I, like virtually everybody else my age or older, fell victim to the industrial/fast food attitude of the 20th century.

Since I started actually paying attention to Krista’s nutrition advice (sorry it took me so long), I’ve begun to see food as something different. Food is no longer fuel. It’s an experience to be enjoyed; a way to connect to my ecosystem; and a way to improve my health.

Pollan also wrote a book  called In Defense of Food, in which he set out three simple rules for eating:

  1. Eat food.
  2. Not too much.
  3. Mostly plants.

As I have learned more about food, I have grown fonder of it, and along the way I figured out that my grandmother’s admonishment to eat my veggies… makes a lot of sense. I mean, I have known for a while that I should be following some version of Pollan’s rules (bless his heart for summing it up in seven words), but I’m just now starting to understand why. Precision Nutrition has helped a lot, too. I mean, they optimize eating for health and athletic performance, but at its core the Precision Nutrition system is simply a way of looking at food that says that it should be both tasty and good for you. You can just do what they tell you and you’ll be leaner and healthier, but John encourages people to learn about food, with the idea that once you understand WHY you’re doing something, it becomes easier to do it. My own experience has borne this out.

Tree hugging hippies at Fiesta Farms, my neighbourhood's dose of food awesomeness.

Tree hugging hippies at Fiesta Farms, my neighbourhood's dose of food awesomeness.

I think about food all of the time. I think about how to get more variety in my diet; where I can acquire game meats and organic veggies instead of extracting substances barely deserving of the “food” descriptor from the industrial food supply; what herbs will go well with the lamb stew that I put in the crockpot yesterday. I answered one of those Internet meme quizzes a few weeks ago. It asked for my favourite store, which I had to specify as Fiesta Farms, the independent, local-food-oriented grocery store three blocks from my house. (Which, by the way, now offers a variety of game meats thanks to their new butcher shop manager. Oh how I love Fiesta Farms.)

These days, as I walk through the store, I now look at where food comes from. Beef from the US? No thanks, I’ll pay $1.00 extra to get the organic grass-fed beef from Rowe Farms in Guelph. Ooh, these tomatoes are grown locally. How many varieties of cabbage can I get on this shopping trip? I’ll bet my salad would be even better with the red cabbage

And do you know why I do that? Because I now understand that the more varied my food choices are, and the more direct the path from the food chain to my tummy, the better the food tastes and the better it is for me. It’s awesome to finally have a great relationship with food.

Last spring we planted a vegetable garden in my postage stamp of a back yard. It wasn’t hugely successful, but to be fair it was my first attempt: I got my own tomatoes, kale, and a sprinkling of a few other veggies. We made some mistakes–such as not properly placing crops and having to move them just as they were taking hold–that affected the yields. I’m smarter now, and this year I’m going to be more careful about where things go. But you know, I’m just as excited about my 2009 garden as I am about competing in the ADCC trials in May.