Sunday, April 06, 2008

Ode to Good Food

I am fascinated by food.

The growing of it, the cultural implications, the traditions and rituals, the history, the preparation, the smell, look, taste. I read cookbooks like novels, I will watch any TV show about any food, even though my own diet is fairly limited.
I have books on healing through nutrition, eating through Europe, and how to prepare green leafy vegetables 366 ways.
When I was 21, I rather suddenly became a vegetarian. One day I was eating a ham sandwich at my nephew's high school graduation party, the next day I gave up meat all together. My best friends were veggie so I guess I did it to be cool. A friend of a friend had cancer and a naturopath told him to stop eating all animal products. He went into remission. Diet for a Small Planet was still making the rounds of college campuses (more than 20 years after being published), and I wanted to save the world.
So I quit.
More than 12 years later, I still haven't had beef, pork, or poultry . At least not on purpose.. there have been the occasional mistakes at Asian restaurants..I try not to remember.
A few years ago I started eating fish, so I'm not a strict vegetarian anymore. I'm an ovo-lacto pescetarian if you want to get technical.

These decisions changed my life, in obvious and less than obvious ways. First, and foremost, I learned how to cook. I also learned that I LOVE to cook. Combining parts to make a delicious whole became a passion. I learned about amino acids and complete proteins. I learned how to use spices and the difference between frying and
sautéing. I worked in a prep kitchen in a restaurant and learned knife skills. I worked as a waitress and learned how to talk about food.

After a particularly nasty surgery and recovery, I turned to an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine herbalist. She recommended limiting or eliminating sugar, dairy, soy and peanuts. I didn't really know how to be a vegetarian that didn't eat tofu, cheese, or peanut butter. That's when I started eating fish. Another huge opportunity to learn how to cook all over again. Suddenly I was learning the versatility of rice milk, the thickening power of arrowroot, The Joy of Seitan!!!!!!!!!

And guess what? I felt better. A lot better. I know now for certain that my body works best when I eat a lot of vegetables and grains, and not much else. I can tell the difference in how I feel after eating too much sugar (especially that nasty white refined stuff) or too much dairy. So I try to listen to my body.

Somewhere along the way I also became committed to sustainability. To local produce and organic practices. I swear that sweet corn from a local organic farmer tastes better in July than any other corn, any other time of year. I pay attention to my food. I pay attention to my choices and how they affect the global economy and the environment. I may only be one person, but I believe that my choices make a difference.

I also believe that eating is important. The rituals around meals, the family history of certain recipes, the cultural implications of spicy vs. bland and boiled vs. grilled. What we use for fuel to survive is the most important decision we make every single day. It makes me sad that, as a culture, we have lost that truth.

I am lucky enough to have a partner in life that will eat virtually anything I put in front of him. What's this? Curried Wheat Gluten with Quinoa and Swiss Chard? Looks Great! So I will continue my own culinary journey, at home. With family, friends, and maybe someday with strangers.

thanks to Maggie for reminding me to not only think about this, but to blog about it too.


Drew Kime said...


I'm always on the lookout for people learning to cook so I can tell them about my book, How To Cook Like Your Grandmother. You clearly wouldn't be interested, since it is definitely not vegetarian. But I wanted to comment anyway to tell you I'm always glad to see someone who clearly cares about food, and wishes our culture paid more attention to it.

In the introduction I wrote, "I like food. I like cooking it, and eating it. I like the look and the smell and the taste of it." I read the first two lines of your post and knew that I'd like the rest.

I hope you get that chance to share your journey with strangers. Even better, that you enlarge the circle of friends you share it with.

Lea said...

you're my hero.

maggie, dammit said...

You're my hero, too. But that's nothing new.