Wednesday, February 07, 2007

More on the food beat:

I bought this cookbook last week. Also bought this by the same author. I'm sure I won't use the latter as much as the former, since unlimited sweets are clearly not my friend. However, this does mean that my dairy-allergic spousal unit will actually be able to have desserts now and then. I can vouch for the fact that the vegan vanilla cupcakes really do work. Next stop: Chocolate.

So far I've only made two dishes from Vegan with a Vengeance, but they were both awesome. One was a beet soup with barley and black soybeans, and the other, which I made tonight, was a casserole of seitan and bell peppers with a spicy Ethiopian-style sauce. Isa Chandra Moskowitz's cookbooks contain hints for "veganizing" dishes made with meat, eggs, or dairy. Since Rick and I are most accurately described as flexitarians, I'm thinking about adapting the seitan sauce for use on chicken. The nice thing about the vegan version, though, is that none of the ingredients require precooking (I used packaged seitan instead of making it myself), so it took about 10 minutes to throw it together, followed by 40 low-maintenance minutes in the oven. It was really wonderful with sides of rice and beet greens. Of course, we already like seitan and tofu and beans and beets and all those things that the fast food ads would lead us to believe are yucky.

Although I've always had semi-revolutionary food preferences, I'm finding myself becoming more and more radicalized on the subject. I'm finally realizing how strange it is that, in a country with an abundant food supply, it's become something of an exception to prepare and eat real food. Long ago, I stopped clipping coupons from newspapers because they were invariably inducements to buy canned and boxed things that were much, much better when prepared fresh. (I certainly don't have the time to make my pasta from scratch. Boxed spaghetti is a reasonable indulgence. But boxed spaghetti dinners? With one unit of packaging per component per dinner per person? Why feed just yourself when you can also feed a landfill?)

I don't expect to become a total crank who refuses to ever eat a candy bar, or to keep a jar of Ragu in the kitchen cabinet for those days when one is really too tired to cook. But I'm becoming more and more aware of the inversely proportional correspondence between the level of processing and packaging applied to my food and the actual pleasure I take in eating it.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

For the first time in approximately 25 years, I’m attempting to go on a diet.

It’s not what you think. For instance, it’s not necessarily a low-calorie diet, although I expect it to do good things for my weight. It’s not a low-fat or a low-carb diet, although I’m sure I’ll consume less sugar and grease in the process. It’s not a vegetarian diet, although it will be primarily plant-based. And, it’s not tied to a specific religious or ethnic culture, although it would probably not be alien to any of my ancestors.

In short: I’m going to make the attempt, as much as is humanly possible, to eat food and only food.

If you follow the above link to a New York Times essay by Michael Pollan, you’ll learn exactly what I mean. (Free registration may be required, and the essay’s a bit long, but it’s an easy read as well as a refreshing one.) For those who don’t have the time to follow the link, it can be paraphrased as follows: If a supposedly edible item is extensively processed, extruded, colored, flavored, laced with alleged “nutritional supplements”, and heavily promoted as a novel high-tech invention, it’s probably not food.

In other words: Before you start counting fats, carbs, calories, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and claims of disease prevention, try losing the medicated corn chips and the space-shuttle-ready cereal bars in favor of real vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. If you eat animal products (I do), go for the ones that contain the fewest medicines and additives, and exercise moderation. If you must occasionally eat refined and processed foods, stick with the ones that have a tradition that goes back at least a few generations before your own. At least they have a track record of not killing people.

We still have some items in our house that don’t qualify as food under the above definition. We’re finishing them off, although whenever we read the labels on the frozen prefabricated veggie burgers and the shiny wrapped energy bars, we’ve been gleefully exclaiming “It’s not food!” The soy milk will undoubtedly stay; soy beverages have been around for centuries, and soy milk is easier than real dairy on Rick’s allergies and my lactase-deficient digestive tract. I’ve actually found a recipe for a meatless sausage-like patty that’s made out of real food – tempeh, beans, and natural herbs and spices – and plan to give it a try in the near future. For those carnivorous mornings, I’ve found a naturally low-fat turkey bacon produced without nitrites or drug-laced feed.

So, watch this space. It will be interesting to see how this turns out. I tend to be a sucker for weird food, whether it’s real food or not, so the big difficulty for me won’t be resisting the reconstituted potato-flake chips or the omega-enhanced eggs. Those things are old hat. The problem is that whenever someone introduces a rice-syrup sweetened vitamin-enhanced celery-derived toaster pastry that supposedly cures the common cold and tastes exactly like rhubarb pie, I’m the kind of person who has to try it at least once. With luck I’ll break that habit. Pass the real rhubarb pie, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy a moderately-sized piece, guilt-free.

(Crossposted to Stridulations.)