About In Defense of Food — or, Why I choose to eat the way I do

I know, I know.  I’m late to the party.  I just finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.  Although I enjoyed reading In Defense of Food very much, and perhaps because of working around nutritionists all the time, I thought The Omnivore’s Dilemma was a more motivating book for me.

A quote from In Defense of Food sums up for me the reasons for a vegetarian lifestyle and eating locally and sustainably as much as possible.  He says, “Depending on how we spend them, our food dollars can either go to support a food industry devoted to quantity and convenience and “value” or they can nourish a food chain organized around values—values like quality and health.  Yes, shopping this way takes more money and effort, but as soon you begin to treat that expenditure not just as shopping but also as a kind of vote—a vote for health in the largest sense—food no longer seems like the smartest place to economize.”  Of course, the kind of health he is speaking about is the health of the planet, not just of our individual bodies.  Sustainable agriculture, consuming the producer instead of the consumer, and lessening consumption of fossil fuels in our eating habits helps not just our own health, but that of the planet.  We may think we cannot make a difference – and perhaps we won’t – but our individual portion of the guilt humanity has for ruining the earth will be lessened.

A few pages earlier in the book, the author makes the statement that Americans spend about 9.9% of their income on food, as opposed to 14.9% in Italy and France.  That is interesting to me because I recently did a study of our monthly grocery budget, and found that I could feed our family of six for about $600 in a month by being very careful with our money, but only buying whole foods (and no meat.)  Even so, our monthly food budget is over 15% of our annual income.  In addition, I thought about what would happen if we bought each member of the family only two items off a dollar menu for each meal of the day.  This would add up to $1080(90 meals times $12).  Even if we took off one meal a day, assuming that most adults skip breakfast and kids get free lunch at school, our fast food diet would cost at least $720.  I know I could never be fully satisfied with a dollar burger and a drink, and certainly would not have the energy to run or the health to never miss a day of work.  So how Mr. Pollan came by his figures is hard for me to understand.  As far as I could tell, this would only work from a complete average of all Americans – wealthy and poverty-stricken alike – and makes his statistic of very little value.

Also, the recent study I did on our grocery budget pointed out to me the amount of time involved in eating real foods inexpensively.  Unfortunately, very few real foods can be eaten without any preparation time.  A diet of only raw fruits and vegetables, while sustainable for a while, would be very tedious in the long run.  When I have the time to bake bread, make tortillas and fresh pasta, and generally spend the time I wish to in the kitchen, my family can eat much less expensively than if I buy good whole wheat bread, tortillas and other prepared items.  So we must take that into account as we discuss the American food culture.  Do Americans in general, especially the lower middle classes, have the time or the training necessary to eat healthfully and have a food culture?  How many people don’t know how to cook dried beans, make a loaf of bread, or prepare a tasty vegetable dish?

On the other hand, I totally agree that Americans have a bad attitude about food.  Food is treated as calories and nutrients rather than something that should be enjoyed and savored.  People eat with their brains instead of their mouths!  Just because a TV dinner has enough Vitamin C, A or protein for a meal does not make it fit to put inside your mouth!  Is part of the reason people are misled by nutritionism because they have never tasted a well-prepared home meal?  As Mr. Pollan points out, many people start preparing their home cooked meal by opening a can of “Cream of …” soup.

I guess I am lucky that I love to cook.  That way, the extra time spent in preparing meals with real foods can be enjoyable to me.  But I also know that it does not have to require that much time in the kitchen to have a well-balanced, healthy diet that supports my family’s health and that of the planet.  One of my goals on this blog is to show the variety of nutritious, inexpensive, TASTY foods that can be made easily, just by devoting a little forethought and time to a person’s diet.  I am certain that as you learn to choose foods and cook, you will see a corresponding increase in energy levels, interest, and health.

Some of the recipes in the upcoming days:

EASY!  Kale and red-pepper pesto with pasta and egg.

YUMMY!  Carmelized onion pizza.

FAST!  Baked macaroni and cheese.

I hope you’ll join me, and enjoy spending some time in the kitchen voting for good health.

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