Saturday, May 24, 2008

On Food

Something I think about a lot: food and eating. I've had issues with my stomach since I was 11. It usually manifested as debilitating pain under my solar plexus shortly after eating, which led me to eat considerably less to avoid the pain. This problem persisted pretty much steadily until I was about 20, when it just sort of cleared up. It has returned a few times since then, when I've been particularly stressed. I have undergone every test that exists to no avail, and I think that it's actually caused by eating after not eating for a long period because I generally notice that it returns when I eat a big meal after skipping 1-2 meals prior because I'm too busy to eat.

So, one of my favourite columnists/bloggers is Mark Bittman from the NY times. He does the Minimalist column/video and a blog called Bitten. A few days ago I watched a 20-min video of a conference presentation that he gave about meat consumption in the US that was interesting. The slides left a lot to be desired, but I really like his style. It reminded me of the life- and diet-changing article that I read last year about "real food" and vitamins--that I searched and searched for but couldn't find. The whole premise of the article is that there's no proof that our bodies are able to do anything with vitamins when they are not ingested as food, thus it is much better to eat food that doesn't have ingredients because it is an ingredient.

Bittman makes a comment in this video about how, prior to the mid-20thC, there were no "philosophies of eating;" people just ate food. It was the food that could be grown and raised locally and it was prepared according to traditional practices. I've never liked to think of myself as having a philosophy of eating, because it inevitably leads me to overanalyse what I eat, which then leads to eating paralysis--and I end up not eating until I have so little energy that I can't get out of bed. However, I think that this article I read last year helped me to create a philosophy of eating that is mostly unconscious. It's taken time to change my tastes, but the impact on my health has been undeniable.

When I eat food that is primarily ingredients (starting from raw vegetables, whole grains, fresh herbs, good quality oil, locally raised meat--if any at all) I feel really good. Not only do I have more energy, but I don't get indigestion or bloating any more. I rarely have the desire to eat processed foods, and the only times that I find myself getting the eating paralysis is when I eat several meals in a row of food that I haven't prepared for myself. I start panicking about what I might have ingested or what nutritional value I might have missed out on, and then I have a difficult time eating anything at all. I still don't really have any control over this aspect of my behaviour, but improving my eating habits has made it crop up less often. I also feel better from an ethical standpoint because eating this way produces considerably less waste.

The part of this new eating and cooking experience that makes it most like a philosophy (I think) is that I'm hyperconscious all the time of the nutritional content of my food. Because I don't believe in taking vitamin supplements, it's really important to me that I'm getting a balanced diet--and I'm literally terrified of consuming empty calories (although I still do it from time to time because desert is delicious). I try to get the most nutritional content out of each calorie that I eat, and this is good and bad. My cooking doesn't taste as good as it used to, although I'm learning techniques to improve the flavour and also add nutritional value. One of my favourite pleasures is eating really, really good food... and I'm baffled by how easy it is for me to eat my own cooking without exceptional flavours. That said, my cooking isn't bland--it just uses next to no salt, only just enough fat, and only whatever sauces come from cooking the veggies or meat and deglazing. I do season heavily with fresh herbs and aromatic things like onion, garlic, and ginger.

The summary: My philosophy of eating is to eat real food that doesn't have ingredients because it is an ingredient, and to maximise the nutritional bang for each bite through eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains with meat occasionally thrown in.

1 comment:

Sheena said...

If you haven't already, you should check out In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. He basically expands on everything you just wrote about, which is at once useful and makes clear how sad it is that we (general we) need to be taught how to distinguish real food from fake food. Also, Mark Bittman rox! :)