I haven’t written about food a lot here because in general, it’s not something I think about too much. In general, it’s not something I’m preoccupied by – it never has been, and I hope it never will be.
But recently, thoughts about what we eat have been driving me nearly to distraction – so much so that a few weeks ago I had to sit down and type out my thoughts simply to quiet my mind. (It helped.) Since that point, John and I have come to some conclusions and made some changes. I know our actions and thoughts will continue to evolve over time, so I wanted to take a moment to record where we are now.
The thing that kicked off this food frenzy was a family viewing of Forks over Knives, a documentary that argues that most, if not all, degenerative diseases can be controlled or reversed by rejecting the dominant American diet of animal based and processed foods. While we had some issues with some of the studies they cite, the basic premise seems sound — and most importantly, makes logical sense to me.
John was immediately on board to cut dairy, meat, and sugar from our diet completely. To be honest, that scared me. The diet described in Forks over Knives sounded like complete and total drudgery, and I didn’t want every meal to become something I forced into my mouth. I didn’t want to live by rigid rules, inconveniencing every host and never being able to eat at a restaurant.
I do think our diet at the beginning of this year was better than average. Since graduating from college we’ve been on a slow and steady progression toward fewer processed foods, less meat, and more plants. You may remember that one of my daily goals for 2013 was to eat at least one “super food” a day, which has proven to be a great way to regularly get really good foods on my plate.
But back to the present: as my mind raced with all of the information from Forks over Knives and our subsequent conversations, I searched for more information to help us make informed decisions. Michael Pollan popped up over and over again, so I checked The Omnivore’s Dilemma out of the library.
Let me tell you, I really appreciate Michael Pollan.
He’s so calm and reasonable, which I feel are two qualities greatly lacking from a national conversation that celebrates something one week and then denounces it the next. In case you’re not familiar with him, Pollan’s advice has been famously boiled down to this: eat food — not too much, mostly plants.
Yes! We want this to be a long term life change, and in the long term, moderation works for us. Quitting things cold turkey or labeling certain things off limits does not. That being said, we don’t intend to use moderation as an excuse. Like the Forks over Knives peeps, we do believe that the diet we eat has a direct and strong effect on our bodies’ ability to stay healthy. We also believe that our body is equipped to process things that aren’t necessarily beneficial (like sugar), but that in order for it to be able to do that, we need to keep it in tip top shape and reduce the amount of “bad” things we take in overall.
So what does that mean for us? As I was searching for recipes to fit our new diet, I came across the A Couple Cooks blog. Their description of what they eat fits so perfectly with how we feel that I have to quote from it liberally here:
Our diet? We call it flexitarian. It’s mostly vegetarian, but with the freedom to enjoy all food. In general, we avoid purchasing “processed” foods — frozen meals, fast food, unhealthy snacks, items with mystery ingredients or added sugars. But overall, we like to focus on what we do eat instead of what we don’t.
— We try to eat the foods that have the most benefits to us and to our community.
— We find the approach of a “Mediterranean” style diet to make good sense: lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, but without trying too hard to fit within a certain marketable mold.
— There are a lot of diets out there. As a common core, we see homemade whole foods as the key that ties any healthy diet together.
— We eat mostly vegetarian because of the relatively lower resources (environmental and financial) required to put veggies on our table, but we also support the meat-raising farmers in our community on occasion.
— We buy organically-grown items when we can handle the price, to support the farmers who put in the extra effort of taking care of our farmland.
— We’ve found that an all-in-moderation approach works well for us. When we make pizza, we use white flour, because we like it that way. While we generally cook meatless, I recently enjoyed a big juicy steak to initiate the grilling season. In general, we choose to enjoy healthy and colorful salads, nourishing soups, and fresh veggies as our daily meals.
This diet works for us. It is freeing, and we find a lot of joy in it.
Yes, yes, yes!! Remember how my initial thought was that I didn’t want every meal to be drudgery? Sonja and Alex are correct – eating like this can be joyful, and we have found it to be so. Even in the last two months (February to March, not exactly the height of the growing season), we have found so many delicious and nutritious answers to the question of what’s for dinner.
I feel like this post is a little long on philosophy and short on details, but it’s already so lengthy that I’ve decided to split it up: the second part will go into more detail about specific recipes we’ve loved, resources we’ve found helpful, foods we’re eating more of, foods we’re eating less of, and some specific swaps we’ve made in our normal routine.
In the meantime, I’d be curious to hear: does your diet fit in a “marketable mold”? How would you describe it?