I have a confession. I never liked American cheese. I usually didn’t like the hamburger that it came on either. Honestly I never really liked many of the things kids were supposed to love. I always thought there was something wrong with me. I know for a fact that I drove my parents crazy with my picky eating. (Sorry about that Mom.)
Nevertheless, I was the typical male college student by the time I left home. I couldn’t cook to save my life. I saw food as a chore that I didn’t really have time for. Going on a mission where people from church kindly fed us almost every evening didn’t help me to learn better food habits either.
When I got back to school, I had a general education class about the history of food and culture, which was very interesting. I got to eat some crickets. (They’re not bad–kind of like high-protein popcorn.) We watched Super Size Me, which reinforced why I never liked McDonald’s food in the first place. I had another general ed class where the agriculture professor took advantage of having a captive audience to tell us about the evils of genetically modified foods by having us watch this very punny YouTube movie called Store Wars complete with Obi Wan Cannoli and Darth Tater. I thought she was off her rocker.
Then I started dating this really cute gal that I really wanted to impress. I decided to make her dinner one evening. Chicken cacciatore. However, I didn’t know the difference between a bulb and a clove of garlic. Do you know how long it takes to mince an entire bulb of garlic? I knew she liked me because she was kind enough to eat it. Suffice it to say she didn’t marry me because I was a great chef. Fortunately, Audrey has taught me a lot about cooking and I have improved.
As I got better at cooking, I’d often think about making changes to eat better, but I never really acted on these thoughts partially because it sounded difficult and partially because I liked food and eating healthy sounded a bit depressing. A little over a year ago, I read In Defense of Food and a light went on. The premise of the book is that nutritional science makes us as people feel unqualified to feed ourselves. As it turns out, the answer to what to eat is simple. Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. Honestly it all sounded very familiar to me as if I had heard this wisdom someplace before. Of course once you take those simple rules into the real world it gets more complicated than that. For instance, not a lot of what’s in the grocery store is actually food. He recommends some food rules for discerning real from fake food. For example, if your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, it’s probably not food. If it has ingredients you wouldn’t cook with or can’t pronounce or there are more than five ingredients or has high fructose corn syrup, it’s also probably not food. Generally items that make health claims aren’t food either.
I really liked the philosophy that we don’t really need to count calories or know what antioxidants/pro-biotics/omega3s are to eat healthily. If you can, read the book. If you don’t have time, read this article by the same author that covers the same topics in fewer words.
I think a lot of people associate eating healthier with deprivation, even I used to think that. However, I’ve found that real food, prepared well actually tastes better. I can make things now that I didn’t even know people made: tortillas, bread, salad dressing, ketchup, salsa, hummus. Each of them is way better than the store bought counterpart.
We’ve found that the hardest thing is not to know that you should eat better, but to figure out how. It’s a lifestyle change and that kind of stuff is hard. We’re still adjusting. It will involve more cooking and planning, but once the plan is made it’s easier to follow through with it. Here’s a few resources that we’ve used in our quest:
- Lifehacker: Ditch Your Dysfunctional Diet And Learn to Love Your Food. Good how-to on changing your diet not just dieting.
- This article by food writer Mark Bittman. Check out the related recipes. I got one of his cookbooks for Christmas and its amazing too. (When searching for it I found this other article talking about making the stir-fry, which was hilarious and reminded me of making the infamous chicken cacciatore.)
- Cook for Good – I am not as enamored with the recipes here as with the other links. (Some are really good and some are kind of bland.) I really like how thorough she is in her planning. The point of this website was to prove that people could indeed afford healthy food on the food stamp allowance. She provides complete monthly meal plans with costs for conventional and organic options.
- 100 days of real food – This is a recent find for us. The writer of this blog read In Defense of Food and went on a quest to eat real food for 100 days. She has shared a lot of recipes here. We tried the pork carnitas tacos with homemade refried beans and corn tortillas the other day and it was awesome.