To me, food can enhance any situation. There’s nothing as satisfy as sniffing a fragrant pot of stew, perhaps a lentil curry, and hearing its soft bubbling as it slowly simmers on the back of my stove. Or on summer mornings, when I get back from running and the sun is just starting to creep above the horizon, I love picking dewy raspberries off the bushes in my backyard, and enjoying their juicy bursts of sweetness in the silence before a busy day.
Food has the power to unite and to nurture, to calm and to satisfy. It plays a central and consistent role in our lives, and is perhaps one of the only commonalities that we all share. It’s always there, every day, at least three times a day, influencing and shaping our lives. It’s not surprising then, that what we chose to eat, and when and where and how much, has an enormous impact on every other aspect of our lives. Our health and ability to enjoy life are very much connected to what we put into our mouths.
Quite frankly, the statistics associated with eating a Western diet scare me, particularly after I had children. (For example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that one in three children born today will develop Type II Diabetes.) As a result, I have tried to adopt a diet that I hope will nurture my family’s bodies as well as please their taste buds. I’ve cut out as many of the foods associated with increased rates of chronic disease and cancer as I can, particularly processed foods, sugar, unhealthy fats, and animal products. That means I rely as much as possible on whole ingredients for all of my recipes. Vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and beans play a major role in my cooking. When I eat well, I feel well. I am happier and healthier. And I don’t feel like we ever have to sacrifice taste. In fact, the more I try to eat healthful foods, the more I find myself enjoying my meals and loving cooking. It does take more time than heating up a frozen dinner or a boxed meal, but it is worth every minute.
Of course, this is all an ideal, and much of what I do lies simply in finding a good balance. There are very few things that I cut out one hundred percent all the time. So, because I’m trying to strike a balance, I never know for sure if I’ve achieved it. I also know that I have a lot to learn, and as the science and my knowledge of it evolves, so do some of my habits. I still love dessert, and you’ll definitely see some goodies featured here. I don’t pretend to have final answers on what the best alternative sweeteners are or which oils have the highest health benefits. If you came to my pantry, you would also see some deeply-rooted hypocrisies, like my love, and liberal usage, of ketchup, particularly on kids’ food, despite the fact that’s it’s mostly high fructose corn syrup. Oh well, you pick your battles, right? If it my four year old loves tofu and broccoli with ketchup, I’m not going to fight it. I also love eggs, and, thanks to the three hens in my backyard, use them fairly regularly in my cooking.
Health aside, one of my main motives for cooking is the joy it gives to others. I love to hear the deep inhales of steam when I set a hot dish down on the table, the “mmms” and “aahs” and silent chewing that follows, the satisfied sigh as knives and forks are laid down, reluctantly, beside empty plates. I love the the exclamation of delight when someone bites into something that turned out well—and then asks for the recipe.
Because of food’s power to bring people together in a moment of perfectly seasoned bliss, I also try to remember that eating healthy is only one part of enjoying food. When I first became aware of the negative health impacts of eating the typical American diet (fast food, processed snacks, soda, lots of meat), I unthinkingly set out to convert everybody I knew. I soon realized that food is not a religion. Refusing to eat what other people serve, or adopting a holier-than-thou attitude only leads to damaged friendships and hurt feelings. I know from personal experience that refusing a meal can feel like a rejection not just of the dish but the maker as well. I don’t want to be that kind of person. (And please accept my apology if I’ve done that to you in the past…)
In the end, I think that relationships are more important than food. After all, perhaps if I eat the perfect diet, I can live to be 150 years old, but if I alienate all my friends and family in the process, who will I hang out with in my old age?
I’m still trying to figure out how to balance all those things. I’d love to hear about your experiences. Have you encountered any problems in trying to adopt a healthy, plant-based, whole foods diet? What is most important to you when it comes to eating and health? Does food play a role in uniting your families and friends, like traditional meals or family recipes?