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thinking of food rules

February 24th, 2010 | 16 Comments »

These days, the buzz words of anything food or culinary related seem to center around the latest thing Michael Pollan has talked about. I’m no MP basher- I like the guy and I even willingly watched ‘Oprah’ the day he was on it because I think he’s got his finger on the right idea. But, and forgive me, he isn’t the last word in what we put in our mouths. We are. You are. Everyone needs to take their food rules to a level that works for them.

I haven’t read this book. I probably will when the hype over it lessens and it sits on the library shelf all by itself. It’s not long and it isn’t complicated, and from what I’ve seen, it’s chock full of sound advice. “Eat food that comes from a plant, not food that’s made in a plant” or something to that extent, is pretty clear. The more natural, the better. We all know that buying products with an extensive list of unpronounceable ingredients just isn’t good eating. We know that factory farmed meats are not the best option for our bodies. Vegetables are laden with pesticides. Sugar is hidden in everything. Every single day we’re bombarded with news about our well-being, proper nutrition and health crises that are out of control. People lament “I don’t know WHAT to eat anymore!” And to this I just say ‘Stop.’

We need to make our own choices. And we need to be content with those choices, both with what we bring into our homes and that which we see around us. Some of those choices may not be practical for everyone, and we need to remember that we’re not all the same.  We’re raised to be who we are, each with our own fingerprint, our own set of values and our own means of taking in and digesting the world around us.

My food rules have changed dramatically over the past few years, and I have a lot of ideas about how I want them to be different, but given our current financial situation, I’m not doing absolutely everything that I want. Some day, perhaps. I need to pick which ones, right now, are most important to me, are within my budget and my desire to live healthier.

Simple to address; eating out. We don’t do it much at all. I’m a very good cook and as much as I love to have someone else prepare my meal, I know about raw food costs, and sometimes menu pricing makes me irate so I protect my blood pressure by staying home. It protects my budget too. When we dine out, I like to go to restaurants that prepare food I tend not to make, so we frequent ethnic restaurants. And a few tried and trues places that make a 15-year old boy and both his parents happy. That’s not an easy challenge. We don’t eat fast food, but we’ve gone to Chipotle, Baja Sol, Davannis (local chain that serves pizza and hoagies) and Mavericks (local shop that makes killer roast beef sandwiches). Those places are OK by me, on occasion. I don’t make it a habit by any means. And it’s at those places where I tend to drink the only soda I ever consume. We don’t drink soda at home. If my son wants it, he spends his own money on it. I don’t like it, but it’s his choice.

At home, I make most everything from scratch, but I don’t make my own pasta sauce. I’ve done it from scratch and it’s fine, but the overall cost of ingredients can be staggering so I buy a good quality jarred option. I avoid any products with MSG as I am highly sensitive to it, and am adamant about avoiding high fructose corn syrup and any kind of trans fat. I love Wheat Thins, but they have HFCS. I love Ritz crackers too- again, HFCS. I buy some boxed cereals but they tend to be healthier options, occasionally a sweeter version hits my pantry, but I don’t eat cold cereal much, so when I do, it’s more like a treat. I buy and eat a lot of oatmeal, and get the thick cut version, basically one step down from Steel Cut, and I like the hot cereals from Bob’s Red Mill. We don’t eat frozen meals, frozen pizza, or boxed meals; I buy the best yogurt I can without artificial sweeteners. I make pancakes and waffles from scratch, and all my baked goods are from scratch. I don’t use cake mixes, and have recently decided that I need to stop using refined white sugar so I’m researching alternatives- thanks Angela!!  I started making almost all of our bread, using the Healthy Bread in 5 minutes book, and we make pizza dough from scratch. We love the flavor of the bread, it’s better for us, and cuts back on the cost of packaged. I’m very diligent about reading labels, and buying products that contain recognizable ingredients. My son loves to snack on Nachos, and I will buy jarred salsa only with fresh ingredients. I’m sure I could make my own but I don’t. That’s my decision. Sometimes those decisions are simple. Other times, they’re not so cut and dried, and I wrestle with the best way to choose.

We eat meatless as much as possible, and that’s hard because you all know that I refer to my boy as The Carnivore. He thinks that no meal is worthy without meat. I’m happy that he loves black beans, as beans and rice is a cheap meal that is nutritionally sound. He’s pretty good about eating what I make even if it isn’t his favorite; the alternative is to make his own dinner, and he’s just a tad too lazy for that. I don’t argue about the food he wants to eat. Up until a few years ago, he never made a stink about our meals, but now that he does, I feel it’s just his way of trying to control what he can. I don’t fault him. I know the ground work has been laid, and living by example is just fine with me. We eat cheese, but don’t drink milk. I use soy milk for coffee, cereal and baking and buy a soy based sour cream and cream cheese. I use butter and sometimes Earth Balance soy based butter. We buy only whole bean coffee of good quality. I don’t use canned goods other than beans, tomatoes, coconut milk, and pumpkin. I use olive and canola oil. I do not use margarine, I’ve got a container of non-hydrogenated organic shortening on hand for those recipes where it’s a must, and I basically sub whole wheat flour for all-purpose so much now that I won’t be buying AP once the current bag runs out. I utilize whole grains like farro, wheatberries, millet and barley, we eat a lot of nuts and plenty of vegetables. I prefer to buy some of my produce as organic, but it isn’t necessary that it’s all that way. During Farmers Market season, I buy almost all our vegetables from the markets.

And like I said, there’s lots more I wish I was doing, but this works for us, for now. I’d love to hear your personal food rules- what you eat, what you avoid, what you wish you could be doing. I think we all have a lot to learn from each other, don’t you? My quick on the draw friend Barb already has hers up on her blog. Feel free to put yours in my comments.

16 Responses to “thinking of food rules”

  1. [...] Another Kate’s food rules here. I bet every food/cooking/health blogger has a list somewhere! [...]

  2. This is an excellent post Kate. I like Barb’s rules of real, motivation and celebration.

    I think you kind of know where I’m at with all of this but since discovering my MSG sensitivity, I’ve paid a lot more attention to ingredient lists rather than just the nutrition facts part of the label.

    In addition to MSG, I’m working on getting away from artificial coloring. Grace throws up when she drinks a lot of Hi C or other things that are really red so I’m thinking she has a sensitivity to that.

    We buy natural PB and no-HFCS applesauce b/c those are things we eat A LOT. What brand yogurt do you buy? That’s something else we eat daily.

    This month, we decided to see if we could go w/o fast food and pop. Hubby made it. I had fast food twice and the kids did once (today). Grace and I had pop maybe 4 or 5 times and the boys had none.

  3. oops, moderation, not motivation. duh

  4. Suzie says:

    I find this subject so fascinating because it speaks so much to who we are culturally and the time we live in. My rules are probably a little lax compared to you and your other readers, but mine are:
    - fresh fruit every day
    - fresh vegetables every day
    - almost no fast food
    - fish at least twice a week
    - no pre-packaged meals, dinner from scratch every night
    - no sodas / colas. Nearly no alcohol.
    Where we could improve are:
    - more vegetarian meals (I am struggling to convince the family)
    - fewer sweet treats (the kids take a couple of cookies in their lunch box every day)
    I am resigned to the fact that I will always be a work in progress, and if you asked the same question in five years, my views might be very different.

  5. Very good blog post I love your site keep up the great posts

  6. Jacqui says:

    Hi Kate, I really liked reading what you had to say about food in our society. My “food rules” are actually pretty close to yours, although I’m a vegetarian, and have been for quite a long time; feeding my body with healthy things has always been important to me and makes me feel better. I honestly do not remember the last time I ate fast food and our budget has been really tight lately, so we tend not to eat out very often. When we do, I really enjoy foods that I too don’t cook often, usually of the ethnic variety. It probably helps that I enjoy cooking, but I’ve developed highly sensitive taste buds too. I notice when my food is too salty or sweet, or artificial tasting and I don’t like it, so I feel like why would I want to eat that when I can make it better at home.

    I noticed your comment about how grocery shopping makes you sad when you see people making unhealthy choices, I was just thinking this the other day and telling my fiance about how so many people are eating such bad things and they think they are saving money! I looked at all my bulk bin purchases of dried beans, whole flours, and nuts, then looked at the lady behind me with pre-shredded cheese, various packaged meats, enriched white macaroni noodles, and it made me sad. I just wanted to tell her and show her how to really save money and eat better as well.

    I haven’t read Pollan’s book, but what I feel it comes down to is getting back to the basics and eating foods in their purest whole form, before they’ve been manufactured and labeled and packaged as the no transfat, low fat, low carb, high Omeg3 things food had become. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and reading mine.

  7. lo says:

    Have read “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and I respect Pollan’s opinions on food. I tend to find him a bit “preachy”… I think he speaks from a privileged standpoint, and he often makes sweeping statements about peoples’ habits and obesity that I take issue with. But, he has also explored some of the important aspects of food politics, and enlightened a good many people about some of the issues. So, I won’t bash him.

    That said, I think your stand is a reasonable one. We have to make choices in the here and now. We have to do what we can, and what we feel is reasonable. Every day we get new information… maybe we make changes to our habits, based on what we hear and now know. For me, it’s a constant evolution of thought. A constant movement towards “better.” And I think that’s how change happens. It’s a process. A journey. Not a destination.

  8. Kathy says:

    2 years ago I started a program called Creating Wellness. The teachings of this program opened my eyes big time to the additives that are in the food we buy. HFCS is one of the biggies I an trying to avoid and have a tough time when I look at prepared stuff. We try to cook at home a lot more than we used to and have found that we are saving a tone of money and are able to control what we eat so much better – even if you think you are ordering something healthy from a menu, you never know everything that went into it! I really want to buy more meat locally but don’t really know how to go about getting connected with a farmer – any advice? Produce in Minnesota in the winter bites – so we end up eating the same fruit and veggies over and over again all winter – so boring – any advice for that issue? Kate – love your writings and they certainly spark interesting conversations!!

  9. kat says:

    We don’t have any hard & set rules but here are a few things we’ve been trying to do…we don’t drink any soda. I gave it up about 10 years ago so it was easy for me but hubs has just given up his beloved diet pepsi which has been a little harder for him. We avoid HFCS as much as possible, it was a big reason we started to can, finding a reasonable priced jam with none was so hard. We are trying to buy more of our meat from local farms where we know how it was raised. We are trying to eat more seasonably though its hard in the middle of a Minnesota winter when you want green veggies. We tried to can & freeze a lot this summer but are still learning how much we need to get through the winter. I’m on the same bread kick as you with the Healthy Bread in 5. Eating out we try to go to locally owned restaurants especially those that strive to use locally grown & raised items. We do love our Chipotle burrito but at least as a company they try to use better food.

  10. Alicia says:

    Kate,
    I really enjoyed this post. I think what you’ve described as the way you handle your family’s food choices is extremely admirable. I’m a fan of Pollan for the same reason I love your post. I think more than anything that its important that our food choices become more and more a part of the current cultural dialogue. Obviously those of us who cook often, and are ‘foodies’ are going to be more likely to be aware of where our food comes from, how it was made, and more willing to make things ourselves.

    The more that food choices become part of the mainstream: Pollan on Oprah, Michelle Obama taking on childhood obesity, etc. will only shine more light on the subject, and hopefully result in more people learning about the food that they eat, and making more critical choices. Eventually if more people avoid wheat thins because of HFCS, wheat thins will no longer have HFCS…at least, I hope it works that way!

    Nobody is perfect, but I admire everything that you do to feed your family in the best way that you can, in a way that suits your lifestyle.

    Kudos, and great post.
    With your permission, I’d love to link to this post from my blog.
    Thanks,
    Alicia

  11. Kate says:

    Thanks Shannon, for your input. I have read some of Pollan’s prior works and have felt that way. I think his platform is to help further the understanding of good food to a huge population of people in an attempt to help bring massive change to the way that we look at food.

    And Barb, that’s it, right there. Our society has a very unhealthy obsession with food and I foresee it only getting worse. Grocery shopping makes me so sad when I see so many people making unhealthy choices, especially in the light of reading the amount of food related articles that I do. The effects of the standard crap diet are everywhere, clearly visible, and sometimes I think the biggest issue is that we’ve lost connection, that celebration of coming together and being connected to one another over a meal.

    I’m glad this is provoking some thought. That’s the whole idea.

  12. Kate, the whole idea of someone (an Expert) making Food Rules for all the rest of us for our own good chafes at me in a huge way. HUGE. (I tend to chafe at rules anyway.)

    Good food is such a huge blessing and accomplishes so much in addition to just fueling the human body. Sharing table creates a human bond like nothing else. And I could write volumes on the spiritual aspect of food.

    Sadly, our culture is pretty messed up when it comes to thinking about food. Whether it’s fake food, too much food, too little food, binge food, or guilt food, we have trouble just enjoying this fundamental blessing. There’s a lot of scare-mongering out there that tweaks with our thinking too.

    The two words that guide my thinking about food are REAL and MODERATION. Pretty much all my personal rules can fall under one or the other. The third word that I want to explore and be part of is CELEBRATION. That word governs the first two.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kate.

    Barb

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  14. Chris says:

    I’m slow or maybe it’s just because I don’t watch Oprah, but I don’t know who Pollan is.

    I’m rather undisciplined when it comes to food but that is mostly because it’s my creative outlet. I’m just having fun and learning. Unfortunately, I can’t avoid the budget issue. Unlimited funds would be great:)

    Excellent and thought stimulating post.

  15. Shannon says:

    I have read Food Rules (I think I wrote about it on my blog simplycooking.wordpress.com). It takes about 30 minutes to read, btw. I think that it is aimed at people who do not do a lot of cooking or think a lot about food. You would probably find that you’re already following most of the “rules” and might get a little annoyed that Pollan feels he has to spell these things out. In other words, I don’t think it’s a must-read for an accomplished cook.

    We all have our own food rules. And then there are those we choose to break because we follow the rules most of the time. I finally decided to give myself a break. I like my glass or two of wine a night, and I’m not going to feel guilty about it. Occasionally I need or like to eat fast food but it’s by no means a regular occurrence. Ditto no guilt.

    Like you, I like to eat out at a) very nice restaurant for an occasion where I will get treated well and know I will get good food and wine; b) someplace that cooks what I don’t like Japanese or Thai; or c) someplace that makes something much better than what I make at home, i.e. pizza. We have cut way back on eating out. Having a 2-year-old tends to do that.

    At home, I keep processed food to a minimum and I buy no prepared meals. Again, there are exceptions. Annie’s mac and cheese is a life saver sometimes (toddler). I’ve learned to cook a lot when I feel like it so there’s always something I can pull out of the freezer or fridge. I would like to bake more bread but haven’t incorporated that into my routine yet.

    My hard and fast rule is no sweets/sugary treats except for a special occasion about once a month. So it’s a treat. Ditto french fries or other fried foods. I credit this one lifestyle change with keeping my weight at a place where I’m happy (despite the wine).

    Anyway, I think that those of us who spend a lot of time cooking or thinking about cooking probably already live by a great set of rules. Pollan really wasn’t talking to us, I believe.