Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Food and Me or Why I Eat What I do

I figure if I'm going to be writing about food and giving you recipes on a regular basis, I ought to provide you, my readers, with a little bit of information about what I eat and why I eat what I do. First off, I am an omnivore, not really by choice. If I could choose, I wouldn't eat meat, because I don't at all relish the idea of eating animals I so love. However, one thing I've learned over the years is that, no matter what the FDA would have us believe, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all nutrition guideline. Everybody's body is different, and some (lucky dogs) can thrive on a vegetarian diet. Some can thrive on a vegan diet. I, unfortunately, can't. My body needs animal fat and protein, which, actually makes sense, if you look at me: super pale, from head to toe. My ancestors obviously lived in cold climes where there wasn't a lot of sun. Foraging was probably difficult in such a climate, and they probably had to hunt quite a bit, needing fat and protein to sustain them. I know I don't do well without meat, because every Lent, for years, Bob and I have given up meat, and I just don't feel very well during that period.

That being said, I've read three books that have influenced me greatly over the years. One is Mark Bittman's (I love Mark Bittman. He can do no wrong) Food Matters. This is the book that most convinced me to focus on eating organic and locally grown food in season, as much as I possibly can (I'm not perfect. Sorry, but I'm not giving up salads 9 months of the year, because lettuce isn't in season where I live. Nor am I willing to give up things like avocados, bananas, and citrus fruit because they aren't grown locally. I do think, though, that I do better in this regard than about 90% of Americans, which is fine with me). He eats this way, and it makes sense to me, so I've pretty much adopted it: one vegan meal a day, one vegetarian meal a day, and one "anything goes" meal a day. Some days, that means I still don't eat any meat or seafood at all, but most days I eat a little.

The second is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. This is the book that convinced me to stop eating white pasta (in fact, to stop eating anything made with white flour) and to cut down drastically on my sugar consumption. I'm not perfect in this regard. I may not keep white flour and tons of sugar and candy in my house, but deliver a chocolate cake to my door, or present me with a table laden with luscious desserts, and I'm not going to turn them down. Still, I try to eat very little sugar and white flour. Fallon was also the one who convinced me it was okay to drink (preferably raw) milk from grass-fed cows (in fact, better than okay, good for me) and to eat grass-fed red meat.

The third is Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel. Despite the fact that I take meticulous care of my teeth (brushing, flossing, and gargling), I've had all kinds of trouble with them over the years. Finally, because I'm convinced foods are drugs, many with healing properties and many that are bad for us, I decided to turn to diet as a way of caring for my teeth. This book reinforced the need to raw milk from grass-fed cows, to eat eggs from free-range, grass-fed chickens (actually, the first one to convince me to do that was Andrew Weil), and to eat grass-fed meats. It also introduced me to the idea of fermenting grains (almost all the bread I eat now is sour dough, and when I eat oatmeal, I make it myself and soak it with a little yogurt overnight to ferment it), which has not only benefited my teeth (I think), but has also benefited my intestines, because I suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (or, I should say, I used to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. Once I discovered that mine is not improved, but rather made much worse, by the standard prescribed diet: lots of whole grains and other high-fiber foods, I haven't had much trouble with it).

Basically, then, here's how I eat:

Very few foods are off-limits. The only thing I absolutely avoid like the plague are trans-fats (not the kind that can be found in small doses and naturally in butter, but the kind that used to be in manufactured margarine and all kinds of other manufactured foods) and high fructose corn syrup.

I eat organic whenever possible, bought locally and in season most of the time, and I don't eat factory-farmed meat. In fact, I don't eat any meat that isn't grass-fed or free range, and I eat so little of it, that mostly what I eat is beef and chicken. I also eat sustainable sea food.

I buy raw milk from grass-fed cows and free-range eggs right off my Amish friends' farm. I know raw milk has gotten all kinds of bad press -- a good deal of it originating with the dairy industry -- but that mostly comes from the days in which people were not so meticulous about cleanliness. The barn where I pick up my eggs and milk is cleaner than my house a good deal of the time. I highly doubt I'm going to get sick from drinking this milk. I also buy butter and whole-fat yogurt from grass-fed cows, and I buy raw cheeses.

So, you can see, I'm not exactly on the low-fat, plenty of grains, and avoid red meat diet that is what so many nutritionists recommend. Nonetheless, I have low cholesterol levels (plenty of the "good" kind); my blood pressure is normal; and my IBS is under control. It works for me. It may not work for you, because your body isn't mine, and for any recipes I include, I will, when possible, let you know how you can substitute lower fat ingredients (if that's what you want to do) or even make some of them vegan (there are vegan options for a lot of what I make). I also will label my recipes for you: ominvore, vegetarian, vegan, so you can skip those you won't make.

Finally, I probably ought to tell you that one of the reasons I've been so reluctant over the years to publish my recipes is that I cook so much by taste. Measuring cups and spoons are for baking, in my book, but cooking is done by experimenting with a little of this and a little of that until it tastes "right" (i.e. is something both Bob and I will love). I've realized, lately, though, that plenty of recipes call for, say, "red hot pepper flakes to taste," so I will measure as best I can, but please forgive me if I often rely on letting you figure out what tastes best to you. I consider most recipes to be guidelines, and so, you should consider mine to be such as well.

I hope we have fun with this new adventure. I'm off to figure out which recipe I'll give you-all first. Stay tuned...


Stefanie said...

And that is why I am only really good at baking and James is an excellent cook, he doesn't follow recipes but only uses them as a guide on what flavors might work well. He recently perfected a wonderful winter root vegetable soup. If you ask him for the recipe he won't be able to provide it.

Emily Barton said...

James and I need to get together and cook (especially since I could stand a little help with winter root vegetable soup).

Susan said...

Excellent post, Emily! I've been eating organic foods - especially fruit and vegetables all the time, rice, eggs, and when I can find it, our meat is too. I love the idea of eating food that doesn't have 'extras' added into it that end up hurting the earth, the insects, and eventually by extension us.

I've tried to go meat free and I really missed it. It's also a lot of extra work to go meat free, and I found eating tofu didn't help my system much. So we are a happily carnivorous family! lol eating organic much of the way. Even our turkeys are at least free-range, if not organically raised (depending what our market has). I love the idea of the animals being as natural as possible, able to move freely and have their life as natural as possible.

I look forward to your recipes, and don't worry - I cook the recipe once to try it,and then end up making changes to it anyway after. Cooking by taste too :-)

Anne Camille said...

Looking forward to reading your food posts. I am a Bittman lover, too. Used to get raw milk, but haven't for awhile (an issue w suppliers, not the milk. Really liked it. Very difficult to find where I live. Am interested in fermented oatmeal - what is that nd how do you prepare it?

Been thinking that I should start a series of posts on all of my cookbooks. Stay tuned...

Lilian Nattel said...

I agree that everyone's body is different and one size surely doesn't fit all. I'm a vegetarian, but not vegan. I'm with you on the organic and local as a preference but not a doctrine, same with abstaining from white flour and sugar as a principle but not an obsession. I'm less concerned about low fat than low sugar, as more recent studies show that sugar has more influence on cholesterol for most people, but I still tend to eat low fat because I'm not sure which of those things has lowered mine, but something has when I went vegetarian and gave up eating ice cream every day!

litlove said...

I had to give up sugar, yeast, alcohol and caffeine for my chronic fatigue and, alas, it did make a big difference to my energy levels. I do tend towards lots of fruit and veg, one serving of protein a day and increasingly less dairy food, as my body doesn't digest dairy fats well. As you say, you learn as you get older what goes down and what goes through! But how I wish there were more snacks available that are healthy. I'm not a fan of nuts; they're okay but boring. And I do miss a cake or cookie as a comfort treat around teatime. Still! After all these years.

Courtney said...

Oh, I am looking forward to reading your recipes! I don't completely avoid white flour (I do love a great pasta dish or piece of bread here and there) but this month I've decided to really take control of what we eat and make it more healthful, for a wide variety of reasons. Looking forward to reading and trying your recipes, so get cooking!