Since my blog has a lot of food-related content, I thought I should share a little bit about my approach to food…a food manifesto of sorts. I want people coming to the site to know what types of recipes and food-related posts they can expect to find here, and understand why I post the things I do.
For me, food is more than just one of life’s basic necessities—it’s a passion. I love anything and everything that has to do with food: eating delicious meals, trying new foods, cooking dinner, watching food TV, exploring new restaurants, reading food magazines, lingering in the aisles of food stores, and sharing food with others.
Although I’m not above eating tasty junk food once in a while, I believe in eating real food as often as possible. The older I get, the more I understand the whole “you are what you eat” thing. It’s not just about weight. I can tell a big difference in my energy level and overall sense of well being when I’m eating foods that are nutrient-dense and nourishing vs. empty calories. Simply put, I want to truly enjoy what I eat, but I also want to feel good.
Nutrition aside, I appreciate the way that food is intertwined with so many of life’s fondest memories. I can still conjure up exactly how my grandmother’s house smelled on Thanksgiving day; how that first bite of pizza tasted in Venice after 15 hours of travel; the tang of cheesecake at the center of my favorite birthday cupcakes; and the pillowy, pancetta-studded gnocchi at Laurel in Philadelphia that my husband and I still fantasize about on a regular basis. Food can bring people together, can show love, and can nourish the soul and spirit as well as the body. We have a good relationship, food and I.
It wasn’t always that way, though.
Somewhere during the middle school years, I began to pick up on the notion that food was the enemy. I learned that calories and fat grams were to be counted and tallied, and that ice cream cones and chocolate cake weren’t treats to be savored, but things to be avoided at all costs or consumed alongside a heaping dose of guilt and self-reproach. At the same time, nobody seemed to have the slightest clue what healthy eating even was. Amongst the girls in the middle school cafeteria it was uncool to actually eat lunch. An apple and a turkey sandwich? SO lame. It was a much safer choice to buy a package of Tastykake mini donuts and split them amongst at least three other people.
In college, I fought fiercely against the dreaded Freshman 15 by jogging regularly and following the fad diet at the time, which was summed up as “Eat anything you want as long as it doesn’t contain any fat.” I thought I was being healthy by eating pasta with fat-free marinara, soft pretzels, Snackwells and Twizzlers, and was utterly shocked when I gained those 15 pounds and then some despite my regimented “diet.”
Thankfully, I was rescued from that insanity by some food-loving friends who exposed me to the joys of eating real food and exploring new cuisines. They took me to try Thai soups, Indian curries, sushi, escargot, falafels, and Mediterranean kabobs. They got me excited about food in a way I hadn’t been in years, and as a bonus—despite the seemingly indulgent foods I was eating—I started losing those carbohydrate and sugar-induced pounds I’d packed on during my freshman and sophomore years.
I never tried another diet again. Yes, I read articles and books on nutrition (In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto is a great one), and keep up to date on new recommendations and health advice, but I don’t let any new diet trend supersede what I’ve learned from listening to my own body over the years.
I get that it’s hard, though. Unfortunately, although we’ve debunked the “fat free” diet myth of the 90’s (remember olestra? ewwwwww), the food situation in our country is as off-the-rails nuts as ever. There are such mixed messages about what we should and shouldn’t be eating, when and how we should be eating, regimes, cleanses, powders, superfoods, supplements, toxic foods, etc. For every person claiming that grains are the root of all evil, there’s someone fighting back by ordering an XXL deep dish, double-stuffed-crust-triple-cheese pizza that’s been fried, wrapped in bacon and dusted with MSG.
It’s exhausting and it’s confusing, but I don’t think it has to be. The goal is to find the middle ground, the happy medium, the general rules of thumb that work for you and your family, and that you can sustain for the rest of your life. Here are mine:
Eat Real Food As Often As Possible, While Maintaining Your Sanity
I aim to eat foods that are high quality and as close to their natural state as possible, but I refuse to get obsessed with everything I eat being 100% organic, preservative-free, local, seasonal, etc. It’s not that I think those are bad things—in a perfect world where I had infinite time, patience and resources, I’d love for everything I ate to be made from scratch from purely natural ingredients that did nothing but wonderful things for my body. But I need to maintain my sanity, which means letting go of “rules” sometimes, and just trying to do the best that I can on any given day. Sometimes it means organic and from scratch; sometimes it means the microwave.
In the same vein, even though I enjoy cooking, I respect the fact that not everyone likes to cook or has much time to cook. Therefore, my goal is to seek out and share recipes, meal ideas and entertaining menus that don’t require a ton of time, ninja cooking skills, or a super sophisticated palate. I also plan to share my favorite food products that fall on the healthier side of the processed food spectrum.
Enjoy What You Eat
Life’s too short to eat unappetizing food. If you think eating well means choking down foods you hate in the name of health, there’s something wrong. There is such an abundance of delicious whole foods available in this country, there’s no reason to torture yourself with ones you can’t stomach.
I’m hoping there will come a day when I genuinely crave a bowl of roasted parsnips and butternut squash with farro-eggplant meatballs, but I’m not quite there yet. And that’s OK. There are plenty of good foods I do like, so I’ll stick with those for now. Even if you think you’re totally health-food averse, you can find ways to incorporate nutritious foods into staples you do like—pasta dishes, soups, quesadillas or smoothies are my top choices. The bottom line is, you can still eat well even if you don’t like kale (although I am convinced I can get almost anyone to like kale…stay tuned).
Remember Who’s Watching
There are nights I’m temped to make myself a dinner out of wine and chocolate, but then I remember the little eyes and ears that are tracking my every move. My girls are still unfettered by the world of body image and food issues, and I want to keep them that way for as long as possible. I was watching my youngest daughter eat an ice cream cone the other day, relishing the look of pure, guiltless delight that came across her face with each bite, and I wanted to freeze her in time. I know that their relationship with food will be their own to navigate as they get older, but while they’re under my roof I’m going to try my hardest to teach them that food is their friend—that it can fuel their bodies, and sharpen their minds, and bring them joy. In order to do that, I need to treat food the same way.
Make Food Your Friend
It’s not my mission to tell people what they should or shouldn’t be eating. There are enough people doing that! I just want to encourage people to find genuine enjoyment in the delicious foods we’re privileged to have access to in this country, to provide ideas and inspiration to those who are cooking for themselves or their families, and to celebrate food that’s both simple and really, really good.