Real, Healthy Food?
Sit down, have some tea – let’s talk about something…
Find Your Niche. That’s the primary advice given all bloggers – identify the people who want the information you have, and then enable them to find you! And identify the key phrases they are looking for! Describe yourself clearly, and use those keywords!
If you have followed Inhabited Kitchen much at all, you know the food I write about. Solid meals, more than snacks and treats. Plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Meat, fish, and dairy – generally without much processing (though I definitely use frozen food!) Because of the requirements of my own body, I do not eat sugar, and no longer eat gluten, and I cannot cook and write about food I cannot eat… I do not find these “limitations” to really be limiting at all, as a cook – rather, it’s like the challenge of writing the sonnet or haiku. What can I do within this strict form?
But all in all, this is not the blog to come to for a great recipe for Devil’s Food Cake, or thirty things to do with a can of soup and a packet of seasoning mix. It is the place to come if you have, for whatever reason, eliminated or reduced any of those foods in your diet, and are trying to figure out what to do next… (Or if they still have a place, but that place is not tonight’s dinner.)
And now we have the issue… You also may have noticed that I never do use the keyword, or catchphrase, Healthy Food, though in fact, I think everything I cook can contribute to a healthy life. So – why not?
Well – the first and most important reason is that Health is not a one size fits all proposition. Food that is healthful for me may not be for you. (And let me just say – editor’s daughter here – food isn’t healthy, just as it isn’t sick… rather, it does or does not contribute to your health. At this point, though, I give up and use the phrase everyone else uses… healthy food.)
For example… Most people do well with a high intake of vegetables – but there are some who can’t handle the fiber, and some who have to avoid certain vegetables that cause thyroid problems. Quite a few must avoid nightshades or capsicum. And some have another allergy, of course… I know a few people with very serious allergies to things you’d never think of.
Most people do well with whole grains, but see above regarding fiber, and there’s the whole gluten issue for some of us… and others do have trouble with a variety of grains. And allergy, of course. Beans are great for you, unless you have favism, or other problems digesting certain types of fiber or carbohydrate. Billions have thrived on dairy, unless they are lactose intolerant or allergic to casein. (Deliberately, every Healthy Food illustrating this piece is something that someone I know can’t eat. But they are all healthy for most of us.)
Then there are, shall we say, philosophies of eating – religious or cultural, or otherwise. Kosher, Halal, Buddhist vegetarian… Vegan or Paleo… Low Cal, Low Carb, Low Fat… Very different reasons for following these (though some following the non-religious diets are much more, shall we say, evangelical than most following the religious ones!)
Besides, people use the word Healthy to describe all kinds of things I think are bad for most people (and that I know I do not do well with.) I’ve seen concoctions of the Current Trendy Sugar and the Current Trendy Refined Starch called Healthy. (I can’t eat that. Most of you probably can – but you aren’t eating it because it is good for you, but as an indulgence… and I don’t like to confuse an indulgence with a staple.) Some people seem to think that Anything with Coconut is Healthy. Or bacon – a lovely thing occasionally, with lots of flavor, but hardly my main protein source. But “Healthy” sells… and health food junk food sells even better.
On the other hand, I’ve been literally scolded by a customer in a store for giving out a soft cheese sample on a saltine – he was in Carbs are Evil mode. I’ve seen astonishing arguments between the more annoying devotees of various foodways about the virtue of their own belief system and vileness of all others. (And let me be clear – most people eating in these ways would never dream of such discourteous behavior. But we all have our fanatic fringe.)
So – on to Real Food. I cook real food… It’s all edible. Well, and most of it is not processed, to use one current version of the term. But where do you draw the line? I remember one site disapproving of canned tomatoes – but I only get good fresh tomatoes four to five months a year. I’m not going to spend more than half my life avoiding tomatoes – they’re too good a food. Another rejected a post because I did not specify homemade mayonnaise. I won’t tell you to make a cup of mayonnaise for one teaspoon. Bread and pasta are processed foods – I know how to make both of them, but I generally buy them.
Another defined Real as “Something your grandmother ate” – and then specified tofu as something “unreal.” I know many, many people whose grandmothers ate tofu… as had their grandmothers before them. (Ethnocentric, much?) Conversely, the macrobiotic movement was all about soy but condemned dairy… which my grandmothers ate, as did theirs before them.
The hard truth – which many want to deny – is that there is no way to guarantee health. Yes, there are ways of eating which appear to improve your odds. Vegetables. Complex rather than simple carbohydrates. A variety of whole foods – too much of any one thing seems to be problematic. Some balance between major food groups, but where exactly that balance should lie may vary with the individual – we don’t really know. And the fact that one person’s health improved on one specific diet is no guarantee that her friend’s will.
People sometimes ask how it is that such radically different diets seem to improve health for their proponents. I think it’s simple, really – most of the passionate advocates for one or another way of eating start their story of the new diet by telling how they Stopped the Bad Stuff. And that includes junk food, processed food, and sometimes sugar (“We ate like a typical family…”) as well as whatever specific food (meat, grain) they choose to avoid. Then they Increased Vegetables. They then credit the Vegan, Paleo, Mediterranean, or whatever Diet with their improved health (I don’t eat meat! I do eat grassfed meat! I eat lots of fish! I only eat organic!) Maybe, at least in some cases, it had more to do with cutting the white bread and instant potatoes, packets of mix, and sweets, and eating more vegetables than with what they then did choose to eat? (Allowing, as always, for individual reactions and sensitivities.)
Some of you will avoid the pork or the beef in Inhabited Kitchen, and either skip those recipes, or substitute chicken or lamb. Some will skip all the meat – others, all the dairy. Some (who, after all, are not celiac!) will look at the hoops I jump through with gluten free flour, and grab the bag of All Purpose or (I hope!) Whole Wheat Flour – others will sigh over all my use of cornmeal (but remember, I’m looking wistfully at your oatmeal.) Most of you should be able to eat most of the vegetable recipes – I hope you enjoy them!
I will not tell you what to eat. We’re all adults. You know – certainly much better than I do – what foods you can or cannot tolerate, which foods you do or do not thrive on. I will just tell you what I eat – and hope some of it answers a need, makes a meal, or just sounds appealing to you!
And tell me, please – what do you want recipes for? What food do you need or want to avoid? (I’ve been a bit pork-heavy for a while, because that’s what’s been readily available in my local store. I’m trying to balance that a bit…) I write about the food we eat, but I write for you – tell me what you want, and I’ll see what I can do!