Dial Down the Junk
The change has taken several years, actually. Some time ago, I started liking higher quality food in general over the packed and processed kind. The biggest change was switching from mass market milk chocolate (Peanut M&M’s! Yum! By the bushel!) to dark high-cocoa content chocolate. I had to educate my tastebuds to like it, but now I can’t even eat the former stuff. Turns out the dark chocolate packs a bigger flavor punch, so I eat much less of it. I also stopped buying fries and ice cream and potato chips (although I still eat them if they’re just sitting there unattended), avoided things I don’t like anyway like white bread and rolls, and stepped up learning how to cook veggies. So that was Step One in my food evolution—getting off pure junk.
Step Two involved understanding the difference between organic and local. Organic bananas are great, but there’s no such thing as a local banana. In doing research for my sci-fi trilogy on climate change, I became more aware that everything I ate had not just a food/water cost, but a carbon cost from transportation from wherever it was grown or raised to my mouth. I started frequenting the amazing Farmer’s Market near my home in Santa Monica, California. Lo and behold, there were more vegetables in the world besides broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and perfectly manufactured baby-carrots. I discovered all kinds of new things, like baby zucchini with the blossoms still on and fresh spinach picked the prior day, the taste of which blew my mind. I can no longer eat a store-bought zucchini—the taste is too bitter. And don’t even get me started on tomatoes. Did you know they come in a million different colors? Amazing!
A side-effect of the local commitment was discovering—gasp—that foods have seasons. They don’t actually grow all year round. Knowing the seasons of figs, for example, makes all the difference. Figs out of season are hard and taste like sawdust. Figs in season remind me of the sunshine of Italy. Sure this means I’m doing a lot of squash and roots in the winter, but so be it.
Now, Step Three, as a result of watching Forks Over Knives, will mostly likely be giving up animal products, or at least stepping them way back. The documentary highlights many of the health testing done around the world with illuminating results, but the thing that got me was the mention of the carbon cost of meat. The show tells us that it takes over ten times the amount of energy from fossil fuel to produce a calorie of animal-based food than it does a calorie of plant food. So my plate of four ounces of lean chicken and four ounces of green leafies is costing the planet about five times more than it has to.
I’m not willing to contribute to that cost anymore. I suppose the health benefits will be good as the documentary shows, but that’s not why I’m doing it. I suppose it’s more humane not to eat other sentient beings, but again, that’s not my concern. What I want is to personally have the smallest footprint I can muster in this mechanized, homogenized, consumer-based-economy world.
I’ll probably eat meat as the occasion demands, to be polite when I’m a guest or to avoid wasting something that is already sitting there (like the potato chips). I also kinda like eggs and cheese, so those probably won’t go. But I can make a lot of choices in general to step it back, mostly from chicken and fish, and see what happens. (I had already reduced beef and pork due to watching Food, Inc.)
I recommend Forks Over Knives highly. It has a lot of medical/dietary information every parent should know, and it’s got compelling arguments, great case studies, and abundant evidence to make its points. Meanwhile, I’ll be doing more with legumes, edamame, and nuts. See you in the kitchen!