Thursday, June 6, 2013

FoodLove: 30 days- No processed foods!

I don't know what makes me do the things I do. Too many brain cells with too much time on their hands? I'm not sure. Maybe it's just plain old passion combined with the perspective of 46 years of observation.
I was also raised in Oregon in the 70's by a mother who wholeheartedly embraced the food movements of the time. There was no chocolate in our house, only carob. She scavenged our woods for Oregon grape and made jam and preserves out of them. Friends spending the night were out of luck if they looked for boxed cereals in the morning; there was only her home-made granola. In her spare time, she hauled old metal ship's cabinets from Zidell Yards in Portland to make durable kid furniture. She cleaned them and painted them bright colors for me and my sister Lynn.

So thinking back, maybe I shouldn't wonder too deeply about where my bright ideas come from!

I am grown now; a wife, mother and Chef. I am passionate about food, growing food and showing my children and others how food can improve our lives. I've observed how Americans have waged war on themselves using food as a weapon...and it has hurt. I have always been convinced that America's obesity-related disease problems could be traced back to food (and sometimes lifestyle) choices. As a nation, we work out to the point of dropping, choose fat-free, boneless/skinless/flavorless food products from grocery store shelves, and undergo life-threatening surgeries- all to maintain a certain number on a weight scale or a certain clothing size. But we continue to have health problems; weight yoyo-ing up and down as we react to whatever number our scale, or our doctor shows us. This doesn't even take into account the mental component; scores of Americans miserable with the way they feel and look-and guilty about it to boot!

I am certainly not one to throw stones when it comes to weight. According to the official charts and graphs, I've always been 10 or 15 pounds overweight for my height. I survived an awful eating disorder in college, ending up in the hospital and attempting to become addicted to cigarettes (you know like the models do) to stay thin. At some point about 15 years ago, I thanked my healthy genes which resisted these addictive behaviors and decided to just live my life, enjoy my husband and healthy children- and eat what I liked in moderation - much like all of our fore-bearers did.

I went to culinary school and began to learn from real experts about classic food as well as the recipes and foods of other cultures. I became interested in nutrition and agriculture. I read articles about "Blue zones"- areas of the world where people live immeasurably longer than other areas; places like Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia Italy, some areas in Greece, Costa Rica and Loma Linda, California. Blue zone poplulations have many things in common: no smoking, plant-based diets, family-centered lifestyles, constant moderate activities like agriculture and fishing as well as a high intake of legumes.

Although I can not be considered an expert, it is my belief that most of America's health problems lead back to diet and high stress lifestyles. Some of this has it's root in poverty (incredible in the world's "richest" country). For instance, margarine is one molecule short of being plastic, but yet people buy it because it's cheap. They also have the mistaken idea that since it contains no cholesterol, it is a healthier choice. Look back to times before WWII, times before margarine...a time when people ate all foods in balance, in accordance with their income and ability. Those same fore-bearers also lived a slower pace of life and ate more locally.  Most of my ancestors lived into their 80's and 90's. Yes, they still had social and nutritional problems, but it makes you think, doesn't it?

I could wax on for longer than anyone wants to read. Suffice to say that I thought it would be interesting to try a 30-day commitment to only whole, unprocessed food and see if it could be done from a logistic and financial standpoint. Wikipedia defines processed food as "Food processing typically takes clean, harvested crops or butchered animal products and uses these to produce attractive, marketable and often long shelf-life food products."  Also, anything that is boxed, canned or bagged. For the purpose of my crazy experiment, I will include products like canned whole vegetables, oats, pasta, rice, jams, jellies and preserves, pickles as well as fermented products like sauerkraut in the "whole food" category. Spices, baking soda, powder and other dry goods are going to be considered "whole food" as well.
Part of this challenge too, I think, is the ability to put together meals out of what is on hand. So instead of creating meals from a recipe, create the recipe from what you already have. 

I had a bag of split peas languishing on the shelf and I just couldn't face a bowl of split pea soup. So, here is today's recipe:

Green split pea and potato in the Dal style

(Keep in mind, the beauty of Indian cooking is the ability to put what you like in and control the flavors yourself. If you don't have something listed here, substitute similar items out of what you have on hand)

1 16 oz bag split peas
2 large peeled potatoes, small cubes
1 tbsp curry powder
2 tsp cumin powder
grated fresh ginger
juice from 2 lemons or limes
1 large onion, chopped
3 grated garlic cloves
1 dried poblano pepper
1/4 cup EVOO
4-5 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the EVOO in a skillet. Throw in the onion, dried pepper and spices, stir to coat and caramelize. Add the potatoes. Continue to caramelize. After several minutes, add the split peas and extra EVOO if needed. Saute lightly. Add the water in 2 cup increments; then add the garlic. Continue to add water until the peas no longer absorb it. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until peas and potatoes are tender, but not mush. Remove from heat and top with cilantro. ( I love cilantro, but if you are a member of the opposite camp, just leave it out)
Had to leave coconut milk out! PRESERVATIVES!!

I started my day with oatmeal, honey and walnuts. I was still hungry so I added a banana. It's important to note as well, that I don't often eat "3 squares". I eat when I'm hungry. I must provide scheduled meals for my family, but I don't always partake. So I will not always post 3 meal options each day. It will be a true representation of my Whole Food Day!

It's going to a little bit difficult for me, I think. My favorite food group is Cheetohs.

I'd be happy if you went with me on this experiment and see where it takes us!

I added a piece of Swai fish (definitely not local) and some lemon thyme to make my meal!

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