Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Week . Real Food

Today I am thrilled to introduce Amanda McGuire Rzicznek, of The Everyday Palate and the Food and Wine Editor for Connotation Press:

When I think about the earth, the first thing that comes to my mind is food. It seems logical: seeds are planted in soil, they grow into some kind of crop, and that crop feeds rumbling tummies. At least that’s how it used to be a couple decades ago.

Today, according to many reputable sources, including Michael Pollan, most crops that are grown in the United States are processed. Most potatoes become potato chips or French fries. Most corn becomes high fructose corn syrup. Most cucumbers are canned and sold as pickles.

Right now my stomach isn’t rumbling with hunger. It’s flopping from nausea.

About three years ago I was a fast food junkie. I ate a Wendy’s double cheeseburger, Nachos Bell Grande from Taco Bell, or McDonald’s Big Mac every other day. I was tired all of the time. I never had the ambition to get off the couch and go for a brisk walk after a long day’s work, let alone cook a meal—from scratch. I had horrible stomach problems. I wanted to punch people. Basically, I wasn’t happy.

It never occurred to me that the food I was eating could responsible for my increasing health problems and overall pissy mood. That was until I read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation.

I was hooked. Not on fast food, but on real food.

The more I read the more I learned about the abuse of animals, farmlands, and farmhands by our country’s food consumption. Which meant my mindless consumption. Which meant I was part of the wicked problem.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be part of a solution rather than the problem.

However, I’m a skeptic, and I don’t necessarily believe one person can change a nation. As much as I want to believe a 100-mile diet is possible for every American, I’m not sure it’s actually physically/mathematically/logically possible. In reality, not all of us have time to plant and tend a garden. Some of us have dogs that instinctually hunt and kill backyard chickens.

With that said, I have discovered ways to be pro-active that actually work—for our family.

1.) I gave up fast food—cold turkey. The first three months sucked. I craved the salt of a too-hot-to-eat French fry. I would wake up in the middle of the night, sweating with desire for a Mexi-melt. What kept me going was my love for animals. Yes, I eat meat, but I want to eat meat that I know has led a happy life on a family farm. And I want to know where that meat came from and where it was processed. No fast food chain can guarantee that knowledge. I’ve lost my taste for fast food. I actually crave spinach now. I have tons of energy. I exercise. My stomach’s happy, and I’m happy too.

2.) My love of meat led me to find local meat producers whom I have established relationships with and who tell me about the meat I am buying. Be it grass-fed or locally raised, it’s gratifying knowing that the animals I eat are treated humanely, well cared for, and not pumped with gross hormones.

3.) Also, I found a local farmer who I order veggies from through Spring to Fall, in addition to supporting several local farmers markets. I’ve found it’s important to ask farmers about their practices and philosophies, and once I’ve found ones that match up with my values, I’m a loyal customer. The great things about buying produce locally and seasonally is it keeps the money in our community and it teaches me to cook creatively. Never did I imagine I would regularly eat kale, Brussels sprouts or kohlrabi, but now not only do I eat them, I can cook them. And I’m really good at cooking them. This might seem cocky. I see it as taking pride in providing healthy meals for my family, which fuels my motivation to continue learning as a home cook.

4.) The money we save not eating fast food has afforded us with the opportunity to dine out—in style. Because we eat every meal at home almost daily, when we do go out, we can go to local restaurants that share our food values. Our favorite is Revolver restaurant in Findlay. They use local ingredients and care about sustaining local foodways. A meal there costs much more than one at McDonald’s or Applebee’s, and I’m okay with that, especially when I’m saving money (and my health) in the long run.

5.) This summer I’m participating in a community garden. I’m scared as heck; I’ve never seriously gardened before in my life. Ever. But I have a feeling I’m going to meet many gardeners of all levels and learn a lot from them. And I imagine I just might weep, like a proud new mama, when I hold up my first imperfect, plump heirloom tomato that I planted, tended to, and harvested with my own two hands.

About the photo:
When we gave up fast food, that included pizza chains too. We've had so much fun making our own dough and coming up with unique flavor combinations. Fresh heirloom tomatoes, peppers and basil is one of my favorites. Our dough recipe can be found on The Everyday Palate.

Thank you Amanda! Except for the meat part, we are doing many of these things in our vegetarian/vegan household. Amanda and I go way back and I was with her at those fast food restaurants (although maybe not as often -- cheese and lettuce on a bun for convenience lost its appeal after undergrad). I love how we've grown up to embrace these similar philosophies even though our busy lives have kept us far apart in distance and in communication.