Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Convergence - tending to move toward one point . . .
I think it was 1985 when Billy gave me Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest encouraging me to cook more vegetarian fare and get away from eating so much meat.
I grew up with a working man's lower middle class idea of the evening meal: meat, potatoes and a vegetable. The potato was invariably white and boiled, occasionally mashed and the vegetable came from a can with little variety: peas, green beans, stewed tomatoes and spinach. There was a variety of meats alternating between steak, hamburger, pork chops, daisy ham and chicken. Beef stew and pot roast showed up every now and then on weekends to break the monotony.
It wasn't until I was in college and began meeting people from different backgrounds that I was introduced to different cuisines including a wider variety of foods and methods of preparing them. And I developed a strong preference for ethnic foods over 'plain, old American'. I still give 'plain, old American' a wide berth in favor of foods with a European or Asian influence.
Vegetables and grains dominate much ethnic cooking. That was true for American cooking, too, until we got so affluent that families went from sharing a piece of meat, rounded out with a starch and some vegetables, to each family member having his own piece of meat, and not a small piece either. A whole steak, a couple of chops, half a chicken, you know what I mean.
While meat came from farm raised livestock and our produce from local farms, we were okay. But gradually the food industry became a big business, livestock is raised on factory-farms now, fed a diet they can't digest without hormones and antibiotics to keep them going. The seeds for our produce have been genetically modified and the plants grow with built in pesticide and fertilizer.
The quality of the food we now consume has become our slow poison, contributing to dozens of chronic diseases afflicting our corpulent nation while most of us continue to pile our grocery carts high with convenience foods loaded with strange ingredients we don't recognize, can't pronounce or begin to spell! High fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils are found in practically every item on the grocer's shelves. What have we let happen to our food supply?
I've had a strong interest in food for years. More so after being diagnosed with cancer in 1983. My surgeon asked if I were a vegetarian as my blood was like that of a vegetarian (a good thing). This was the result, no doubt, of eating small portions, 3 - 4oz pieces of meat at each meal during my adult years and having fresh salad each day along with fruits and vegetables. I'm sure I never ate anywhere near the quantity we now know is important for good nutrition and illness prevention, but her comment on my blood was a good indication that even doing something right, if not everything, makes a difference.
Gradually, more vegetarian fare made its way into our diets and Enchanted Broccoli Forest was just the beginning of the resources that I used to plan and serve whole foods.
Recently, I've been doing much more reading and investigation into the role foods play in our overall health and I've been very concerned about the quality of food that has found its way into our markets and onto our tables. Last December, I ordered the documentary, The Future of Food, which is a frightening picture of how industry has manipulated the production of our food supplies to benefit their bottom line. We still have the upper hand, as individuals we are the consumers without which big business cannot survive.
One key element from the film: "The choices we make at the supermarket determine the future of food." We are the customers to whom big business panders...are they really giving us what we want? Must be; we buy it.
One of the PBS stations in Los Angeles recently had a fund-raising drive and as is the case with public broadcasting stations, they bring in top gun programs to increase audience participation and hopefully increase donations. One of the programs recently aired was Mark Hyman, MD who presented material from his book, UltraMetabolism and his system of Neutrogenomics - how food talks to your genes. Dr. Hyman has down to earth simple guidelines to help prevent and cure chronic illnesses as well as the additional upside of eating well = natural weight loss. Greg burned DVD's of the program for me. I've watched it once, ordered the book and I plan to watch the program again as there is so much practical information to be digested and Dr Hyman is such a lively presenter that gaining insight and knowledge is also entertaining.
Several years ago, I picked up a copy of Nicholas Perricone's book, The Perricone Prescription. Dr. Perricone is a dermatologist and while assisting patients achieve radiant skin tone he found the nutritional and dietary information increased cardiovascular protection, decreased inflammation(the culprit responsible for so many chronic ailments) and helped melt away pounds.
These are a few resources if you are concerned about your health, the health of loved ones and the future for our children and grandchildren. What you put on your plate and on their plates is one of the most important concerns you can have.
I stopped by the Oriental supermarket the other day to pick up a few items and as the cashier rang up my 5lb bag of Jasmine rice, the smallest portion they carry, he looked up at me and asked, "What, no Uncle Ben?" We chatted a bit about the importance of food quality and he spouted facts that I haven't corroborated but which are probably in the right ball park. He told me that Americans spend about 7% of their income on food and Europeans and Asians spend about 40% of their income on food. (Is the disparity in this ratio a result of our high income and their lower ones?)
He pointed out that in other countries the quality of the food is of utmost importance. Freshness and the method of preparation are key. Quality over quantity most places except here. Here, our policy is the bigger the better - super size it? Who cares if it's a form of plastic with sugar and fat. It's fast, it's convenient, there's a lot of it and it's cheap. We pay the true price down the road.
The popular book, French Women Don't Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano is all about the pleasures of eating well - wine, bread, chocolate - a delightful guide to choosing the best, freshest and tastiest for your plate while staying slim and healthy. Portion control...what's that?, say we. Ah, champagne and leek soup, mais oui!
I've started keeping a running list of the portions of fruit and vegetables I consume each day as it takes discipline and concentration to eat enough. The list continually surprises me at how short I fall on many days.
Lots of salads on these hot humid days...with many ingredients is the easy way to satisfy the bodies nutritional needs while satisfying the palate. If we don't enjoy the produce when it's in season, we're short changing ourselves. And if we don't seriously consider what's on our plates, we're short changing the next generation, too.
Till next time...keep on cooking!

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