Tag Archives: food philosophy

Defining My Dairy-Free Cooking Challenge

On August 1st, 2012, I plan to stop cooking with dairy for a year.

All meals I make at home for me and Philip (and my mom) will be dairy free for one year.  Philip and I aren’t going dairy free, just our meals at home.  He’s still going to put half and half in his coffee.  We’ll still eat dairy at freinds’ houses and out at restaurants.  We’re still going to eat eggs (which are not dairy).  I’m still baking with dairy.  I don’t intend to become vegan and I don’t intend to ever give dairy up completely.  What I want (and won’t do unless I make a real commitment to myself) is to reduce my dairy consumption by 75%.

I want to learn to cook and enjoy eating food that does not have cheese, butter, or milk in it.  It’s that simple.

I eat “too much” cheese.  I am very fond of saying that there is no such thing as too much cheese but that’s a lie.  I know that for my best health I need to eat a lot less cheese.  Cheese needs to become an occasional treat.  Something I eat with reverence rather than a favorite food I eat at nearly every meal.

I refuse to disclose how much cheese I currently eat a week.

It’s not just about my figure and my arteries either.  In thinking about this whole cooking challenge I talked with a vegan friend and did some online reading about the carbon footprint of dairy products.  Of meat.  Of poultry.  I thought that by eating local dairy I was doing really well as far as sustainable eating was concerned.  I was incorrect.  I was concerned that not eating dairy would result in a less sustainable diet because I know that for me I would need to increase the tropical fruits and nuts in my diet to be satisfied.  (To replace the deliciousness of cheese and yogurt and butter.  Not because it is necessary for nutrition.  It’s not.)

I have often said that a life without cheese is not worth living.

I’ve said the exact same thing about beer.

But I wouldn’t miss cheese half so much if I could make a lot of coconut milk curries.  If I could eat even more avocados than I do.  If I could buy bananas and fresh pineapples.  If I could make sauces using cashews.  Avocados are my only constant tropical splurge.  I only allow myself to buy coconut milk once in a while.  Pineapples and bananas and cashews – never.  I haven’t bought a cashew in many years.  And I LOVE them!  Oh!  And dates.  I haven’t bought dates in years.  I love those too!

I read a lot of vegan food blogs and I’ve got to tell you that the vegan sites that don’t use tropicals do not entice me.  The most enticing vegan recipes feature avocados or coconut milk or cashew sauces.  I could give up cheese for a while for those things.  But then the food I eat will all have traveled more than I ever will and that’s kind of galling.

It turns out that all dairy (local or not) has a substantially higher carbon footprint than any imported produce does.  Did you know that?  It’s a question of how much energy it takes to raise the animals (to feed them, house them, pasture them – if they’re lucky enough to get any pasture time) and then how much more energy it takes to process them and store them.  Animals that are as big or bigger than human beings eat a shit-ton of grain.  That grain has to be grown for them.  There are often lots of pesticides involved.  It’s difficult to measure and compare the carbon footprints of different foods so there are definitely varying reported numbers but one thing is consistent among all the estimates: meat and dairy have a considerably higher carbon footprint than any imported or domestic produce.  Period.

So what I’m beginning to discover is that eating sustainably isn’t just a question of where it was grown or how much poison was used to grow it or how many miles it had to travel but also how much energy it takes to feed your food and then process it in factories.  It’s complicated.

Here’s my new model of sustainable eating practices prioritized:

  • Non-GMO foods – these are just as devastating for the earth’s diversity as directly poisoning ourselves and the soil is.  This is bad-ass evil shit.  If you don’t care about anything else, you should care about this.
  • Major reduction in meat and dairy consumption (including eggs) – because having to grow food for your food takes an extravagant amount of energy.  Produce crops need water, light, and compost but compost is naturally produced by the scraps of other produce.  It’s also free if people (farmers and individuals) are doing it right.  Plus there’s the whole animal treatment issue.  If you are a person who really needs to eat meat then just consider eating smaller portions of it at meals and maybe eating a few more meat free meals a week and buy your meat/eggs/dairy from local and sustainably raised sources.  It really does matter.  Every little bit matters.  You’ll make a difference just within these parameters.  If you can afford organically and sustainably and ethically raised meat then you’re probably rich but you’ve got my automatic admiration for making such awesome choices.
  • Local – this is still important but more flexible than I realized in comparison with the dairy/meat/eggs group.  Every one of us needs to support our local farmers as much as possible so that when China decides to declare war on us we are still capable of feeding ourselves.  Support local SMALL organic farms first, then local small non-organic, then support the big local organic farms, but never support the corporate non-organic ones.  There’s nothing in it for anyone.  Do this: locate all your local farmer’s markets, before you plan your weekly menus or shop anywhere else, go to your weekly farmer’s market every single week it’s open and base as many meals a week as you can on what is available there.  Buy all the produce and other locally produced foods you can from your local farmer’s markets.  That means you’re supporting your local economy FIRST and helping local farmers and food producers to thrive in a tough economy and that means they’ll consider selling to you (a familiar weekly face) before strangers in a post apocalyptic event.
  • Organic – because poison is just killing everything and everyone and everyone’s fertility.  Except for the Duggars.  Yes, organic can sometimes be cost prohibitive.  So pay attention to the dirty dozen list when you can’t buy all organic.  I’m not going to judge you.  I can’t buy all organic either.
  • Cheapness – we spend a larger proportion of our income on our grocery budget than we do on transportation.  We don’t have much money and we have a lot less because we choose to eat good quality food and support local farmers and food producers and we also don’t buy a lot of processed food (except for Max’s stuff).  It is our belief that the most important thing you can spend money on is the food you put into your body.  Food and water are the most necessary resources humans consume.  Without them we die.  Without a car?  You only think you’d die without a car.  But since we’re pretty broke most of the time we try to buy things in bulk, we grow some of our own food, we pick large quantities of produce at u-pick farms to preserve.

 I will include links to some of the reading I’ve been doing.  I will be doing some more reading.  I’m not starting this challenge to myself right away because I’m maximally stressed out trying to find Max a new doctor on his new lousy insurance so I can get him tested before the end of the school year.  I also need to research vegan cookbooks and find a couple that will be inspiring to me (must have tons of delicious inspiring photographs – why are so may vegan cookbooks skimpy on the photos or have depressing looking photos?) and I need to get my house in better order.

I’m looking forward to expanding my cooking skills and broadening my repertoire.

Maybe in my next post I’ll talk about all the jerks out there who are sick and tired of everyone getting all worried about the earth.  But only if you’re in the mood for a fight.

The Carbon Footprint of Food (Graphic)

A Vegetarian Diet Reduces the Diner’s Carbon Footprint

Food’s Carbon Footprint

The Most Harmful Foods for the Environment

And if you’re interested here’s a link to my previous post on this subject:

Vegan Versus Local and Spring Cleaning

Food Fight: The Real Vegetarian

What does it mean to be a vegetarian?  Am I a “real” vegetarian?  Are you a real vegetarian?  Does being a vegetarian mean I do no harm to any living beings?  Do vegetarians have to sign contracts and be evaluated by an official jury to become “real”?

In my last Food Fight post I outlined how I eat in detail.  I mentioned that I’m a vegetarian and I also mentioned that I eat eggs and cheese and that my feelings are a little mixed about it because eating cheese supports the meat industry and I’m not keen to do that yet I have not chosen to draw my line there at this point in time.  Renee, a commentor on the last post, brought up some other details about the dairy industry which I felt were valid points.  But then she told me I can’t call myself a vegetarian because I eat cheese and cheese is made with rennet (enzymes from a cow’s stomach).

Dictionary definition (Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary): A person who does not eat or does not believe in eating meat, fish, fowl, or, in some cases, any food derived from animals, as eggs or cheese, but subsists on vegetables, fruits, nuts, grain, etc.

There you have it.  Some vegetarians (like myself) do eat food derived from animals but don’t eat the flesh of animals.  I can most definitely call myself a vegetarian and I most definitely am NOT a vegan.  I don’t think it can be more clear than that.

I was raised as a vegetarian from birth.  It’s the way I eat.  I didn’t choose to be a vegetarian in the first place but later when I tried eating meat and fish and fowl I made a conscious decision to remain a vegetarian but NOT because I love animals.  I did it because it feels natural to me to eat the way I was raised.  It suits my body.  I feel good when I eat this way.  I like it.  Meat is gross to me.  I’m sorry if it disappoints anyone to know that I didn’t choose to be vegetarian for noble reasons.  Actually, I’m not sorry.  Eating is very personal and I chose what’s right for me.  What’s right for me includes eggs and cheese.

My concern for the well being and kind treatment of animals is very real and very strong.  But it’s important to reiterate that I don’t think eating animals is wrong.  If it’s wrong for people to eat animals then it’s wrong for lions to eat gazelles.  If lions can’t eat gazelles, they die off.  Nature made many animals dependent on eating other animals and in the natural setting the way the food chain is set up helps maintain a balance of animals and insects that works.  Nature also made many animals into omnivores, giving them the edge of not being dependent on one type of food.  Humans are such animals.  Just because we can choose not to eat meat doesn’t make it wrong for us to choose to eat it.

I take my cues from nature.  Humans are omnivores and as far as anthropologists can know – they always have been.  I choose to be an omnivore who doesn’t eat the flesh of animals.  I respect other people choosing to eat animals and I equally respect other people who choose not to eat any food derived from animals.  The only thing I don’t choose is to ignore how animals raised for food are treated and cared for.  There is a respect inherent in nature between prey and quarry.  In the distant past of human history that respect was inherent in us.  It is only in our more recent history that we have disconnected from our more natural relationship with animals as food.  People used to have to work harder to have their meat.  A human having to kill the meat he/she eats is a lot more respectable than going to the grocery store and buying a slab of animal flesh any time you want it.  So we’ve lost our way and have, through overpopulation, ruined the balance that nature designed to keep the earth healthy.

I care very deeply about the treatment of all animals but that doesn’t mean I think it’s wrong that they are used for food.  When Max rescued a baby garter snake we fed it tadpoles from our little pond.  I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t love hunting out those babies and offering them to the snake but I knew, as all people must know, that a snake is not a vegetarian creature and it would be entirely wrong to impose on it a diet it can’t survive on.  So we fed him the tadpoles and knew that it was nature’s circle of life in action.  But those tadpoles, until we snatched them out of the pond, lived a natural life.  The frogs who live in that pond were not put there by us.  They found our pond and chose it as their habitat.  My point is (in case it isn’t obvious) is that those tadpoles weren’t raised in a tank in my house under unnatural conditions and they were eaten by their natural predator.

There’s one last point I feel it’s important to make: if you are a vegetarian because you don’t want to cause any injury or death to other living beings, you are fooling yourself to think that you can eat in such a way that you never cause harm to other living beings.  Every single person on earth who eats food, no matter what diet they choose, causes injury and death to other living beings.  It is 100% impossible to farm vegetables and grains without also causing collateral damage to mice, rabbits, frogs, voles, snakes, gophers, and sometimes the larger animals whose natural habitat we’ve claimed for raising crops pushing them to new territories where they sometimes starve to death as a result.  Most people don’t care about insects but even if you’re growing food organically, as I do, there are casualties to insects and sometimes small creatures.  When I was working in the community garden a few years ago I was weeding and accidentally speared a frog with my weeding tool.  I don’t know if it was fatal or not.  I picked the poor fellow up and put him out in the adjacent field of tall grasses.  If I, a careful and caring gardener, can injure a frog while weeding, imagine what all those tractors and plows and harvesters are doing to the other little creatures.

We all eat at the expense of other living beings.  That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact of life.

Where you draw the line is for you to decide.  Vegans do considerable less harm to other living creatures than meat eaters do, but everyone has blood on their hands.  I think the main thing to focus on is how we are treating the animals we’re raising for meat and eggs and how they’re killing these animals before they reach the dinner table.  These things matter a lot.

I said that was all but there’s one more thing I need to say: vegans and vegetarians fighting each other over little details of diet is like Catholics and Protestants fighting over how to interpret the bible and the proper way to worship.  The majority of vegans and vegetarians have some common beliefs and concerns and if we all want meat eaters to care about the ethical treatment of animals then it won’t do to fight each other.  There will always be meat eaters, there is never going to be an entire planet of vegetarians and vegans.  People are omnivores.  What is an obtainable goal is to inspire all meat eaters to care how their meat is raised and to inspire meat eaters to eat less meat over all of it can be raised humanely.  This should be a shared vision between all people.

I am a vegetarian.  Please don’t tell me where to draw my line.  Please consult the official definition of vegetarian before telling people what they can and can’t call themselves.

How I Got So Fat (telling the story for the last time)

I’m very fat.  I gained 30 pounds when I broke my hip and was bedridden for three months and couldn’t do any real exercise for six.  During that time I might have done things differently – like do isolated strengthening exercises that didn’t involve my hip (after the first three months because before that if I moved my body in any way I was in excruciating pain) and I could have eaten much lighter food to make up for my complete lack of movement.  I certainly could have chosen not to eat so much food out of boredom and depression.  But that’s not what I did.  I started drinking beer more heavily (which eased my pain in more than one way – I should have opted for pain pills instead of beer – but I didn’t) and I ate lots of sweets which I normally don’t.

Following that first 30 pound weight gain we made a move to Oregon and commenced the most stressful years of our lives.  I take psychiatric drugs for major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety and OCD.  When we moved I couldn’t handle my anxiety so I upped my dose of Paxil which previously hadn’t caused any weight gain in me because I’d been on the lowest dose but when I upped my Paxil I gained 20 more pounds that year.  I didn’t know at the time that it was the Paxil.  I was still eating way too many sweets and cheese and having seconds on meals and drinking a ton of beer – so it was obvious to me that I needed to address my bad habits to stop the weight gain and start losing.  I started exercising more rigorously and frequently and I stopped eating all sweets, I cut down on my beer consumption, and took greater care with my meal portions and being much more moderate with my cheese and bread consumption.  At first I lost a little and I was really encouraged but because I was in a constant state of panic I upped my Paxil again.  I gained another 20 pounds even though for that whole year I was working hard to lose weight.  It worried me but I figured I just needed to give it more time.

The fourth year we were here I upped my Paxil one more time.  Yes, it really was helping to keep the anxiety from exploding my head.  That year I gained another 20 pounds.  I started wondering if I had a thyroid problem or some other health issue that might be causing me to gain weight no matter how much I exercised or watched my portions and avoided snacking and desserts.  I had my doctor test me and thyroid issues were ruled out.  So I let it go and tried just living with the fact that I was huge and nothing I did seemed to change it.  But the next year I started taking Kung Fu and after a lapse in the beer restraint I recommitted to drinking in moderation and still every time I got on a scale it was higher than before.

I had horrible visions of having to be removed from my house with a crane.

I was then at my highest ever: 268 pounds.  Finally I went to my doctor and we looked at my charts over the years and she made the connection between the Paxil and the weight gain.  She hadn’t caught it before because she wasn’t the one prescribing.  I got off of Paxil and started taking Celexa instead and immediately lost 11 pounds.  I worked hard and lost a few more.

Since then the stress of my life has only escalated and I have been for months now drinking too much alcohol and eating more food than I’m actually hungry for and not exercising as much as I need to.  I have been in a very dark place and it’s had a profound effect on my habits. I haven’t regained all my weight but some has crept back.  I am putting this whole story down here on my food blog because it’s important to me that others know that three quarters of my fat was not gained because of bad eating and drinking habits or lack of exercise.  The bulk of it is medication related.  However, I have fallen back into snacking late at night on cheese sandwiches and eating seconds of my dinner and eating more food than I’m hungry for and drinking too much.  As long as I am in this depressive cycle it’s going to be hell trying to reestablish healthier eating practices and regular exercise.

Yesterday I found out I am going to be going to Blogher Food in Seattle in June.  This has given me a very clear motivation to work harder to get back on track with my health and fitness goals.  I have been to two Blogher conferences now being super fat and completely ashamed of how I look.  I don’t want to do that a third time.  I don’t have time to lose all the weight I need to lose by June but I can at least aim for a goal that will make me look less like Alfred Hitchcock and more like a lady.

I don’t diet.  I gained lots of weight with my pregnancy and it took me two years but I lost all of it not by dieting but by exercising, relearning what a single portion of cheese really looks like, counting calories until I got more honest about my intake of foods, especially those foods I have a weakness for like cheese.  I still ate cheese, I still cooked with oils, I still buttered my toast, and I still ate plenty of pasta.  I lost 40 pounds this way and until I broke my hip I maintained my weight.  I felt great.  I wasn’t thin but I certainly wasn’t fat.  I had good self esteem and I ate what I consider the healthiest diet for me which is vegetarian, lots of vegetables, some fruits, grains (polenta and pasta being favorites with some rice), lots of legumes (lentils, black beans, kidney beans, split peas), eggs, nuts,  and dairy in moderation.

I want to get back to feeling good about my own body.  I’m tired of being ashamed and feeling uncomfortable.  So in another post I’m going to lay out for my own purposes (and yours if the subject interests you) what my ideal diet looks like in more detail.  What my best eating and exercising practices consist of.  This way I can revisit it to remind myself when I start slipping.

I am not sharing this to invite anyone to tell me what miracle way of eating will fix me, cure my mental illness, or make my fat melt right off.  The way we eat is not a panacea – no matter how good you feel the way you eat your health is more complex than just being a matter of diet and exercise.  I will never adopt another way of eating just because some scientist (or friend) swears it will cure all my skin problems and magically cure my mental illness and make me thin.  I know that people will continue to seek the ONE TRUTH, the ONE DIET, the ONE TRICK, and the ONE CURE because people can’t seem to help themselves.  When they think they find it, no matter how many times they think they’ve found it before, they become apostles of their chosen panacea.  I think it’s stupid.  If you have a way of eating that works wonders for you and makes you feel great – that’s awesome.  But don’t assume or insist that eating lots of meat is going to fix me or that not eating gluten will revolutionize my body and I’ll realize that I’ve been sick with an allergy my whole life and didn’t even know it.  It might be true for you – and I salute you for having found this out about yourself so that you can heal yourself and feel great.

We’re all individuals and our bodies are not the same.  You honor yours.  I’ll honor mine.

Food Philosophy: Eating Local

I have agreed to give a talk about doing the 100 mile diet at my local library.  I did the 100 mile diet for 10 months a couple of years ago.  It changed how I eat irrevocably.  I didn’t stick to the 100 mile diet but I did stick with a strong dedication to eating mostly local produce and a determination to seek out as many pantry staples that are produced locally as I can.    Before I write up my notes on how I ate during my 100 mile diet challenge, I want to chronicle, for clarity, how I eat now.  What does eating local mean for me?

First of all, eating local is NOT a contest.  It’s not a “trend” to follow and then abandon just because too many other people are doing it and it’s stopped being cool (that’s a particular species of personality I disrespect in general).    Eating local is something all people need to re-learn to do for the sake of regional food supply security.  Eating locally means eating seasonally which means that your food will taste better and be texturally more appealing (think of out of season mealy apples).  Eating locally supports your local economy and naturally ends up supporting smaller local farms.  Eating locally will connect you to your own community in new (and good) ways.

The best reason to eat local is because it brings greater pleasure to the table.

I am not a zealot about eating locally.  I try not to be a jerk about it.  There are people so serious and dedicated to eating locally that they would definitely not think I’m doing enough.  That’s okay with me because to me this isn’t a contest to see who can eat the most locally.  My rules for eating are not severe, not difficult, yet so many people I know think I’ve taken a vow of food chastity just because I won’t buy most produce out of season.

I am going to try to break it down into lists of how I eat NOW, this is NOT the 100 mile diet:

Imported foods I buy:

coffee, tea, oil, sugar, spices, limes, dry pasta, rice, some dried legumes, condiments, sometimes tofu, sometimes wine (I can’t afford local wines though we have lots of them), some nuts and seeds, food for Max, Parmesan cheese, avocados, fresh ginger, garlic (when the local farms don’t have any), flour, polenta, olives, some juices, chocolate (we consumer very little chocolate), canned tomatoes (when I run out of home canned), canned coconut milk.

I don’t consume a lot of rice, tofu, or wine.  Even though I don’t buy lemons (only on very rare occasions) I do keep limes on my constantly exempt list because I use it for seasoning in cooking a lot and there’s no good alternative.  I don’t buy any other citrus regularly.  Max food is one big exemption I’m okay making so my kid won’t starve to death.*  The list looks long and I assure you it was much shorter when I did the 100  mile diet.

Produce I never buy out of season (and buy strictly locally):

green beans, tomatoes, asparagus, all fruit (except apples for Max), eggplant, summer squash, winter squash, favas, tomatilloes, hot peppers (I don’t even eat sweet ones because they don’t agree with me), fennel, cabbage, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, lettuce**, corn, peas (fresh, though I will eat dried split peas).

Produce I will buy out of season but only from local sources (root vegetables can be eaten all year due to excellent storage quality):

beets, potatoes, carrots, onions, rutabagas.

After doing the 100 mile diet for 10 months I decided to lighten up a little on the rules so that they would be more livable for me.  Every week I go shopping I allow myself a small portion of imported produce.  On my list of exceptions I included avocados and limes.  Here’s how it works: if I want to buy bananas, I can, but I can’ t buy bananas AND avocados.  I basically have two spots available on my grocery list to buy something that doesn’t ever grow here.  The following list is of produce I rarely buy and when I do I can’t also buy avocados and/or limes the same week.  Truth is, I haven’t bought most of those items since doing my 100 mile diet challenge.  I love avocados so much it takes a strong urge for tropical fruit or imported vegetables to oust them from my weekly indulgence list.

Produce I buy only very rarely:

pineapples, kiwis, bananas, tamarind, jicima, most melons, oranges, tangerines, dates, coconuts, pomegranates.

Things I ONLY buy locally:

honey, seasonal produce, walnuts, bread, milk, butter, eggs, most cheeses, fresh herbs (I grow most of my own) and dried herbs, beer, vodka, canned corn (there is a company within 100 miles that cans local corn, I rarely buy canned corn anyway but when I do I only buy from this company whose name I will get and record for those who want to know), fruit***.

I want to note here that I do quite a lot of food preserving so I don’t buy much commercially frozen or canned produce.  I make an exception sometimes for canned tomatoes when I run out of home canned, but I really don’t do that often.  Most years I just stop making anything tomato-y until the season starts again.  I freeze a lot of eggplant and fruit.  So it’s all local even though I’ll eat those out of season from my pantry- I never buy them out of season.

I think that sums of the bulk of my food buying habits.  Enough for now.  Next I want to do a post covering what those lists looked like while I was doing the 100 mile diet.

*He is an extreme picky eater largely because of tactile issues connected to his OCD and ADD, we don’t punish him for it.  I concentrate on keeping his food free of HFCS and preservatives and making his diet as organic as I can.

**This year is the first one I’ve cheated and bought out of season non-local lettuce.  I am determined to knock that off.  It really is worth waiting for it to come back in season.

***My policy has always been to buy Max whatever produce he’s willing to eat whether it’s in season or not, local or not, because he eats so little produce and I’m desperate to get him to eat any at all.  The funny thing is that he’s been learning (without my help) that the red grapes our friend Laurie grows and shares with us are a hundred times better than the ones I have bought him from the store which he now refuses to eat.  He’s discovered that apples out of season aren’t so good either.  This year he refused the out of season carrots, cucumbers, grapes, watermelon, and apples.  That’s all the produce he ever eats.  So this winter and spring he didn’t eat any produce.  Just tater tots.  So frozen potato products was the only “produce” he ate.  On the one hand this is very stressful to me, on the other, it’s proof that once you’ve gotten used to eating truly ripe seasonal produce there’s no going back.