July 15, 2010
Last evening I stopped at the farmers market on the square in Bryan, on my way to teach belly dancing classes. I can't emphasize enough how much I love the farmers market! It makes me inexplicably happy to eat this locally grown food, literally giving my life deeper meaning. I know when I shop there that I am helping the local farmers and leaving a lighter carbon footprint. Sustainable living is a form of spiritual stewardship. Most of the produce is organically grown, though not certified. Fresh, local, in season food is healthier than the conventional counterpart. Period.
Before I became a mother, I was not much into cooking. While I was a single person living alone, I did not have much motivation to prepare meals, and I lived in a large city where I had never even heard of a farmers market. As a child I had lived in the country, and my family enjoyed home grown produce from our garden. I grew up with the example of my grandpa, who especially enjoyed making a hearty soup or rivels, and of everyone he seemed to like cooking the most, so to my child's mind it seemed to be more of a man's job! In college I had determined to have a career, and homemaking was never foremost on my mind.
Motherhood made me more conscious of proper nutrition than I had been as a single woman, and once we moved to the rural area of my home town and discovered the farmers market, some new neurons seemed to fire in my brain. We also grow some vegetables, fruits and herbs in our home garden.
Here's one of the keys to my newly found pleasure: the chopping meditation. The rhythmic process of the knife slicing through vegetables and hitting a wooden cutting board puts me in a state of "flow", or transcendent consciousness. This preparation takes time, and you have to eat, so something practical is being accomplished, and no one knows you are meditating!
Tonight I opened the refrigerator and considered my choices. I felt a bit overwhelmed, and it is my tendency to throw every possible vegetable into the pot or pan for the sake of including all the vitamins and other nutrients. But people, you do not need to cover the entire repertoire in one meal! Restraint is an artistic virtue.
The farmers are great for suggesting how to use their produce. The man who sold me three small bags of sugar snap peas said they are wonderful grilled with butter, salt , and pepper, or used in a stir fry. I decided to keep it simple. I very rarely cook with butter, but it sounded like a savory idea. Break out of your cooking rut! Get a little crazy!! Organic butter, mind you. (Note: the growth hormones in conventional meat and dairy are extremely harmful, especially to growing girls, causing premature development and disturbingly early menstruation. You should either personally know the farmer you get these foods from, or buy organic.)
I kept the spices basic--sea salt and freshly ground, Trader Joe's lemon pepper. Now, the key to nutrition is color. Seriously people, do we need expert advice, super foods and exotic supplements (ie. coral calcium from Okinawa) to keep us fit and healthy? Three square meals, or 4 to 6 triangular ones, will do it. Do you really need a food pyramid guide (especially one that lists sugar as a food group)?
So okay, you have these basic groups: breads and cereals (specifically, whole grains); a variety (think multiple colors) of fruits and vegetables; milk and dairy (organic only); and meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, seeds, legumes, etc... (a.k.a. protein, of which Americans actually eat too much). And yes, the healthy fats--omega 3s, mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. Keep saturated fats to a minimum and eat as many whole foods as possible, rather than processed and packaged foods. Especially check the labels for high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and artificial colors and flavors. If any of these ingredients are listed, put the package back on the shelf! These products do not, I repeat, DO NOT, qualify as food.
Note: The following fruits and vegetables are the most contaminated with pesticides, so buy these organic or a locally grown equivalent--peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes (imported), carrots, and pears.
Don't eat until you are stuffed. Eat slowly, so that you enjoy and experience your food, and because if you eat too fast, your body won't register that you are full in time, and you'll eat too much. Plus you will suffer from digestive disorders.
For fitness, walk as much as you can every day. Walk your dog, pull children in a wagon, walk to visit your grandma, go for a few groceries you can carry in a backpack, pick up your pharmaceuticals, go to the post office, to church, to visit a neighbor. Or ride your bike. Then cross-train with some physical activity you enjoy that is not harmful to your body for 30 minutes, 3 times a week. And sleep--7 to 8 hours a night minimum. That's it!
Oh, and cook at home. Avoid fast food like the satanic beast that it is. Even at a real restaurant, you usually don't know where the food came from or what's in it, and the portions are too large. Back to my dinner. Along with sugar snap peas, I added a sweet yellow onion, orange carrots (they also come in purple!), a gorgeous, purple bell pepper, and broccoli to a cast iron skillet (an actual source of dietary iron!). I chopped my vegetables with a wooden-handled paring knife that once belonged to my great-grandmother, Ruth Valley Roush, who died about 38 years ago. Who knows how long she had the knife, but it is still sharp and was made in America, by gosh, by golly! The vegetables went over jasmine rice, and for dessert we had wild blackberries hand-picked by my husband today, in the woods in Michigan. It took him over an hour, so I suspect he got his secret meditation time, too.
If you haven't noticed yet, I call a spade a spade, so let me give it to you straight. If you do not cook most of your meals at home, either because you are too tired or you think you don't have enough time, your life may be dangerously out of balance. You are not really living. You were created to love to eat real food, people! So stop dying right now, and get to your local farmers market. Drive out to someone's farm (a real family farm, not the industrial factory kind--also the spawn of you-know-who) and buy eggs and homemade jelly. Try some raw milk or goat cheese! Get your finest paring knife out of the drawer, pick some herbs from your garden, put soothing music on, and meditate away. Bon appetit!!