Walking the Walk- 2011
Note: Beginning with the Jan. 2011 posting, the All Point Bulletin column, Walking the Walk, will also be available as a blog. Due to space limitations in the newsprint version, additional information, such as references, and lists of suggested reading, are simply not possible. The blog is a way to provide that expanded forum.
Thanks to all those whose positive comments have kept me going on this project.
Overcoming Fear of Food
The famous British explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, once said, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing."
In speaking of food, a parallel statement could be, "There are no bad foods, only bad preparation." In this case, preparation would include all forms of processing, preservation and augmentation, as well as inappropriate choices, poor food combining, and just plain bad cooking. Fold in arguments around organics vs agribusiness, hormone-laced/feed lot vs free-range/grass-fed, GMO vs non-GMO, vegan vs carnivore, and soon the eyes glaze over.
100 years ago, these distinctions were not even part of the vocabulary. To the average person, food was food, it was good, and people were happy to get their hands on it. So what happened between then and now? Information. Lots and lots of it. Ever since we moved away from salting and drying, to canning, freezing and chemical preservation, the body of available, food related information has grown exponentially. This is good, except that the cutting edge slices two ways. Every new discovery or invention triggers a commercial wave that is soon overwhelmed, negated, or confused by the next wave. When fear based advertising campaigns, such as the war on fat, are stirred into the mix, the whole thing becomes a mush. Fad dieting, increases in eating disorders, obesity, and diabetes; all this has much more to do with business itself, than it does with actual food.
This raises two questions. Is there a way to simplify the whole thing and make it useful? And, given all this knowledge, can we just eat, enjoy it, and have it be good for us? For me, the answer is a qualified yes.
For starters, even with all our technology and modern lifestyles, we really aren't that different from people who lived a thousand, or even several thousand years ago. Diets are obviously different, but our bodies still have the same basic metabolic requirements. We need proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and all the other basic building blocks of physical life. What has radically changed is the way we eat, and the ways we deal with food sources. This is especially true of meats, grains, fats, and the ubiquitous twins, sugar and salt.
Looking through old cookbooks, I admit to a fondness for recipes that begin something like, "Chase down a good sized chicken..." These days, a chicken dinner usually begins with a trip to the meat section of the market, where the display is spotless, and the breasts, drumsticks, and wings are wrapped separately for convenience. Convenience has it's hidden cost, however. I've raised chickens; killed, plucked, and cleaned lots of them. It's not a pleasant task, but it clears up any ambiguity about the health of the bird, where it came from, and how it was treated. I'd raise my own beef, but don't have the space, so I do the next best thing, and buy a year's supply from a family farm in Sedro Woolley. The price is good, the quality is superior, and again, I know where the animal came from and how it was raised. (for grass-fed beef info, contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Although many people raise their own meat animals, and many more of us have vegetable gardens, very few people in this country actually grow their own staple grains. A few rows of sweet corn in the garden and that's about it. It's not that it's hard to grow, or takes too much space, we've just given up the job to the big boys. Huge farms, huge machinery, huge distribution systems, and huge corporations, such as Monsanto, with their patented GMO technology, who would like nothing more than to control every grain of wheat seed planted.
Fortunately, for those who aren't quite ready for home grain production, organic, whole grains are available, and the prices of quality, small-scaled, flour grinders are reasonable. ($250-$300) Small amounts can even be made with a well sharpened, multi-speed blender. An excellent book, Small-Scale Grain Raising, by Gene Logsdon, covers all the basics.
Every two weeks or so I bake bread, six loaves at a time. I love bread, real bread. With a good morning's effort, there they sit: six, fat, brown, bundles of sustenance, the staff of life. It's not a complicated process, but making one's own bread does take work, and, like chasing down a good sized chicken, it's part of a lifestyle that our great grandparents, and many people in the world today would consider commonplace.
Common? Sugar and salt. They're everywhere, hiding in plain sight. The label of any processed or packaged food will likely have at least one of these ingredients listed. Finding canned or bottled drinks without some form of sugar is almost impossible. And then there's the hardcore stuff, candy, all brightly colored, and at perfect kid's eye level at the check-out counter.
Yes, we have to have sugar. In the form of glucose, or blood sugar, it is absolutely necessary. It is our body's fuel. Humans evolved manufacturing this simple sugar from more complex sugars, and from even more complex carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Highly refined sugars like sucrose, or table sugar, are converted to glucose so rapidly, that the sugar rush, up, and the resulting insulin surge to bring blood sugar down, causes a kind of roller-coaster effect. If ongoing, this extreme up and down action can disrupt physical and emotional equilibrium, and the long-term stress on the pancreas can lead to serious problems such as type ll diabetes.
So how to deal with the sugar issue? Ironically, the simple solution is to keep it complex. By this, I mean using unprocessed, complex carbohydrate rich foods, such as whole grains, roots like carrots, beets and potatoes, and the natural fats in oils, butter, cheese and other dairy products, as wholesome energy sources. Natural, unsweetened, fruits, either fresh or dried, are also excellent suppliers of energy. These foods are what I call 'slow burners'. By slowly converting parts of these foods to glucose, we get the energy we need without the roller coaster ride. When cooking requires sweeteners, use unfiltered honey, unsulphured molasses, malt extract, or unrefined raw sugar. This last type of sugar is available online, or at most natural food stores. It's not the same as the brown sugar found in grocery stores, which is just refined white sugar with molasses added for color.
Salt, another necessity, which in some ancient cultures was worth it's weight in gold, has become so common now, that it's usually ignored. Ordinary table salt, sodium chloride, is a refined product, with added iodine to help prevent thyroid illness, and calcium silicate to keep it from clumping in moist weather. When it rains, it pours. Sea salt is also mostly sodium chloride, but with small amounts of 80 other minerals and elements, including iodine, and has been made for thousands of years, by the simple process of evaporating sea water. For my purposes, I'd rather have the extra minerals, and I put a few grains of rice in the shaker to prevent clumping.
So how to lose the fear of food? Know what you're eating. As much as possible, keep it unprocessed and fresh. If it's in a package, read the label. Although cooking with whole foods may take a bit more time, the increase in food value is well worth the effort. Also, there are ways to make it quick and easy. I'll describe one below.
Most working people don't have time for a leisurely breakfast. Working hard in the garden, or in construction, I need more than coffee to get me through till lunch break. This recipe for hot cereal is so high in protein and complex carbos, that some days, I don't even need lunch. For me, the easiest way to do this, is to make up a big batch on the weekend, then it should last all the following week, or more.
George's High Five: In a large, dry, frying pan, (no oil or water), place equal amounts of brown rice, millet, and quinoa, and 1/2 that amount of buckwheat. Measure and set aside a 1/4 portion of amaranth. Fill the pan no more than 1/2 full, so that you can stir without the grains spilling over. Bring the heat up to medium-high, and begin to stir with a flattened spoon that can scrape the grains from the bottom of the pan. I prefer wood for this job. When the grains begin to crackle and you can smell the toasting, stir constantly, making sure all the grain touches the bottom, and none sits long enough to burn. If it goes too fast, turn down the heat, otherwise you'll get burned grains, and those that aren't toasted at all. When most of the batch is lightly toasted, add the amaranth and continue to carefully stir until most of the crackling has stopped, and all the grains have a golden brown color. When they are done, they burn quickly, so have a large bowl set aside to receive them. Let the grains cool down before grinding. I use a multi-speed blender with a glass container. At the highest speed, grind the grains to a medium powder, approximately 1 1/2 cups at a time. I help the blender by using a blunted chopstick to (very carefully) stir the grains away from the sides of the blender while it's grinding. When you are finished, store the grains in a sealable container.
One cup of dry grains will make enough for two adults. To cook, bring three cups of water to a boil and stir in one cup of grains, using a whisk or fork. Stir quickly to avoid lumps. Cover and turn down the heat to very low. Don't worry, it won't boil over like oatmeal. After 8 or 9 minutes, remove from heat and set aside. If allowed to cool slightly, the grains will come easily from the pan without sticking. In my house, we eat this cereal with butter or oil, and 1/2 tsp. of white miso per serving. Grated cheese is also good.
The whole grains used here are available in bulk from most natural food stores. Thrifty Foods and Save-on-Foods also have good bulk sections. Miso is available at most oriental markets, and from Thrifty Foods, in the deli section near the eggs. Bon appetit! Be fearless!