Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Making room for food

I don’t know if I can shop at the grocery store anymore. It’s been a several-year-long process, so this supermarket aversion hasn’t come as a complete shock. But with my current lifestyle, it doesn’t make things very easy, either.

But then, ease is probably what created the supermarkets and the food industry that stocks them and our culture’s perceived need for this time-saving, cost-saving middleman. Ease needs to be shifted down a few rungs on my food priority list.

Mr. Incredible, who has a five-ingredients-or-fewer rule when it comes to bread, joins me in this quest to find and buy food that nourishes and delights—but that doesn’t completely break the bank. Which is more and more of a problem considering the way food prices are rising these days.

Nevertheless, we’re determined in our household to make time to shop for, prepare, and savor healthy, tasty food. And as much as possible, we’ll find room in our budget for good food, too.

People at work are always asking me how I manage to bring in healthy leftovers each day, when they eat out for lunch three to four days a week. My answer? Sometimes, cooking is all I get done in an evening. Meaning I don’t necessarily have their social life or keep up with the TV lineup like they do.

Take tonight, for instance: there’s red lentil and cauliflower coconut curry to prepare (the cauliflower and cabbage must be used ASAP!) and then I’ll have to get a head start on the cottage pie I’m preparing for dinner at a friend’s house tomorrow (there’s no way I’d be able to get it done tomorrow between work and the time we have to leave). Just like in college, when I would gear myself up for a late night of paper-writing, I prepare myself mentally to devote the larger portion of my evening to food. And surprising as it may seem, I rarely regret these cooking marathons. (I just have to remember to drink a lot of water and sit down while I chop these days, otherwise my pregnant back and feet will regret it tomorrow.)

So what’s the problem with the supermarket and why can’t I just buy healthy, yummy stuff there? They do carry produce, after all.

Most of the products at the store are highly processed, something that I’m becoming more and more aware of as I read more labels, and I’m just not sure if this frankenfood is good for me. Even foods that seem fairly straightforward and pure are messed with; that is, they have additives and conditioners and dyes and preservatives (not to mention residual pesticides and antibiotics)—all kinds of things that would be absent if I prepared these foods myself at home.

Even the produce is making me wary. Grocery store tomatoes are the perfect example of produce that’s made for easy transportation and long shelf life, apparently without much thought to taste (or nutrition, actually).

There are a lot of people to blame for my supermarket frustrations: there’s me, of course—the compulsive label reader and lover of really good-tasting, fresh food. And there’s the delicious legacy of our families’ home gardens and family meals. But then there’s also Barbara Kingsolver, whose book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has made me a believer in eating close to home, for reasons that range from nutrition to family life to economics. And this summer, Michael Pollan has caused me a great deal of irritation as I browse the supermarket shelves and see so-called health claims calling to me from foods that may not even be food, let alone healthy. His book In Defense of Food has been a daily source of discussion in our household for its critical view of what most of us has accepted as nutrition.

But this awakening has caused me more than just frustration. It’s also caused me to see my food as more than fuel. I’ve been pushed to reevaluate my priorities and decide just how much organic local potatoes and free-range eggs mean to me and the health of my family. As it turns out, they mean quite a lot; I just have to decide what to cut out of my life now in order to make room for them. And I’ve been reminded that food is more than just its nutrients. Really good food—really well prepared—constitutes a social event, an act of gratitude toward God and his creation, and a labor of love.

And when you think of it that way, suddenly the supermarket doesn’t seem so super.


By the way, if you're still looking for something to read this summer, I highly recommend both of the books below.

1 comment:

Laurie said...

So true. All of it. Many compelling reasons to eat close to home. It is tough, like you say, to make that a priority. I can hardly find time to watch tv - much less go on a cooking marathon (which I would very much enjoy).