Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Incidental Eco-Cook

This blog is inspired by Myra Goodman’s cookbook, The Earth-Bound Cook. The Earth-Bound Cook is a November selection of the fabulous online bookclub, From Left to Write.

I have a confession to make. When preparing meals, my first priority is nutrition, not the environment. I try to buy as much organic as possible and frequent the farmer’s market not out of a larger concern for the future of our planet, but for the immediate future of my family. Truly organic edibles contain none of the commercially produced pesticides, growth hormones or antibiotics present in so much of our food, despite the fact that we know very little about the impact of these chemicals on the human body. And local foods are so much fresher and vitamin-rich than those that are grown and shipped from far away places. But reading and cooking from The Earthbound Cook this past month, I felt a little less guilty about my lackadaisical attitude towards eating “green”, for the book illustrates that cooking in an eco-friendly manner and eating healthy are almost always synonymous.

I was not always the health nut I am now. In fact, there was definitely a time in my life I subsisted off of refined sugar, hamburgers, French fries, meatballs and spaghetti. It’s called childhood. But when I turned sixteen, my best friend handed me the book, Animal Liberation. It was exactly what the title suggests. And though I didn’t actually read it cover-to-cover, I did peruse the photographs of industrial farming stuffed between its pages, felt ethically ill and became a vegetarian overnight. A couple years later another friend showed me an article in the Utne Reader about how eating lower on the food chain, i.e., plants, conserves resources. Though it certainly contributed to my sense of self-righteousness, disgust remained the driving force behind my meat-free diet. At 21, I studied abroad and learned that in some countries they will laugh at you and call you a privileged American if you refuse what you are offered at the table. Ashamed of the luxury of vegetarianism, I became more flexible adding fish and chicken to my diet and now…I admit…the occasional red meat, though still well below the American average of 8oz of meat per day.

Today, I struggle with what to feed Sophia from the meat department. For me, she is the point at which all of these issues converge. Making nutritional choices, cultivating tastes, inculcating a food ethic, if you will, are all inextricably entwined in the question: What’s for dinner? I have decided that I want to start with her at the point where it took me 40 years to arrive—by feeding her a diet rich in a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products, and protein sources thoughtfully produced and distributed. For me, “thoughtfully” incorporates a variety of things…raising animals humanely; maximizing the nutritional content of food (not by genetically altering plants or adding nutrients to livestock feed, but by rotating crops and grazing animals); avoiding adding pollutants to our soil, water and air; eliminating the need to pump animals with hormones and antibiotics by allowing them to engage in their normal activities in a natural environment. And, on my end, supporting the farmers invested in making this effort.

Kevin and I have consciously made a decision to put a substantial portion of our income towards good food. It means that we spend less money on other things, including eating out. It also means that we have to apportion a good deal of time to the procurement, preparation, consumption (you want to savor what took some time to prepare) and cleaning up of this food. I have come to think of it as an investment in our health and well-being. Yes, it is true that modern medicine is keeping us alive longer than ever and even people with atrocious diets live to see triple-digits. But, I do wonder about the relative quality of life, health-care costs, and, yes, impact to the planet that eating “normally” has.

The Earth-Bound Cook was provided to me by the publisher free-of-charge through my participation in the online book club, From Left to Write. I was not paid to write this blog. See how other moms were inspired by this book here.


Linsey K / Me Too You / From Left to Write said...

I am very much on the same page as you. I am trying to start my kids out the right way and am much more conscious about good food and my family's health than in the past. I haven't had red meat for about 6 months now and it really hasn't been hard. I can't believe how much more fruit and veggies I eat now. But it is TOUGH getting the kids on the same page. Its a process and continues to be so - there is so much bad stuff around and I don't want them to feel deprived. A well-rounded, varied, healthy approach to food is what I want for my kids.

Eunice said...

It's hard to get kids to eat healthy when they are innundated with messages from every direction that things like fruit by the foot are food. I have one super picky kid and one kid who will eat from the garbage if I let him, so balancing nutrition with getting food into them is always a challenge. I agree with your approach, good food will definitely prevent illnesses that will translate into higher medical costs later. It makes sense to spend it on delicious food rather than costly medicines!

Michelle said...

I completely agree with you on the eating healthy is so often eating green. My favorite quote was that the faster the animal moved, the better it was for you (fish v chicken v pig v cow, for example).