Michael Pollan

Could Cooking More Lead to a Healthier & Happier Life?

image

image from Soustyle.com

I love reading anything Michael Pollan writes. And I think I love reading Michael Pollan because he makes me feel less high maintenance; high maintenance, because I could be content cooking nearly every meal at home. I prefer a majority of my meals to consist of real, fresh, whole foods cooked in the comfort of home. But this simple practice is now considered a a luxury of sorts. It’s time we don’t want to spend and something we’d rather pay three times the price for someone else to do for us when it could likely be made better at home.

Focusing on the health, economic and emotional benefits of the home-cooked meal, Pollan’s latest book, “Cooked” is an effort to bring us back to this neglected ritual.

Michael Pollan thinks we should all cook more.

“Cooked” presents the idea that a diet consisting mainly of homemade foods could be the missing link to reclaiming our health and ending our National struggle with obesity. He explores, as only Pollan could, the transformation of food with four basic elements: fire, water, air and earth. Experimenting with all four approaches to cooking, making everything from cheese, kimchi, bread and beer (yes, making beer), Pollan reveals truths that may be too obvious and accessible for many to accept as a key to better health; cooking could be the means to a healthier and happier life.

These days home cooked meals are considered rare commodity or simply not worth exerting the extra effort. Granted we have more options than ever, ranging from fast foods (which will seem to never die) to restaurants specializing in local, organic meals. So it’s not that there aren’t health options, it’s just that spending $12 on a breakfast for cage-free, local scrambled eggs isn’t always feasible. Though eating more whole foods is. It just require a bit more time and for some, a few skills to develop. (But we’re talking skills in cooking here, not in Chemistry.)

Eating out has become a national norm that has replaced the family dinner and aided in our health decline. The Atlantic Journal’s latest cover suggests “Engineering Healthier Junk Food” could be “The Cure for Obesity”, such as wholesome Egg McMuffins and slipping healthier ingredients into “foods that light up precisely the same pleasure centers as a 3 Musketeers bar.” While I will never complain about chocolate, it's hardly the answer to our health. Jamy Ard, a preventative medicine researcher and co-director of the Weight Management Center would differ. He believes, “Processed foods is a key part of our environment, and needs to be a key part of our answer.” While I’m sure more processed weight loss foods wouldn’t hurt Mr. Ard’s business, an increase of more enriched and genetically modified foods (GMO’s) is hardly the answer. (And why The Atlantic Journal found such a feature, suggesting just that, worthy of some 13 pages is beyond me.) No matter which way you word it (and no matter which way you modify it) food itself will never be the cure.

Every GMO and Hot Pocket that replaces more meals is like dumbing down a natural process of sorts, similar to our excessive use of texting and Facebook. Just like these social platforms inevitably change the depth and dynamics of relationships, relying on the engineered, convenient foods alters, not only our state of health, but our mental connection and social dynamics of what a real meal is.

Most people looking for a magic weight-loss pill aren’t necessarily going to pick up Michael Pollans books, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “In the Defense of Food” or the recent “Cooked”. Though since first reading “In the Defense of Food” I’ve found Pollan knows more about weight loss and well-being than most diet books. While they may not have overnight slimming powers to your waistline, I will say reading and developing such an approach to food as Pollans would enrich most lives beyond a nutritional stand point. Cooking is more than just making a meal. It’s an experience. It’s no accident that we were born with a need for food, and real food comes with the need for preparation, that causes us to slow down, allowing us to savor and enjoy the process as well as a more nutritious, and delicious meal. If all that doesn’t sounds like an effortless, economical and enriching means to health, I’m not sure what does.

Cooking is a process not everyone loves naturally but, like many other things in life, it is a process one can learn to love. Rediscovering the rituals of home cooked meals is somewhat magical. And the magic will likely have many more benefits than just losing a few pounds. As Pollan would say, “Cooking is alchemy.”

Female Food Fixation

   

This one’s for the girls ( and no I have not been listening to Martina McBride), because for females, food can be so confusing. All women want to be able to actually enjoy half the delicious things we posted on Pinterest while being able to wear the outfits we equally drool over, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting this. But most of us girls can be preoccupied with how to have our cake and eat it too - which, in this case, is more attainable than we often make it.

If you're like me, you anticipate that by the time you hit adulthood, say late 20’s or early 30’s (if you can call that adulthood these days) you've learned how eat in order to reach a desired weight, and maintain a balanced diet without raiding the chocolate stash every night. But, being the women that we are, we complicate things.

Some seasons have been easier for me than others when it comes to my “food philosophy”; eating in a way that keeps me where I want to be, both mentally and physically. At times I’ve been very regiment about it. I’ve had my list of do’s and don’t and felt the need to abide by it rigorously and I’ve had my not-so-angelic seasons, staying up late, raiding that chocolate stash, often due to times of being too "angelic" throughout my day to begin with.

Things get confusing when food becomes a fixation. Some of us formulate, sometimes manipulate our diet, with foods we think will effect either our a) comfort or b) physique. By comfort, I’m referring to foods we believe will make us happy, viewing them as awards, while the latter are those we think are ideal, healthy foods. In layman’s terms, a) is “bad” and b) is “good.” Now, maybe I’m the only female who has spent her fair share of time in both modes, but I find many women’s eating habits are driven by a desire to look good or feel good.

Food is just food. While the word “food” is used so loosely, as to now define, what Michael Pollan calls, “edible food-like substances,” please take what I’m saying with a grain of salt. But - food is just food. Food is meant for nourishment, as it is meant for pleasure, kinship, creativity, tradition and some sense of consistency and stability in our lives. I’m not saying we should throw caution to the wind and eat whatever (if you read my blog, you’d know that is not my philosophy whatsoever) we could benefit ourselves to learn about our bodies, by being mindful and sensible, rather than obsessing about every morsel.

While there's always new diet trends or some life-changing celebrity cleanse, as promising as they may seem, none of them have the answer we want. Sometimes we try to transform our habits to a list of do's and don’t’s, in hopes of a dramatic physical transformation. Most women, nowadays, understand “eating healthy” to mean a gluten-free, dairy-free, non-processed virgin-like approach to life. Not that these aren’t good ways of eating, but perfecting it and not allowing some kind give in your diet is not only unattainable, it sucks the life out of food. It sucks the joy out of eating with others and sucks the possibility of reaching a state of health that you will ever feel confident in - because forcing food plans makes us forever fixated on what we should and shouldn’t have, making us rather imprisoned to these ideals. If you are constantly relying on Health newsfeeds or some calorie counting App to navigate how to eat, instead of learning how to understand what you need and crave, you will likely face endless cycles of frustration and obsession.

If there’s one thing I’ve found, the harder I work at it, the less I’m able to maintain it. In other words, the more I try to tame my taste buds or I force rigid plans, the more unlikely I am to be at a weight I’m happy with, or maintain a peace of mind for that matter. A constantly hungry girl is not a happy girl and a unhappy girl isn't always a pretty girl.

 

Slice of Better Vita: Female Food Fixation

Image via My New Roots

This one’s for the girls ( and no I have not been listening to Martina McBride), because for females, food can be so confusing. All women want to be able to actually enjoy half the delicious things we posted on Pinterest while being able to wear the outfits we equally drool over, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting this. But most of us girls can be preoccupied with how to have our cake and eat it too - which, in this case, is more attainable than we often make it. 

If you’re like me, you anticipate that by the time you hit adulthood, say late 20’s or early 30’s (if you can call that adulthood these days) you’ve learned how eat in order to reach a desired weight, and maintain a balanced diet without raiding the chocolate stash every night. But, being the women that we are, we complicate things.

Some seasons have been easier for me than others when it comes to my “food philosophy”; eating in a way that keeps me where I want to be, both mentally and physically. At times I’ve been very regiment about it. I’ve had my list of do’s and don’t and felt the need to abide by it rigorously and I’ve had my not-so-angelic seasons, staying up late, raiding that chocolate stash, often due to times of being too “angelic” throughout my day to begin with. 

Things get confusing when food becomes a fixation. Some of us formulate, sometimes manipulate our diet, with foods we think will effect either our a) comfort or b) physique. By comfort, I’m referring to foods we believe will make us happy, viewing them as awards, while the latter are those we think are ideal, healthy foods. In layman’s terms, a) is “bad” and b) is “good.” Now, maybe I’m the only female who has spent her fair share of time in both modes, but I find many women’s eating habits are driven by a desire to look good or feel good.

Food is just food. While the word “food” is used so loosely, as to now define, what Michael Pollan calls, “edible food-like substances,” please take what I’m saying with a grain of salt. But - food is just food. Food is meant for nourishment, as it is meant for pleasure, kinship, creativity, tradition and some sense of consistency and stability in our lives. I’m not saying we should throw caution to the wind and eat whatever (if you read my blog, you’d know that is not my philosophy whatsoever) we could benefit ourselves to learn about our bodies, by being mindful and sensible, rather than obsessing about every morsel. 

While there’s always new diet trends or some life-changing celebrity cleanse, as promising as they may seem, none of them have the answer we want. Sometimes we try to transform our habits to a list of do’s and don’t’s, in hopes of a dramatic physical transformation. Most women, nowadays, understand “eating healthy” to mean a gluten-free, dairy-free, non-processed virgin-like approach to life. Not that these aren’t good ways of eating, but perfecting it and not allowing some kind give in your diet is not only unattainable, it sucks the life out of food. It sucks the joy out of eating with others and sucks the possibility of reaching a state of health that you will ever feel confident in - because forcing food plans makes us forever fixated on what we should and shouldn’t have, making us rather imprisoned to these ideals. If you are constantly relying on Health newsfeeds or some calorie counting App to navigate how to eat, instead of learning how to understand what you need and crave, you will likely face endless cycles of frustration and obsession.

If there’s one thing I’ve found, the harder I work at it, the less I’m able to maintain it. In other words, the more I try to tame my taste buds or I force rigid plans, the more unlikely I am to be at a weight I’m happy with, or maintain a peace of mind for that matter. A constantly hungry girl is not a happy girl and a unhappy girl isn’t always a pretty girl. 

"Eat food...

The other night my brother came over to watch a movie at my place (and grab a free meal.) Before he came over, he called to see if I had any "food".  Meaning, "Do you have anything besides vegetables?" My brother is used to my considerably wholesome eating habits. In his opinion, if it's not slaughtered or bleeding at some point it's not really "food". Can someone please explain to me this idea guys have, that it has to include half a chicken or a big mac to qualify as a meal? Maybe it’s my brother’s recent pursuit of a wolfman’s physique, like that of  Twilight’s Taylor Lautner. But lately he's become surprisingly diligent about working out and lifting weights. And in turn is eating like an animal.

To be sure he wouldn't die of hunger at my house, he brought a raw steak for me to fry up for him. Yuck. First steak I can remember cooking in I don't know how long. Oh, the things I do for my brother...

So he ate his steak and potatoes and whatever he could manage to devour from my plate. Like I said, ravenous. Granted I'm not pumping iron 5 days a week, or any day for that matter. I've never been much of a meat eater either. In my opinion Michael Pollan puts it best in regards to a relationship with food: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."  This may sound bland to some, but plants can be far from bland.  Here is one recipe from the woman of 101 cookbooks,  a genius for making any vegetable pure divinity - as God intended.

This is a green stir-fry I altered slightly (due to my forgetfullness at the grocery store & not my creativity):

Green Packed Stir-fry

From Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking

Sesame seed oil

1/2 lb asparagus, sliced in small diagonally pieces

5 green onions, chopped

4 handfuls of spinach

1 tb of minced ginger

3 minced cloves of garlic

1/2 peeled and cubed buttercup (kombucha) squash

zest and juice of one lime

1 handful of cashews, roughly chopped

1 bunch of basil, slivered

1 bunch of mint, slivered

1 tbs of Hoisin sauce

cayenne pepper

sea salt

In a separate pot steam your squash. Do this first. It will be done by the time you've completed the rest of the dish. You can also steam it in a rice cooker - which thanks to my genious of a roomate I have access to. I highly suggest investing in one.

Have all your ingredients prepared and ready to hit the stove. Heat up a large pan or work until hot and then toss a splash of sesame seed oil. Next toss in ginger, garlic, green onions, asparagus and a few pinches of cayenne pepper. Toss continually for about 2 minutes. Then add the cashews and spinach. Toss again until the spinach wilts. Then add the Hoisin sauce, lime juice and zest. Mix for another minute and remove from heat. Lastly add the mint and basil, then season with salt to your liking. Generously serve over the steamed squash.  

Brown rice also make a great pairing for this dish, as I served up mine. It would also go well with tofu and fish.

And even with steak - if you must.