This is not because I’ve read the latest diet book—or have I? I’m over halfway through Michael Pollan’s wonderful In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, and I’m eating real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
As a vegetarian I have a head start on his food philosophy, with several reasons for not eating meat (of any kind—four legs, legs and wings, fins, shells):
- my generally Buddhist approach to life and my personal ethical boundaries;
- the environmental cost of meat production (even organic or free-range meat requires more resources per calorie than plants);
- the health benefits of being a vegetarian (my enviably low blood cholesterol count, for example);
- and initially, the greater ease of preparing meals for my family after Younger Daughter became a vegetarian at around age eight. (I’d be in trouble if I didn’t credit her as the first one in the family; I followed next, then Eldest Daughter, and Sweet Husband and Younger Children go along perforce because that’s what I cook.)
I’ve long since moved past that to a healthier relationship with food, in which it is here to sustain my health and to be enjoyed. My daily session with the scales now is meant to measure my progress in bike training for a more efficient power-to-weight ratio (less flab means more muscle to push up the hills).
I think we eat fewer processed foods than most U.S. households. My mac and cheese doesn’t come from a box (but Eldest Daughter’s does—she loves mac and cheese from a box so she buys her own). Sweet Husband makes a killer-good marinara from scratch. Because I make terrific soup, I haven’t had canned soup since I was a kid and Mom fed me Campbell’s Chicken and Stars when I got sick (I do get nostalgic for the little stars).
But I’ve succumbed to the “nutritionism” that Pollan writes about in some ways: a reductionist view of food in which it becomes only its constituent parts, and then only the constituent parts that have been analyzed successfully in a lab.
- I buy skim milk and low-fat yogurt.
- I have sugar-free hazelnut-flavored sweetener in my cupboard for my morning coffee.
- There’s a bag of ground flaxseed in the fridge so I can add a spoonful of omega-3 “good fats” to my fruit smoothies, and soy protein in the cupboard to use in place of flour as a thickener for “cream” sauces (made with fat-free evaporated milk and pureed white beans, not actual cream).
- In making substitutions to turn a meat-a-tarian recipe into a vegetarian version, I use the occasional meat analog made from textured vegetable protein, a highly processed soy product.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because those are a set-up for failure. I do a little reflection, though, during this quiet season where we pause in the cold and dark before the earth turns toward the sun again (in my hemisphere).
I’ve come partway toward where I want to be in my relationship with food. The rest of the journey will be fueled by real food, and it will be delicious.