By Chef Samantha
This week, I had to do a little cleaning up – overdue spring cleaning of my apartment, my computer and my office. Actually, I am still working on the apartment and office part, but I did straighten my computer out and back everything up. This gave me a chance to go over so many old documents I had created in the past. Of all the papers, pictures and other files I found, the best were my papers from college at The CIA – in particular, my food ecology essays. This forward-thinking class was directed by one of my favorite professors, a short gray-haired man with an incredibly mischievous laugh who loved to stir up edgy debates of politics, religion and ethics (all basically taboo conversation topics piled in one class) all centered around food. Until I took this class, never in my wildest dreams did I think food could have such a dark and evil side.
In this class of constant debate, we read so many eye-opening books; Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, The End of Food by Paul Roberts, Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel, Stolen Harvest by Vandana Shiva and Eat Here by Brian Halweil, to name a few – just in case any of you out there were interested in opening the big can of worms that is our world food system. We talked about corn, chickens, corn, cows, corn, grass, more corn, co-ops, agricultural monopolies, corn again, the Indian farmer and their rising suicide rates, farmed-raised salmon on a healthy diet of corn (yuck!) and so on. Are you seeing the pattern here? There is so much to talk about here and so little time, so I will make this one short and just tell you how I decided to apply my food findings to my life. Trust me – there will be a time when I will rant about certain food crises.
Since there is so much to know about the world food system and how everyone has a hand in it – and I mean from low-income families to the President of the United States to the World Trade Organization – I will stick with talking about everyday practices which will help families become more healthy and happy as well as bringing a change to our adulterated food system.
1. Stop Eating Processed Food… or at least cut out (or down) on your soda.
One of the biggest problems with our food system today is CORN! Farmers all over the world are working themselves into bankruptcy just to keep up with the ever-evolving corn market. There are miles of red tape to overcome with the never-ending rules these agricultural monopolies set in place for them. Did you know that we cannot even eat the vast majority of the corn grown here in America? It is all grown for the production of the big, bad monster high fructose corn syrup, one of the main ingredients of soda. This horrible ingredient, which is found in most all processed food, contributes to so many problems in our health as well as the well-being of our American farmers. However, I am not going to act like the Saturday Night Live skit on high fructose corn syrup is not funny. To the common consumer, it is just an ingredient that is not harmful in moderation. I agree. What I do not agree with is how the production of this ingredient is so corrupt. If you want to know more about this, pick up The End of Food by Paul Roberts – and I strongly advise you do so.
2. Shop around the perimeter of the grocery store.
Most all processed foods are in the center aisles of the store. So, to avoid these products, shop on the outside. You will find fresh produce, dairy, meats, breads and juices here. Fill your basket with good food which will fuel your body and help you to feel better and happier. I always try to fill my basket with a wide array of colors of fruits and vegetables before I hit any other part of the store. I’m not saying you should not purchase anything from the center aisles – like pasta, rice, broth, beans and so on – but limit the processed foods. At least read the label so you know the ingredients of the foods you eat before you buy them. Chances are, if you realize that you cannot pronounce the names of the ingredients, you probably will not want to put them in your body.
3. Realize that good food sometimes costs more – but it’s worth it, so deal with it!
The simple truth is we will spend our money in one of two places – the grocery store or the doctor’s office. We cannot keep telling ourselves we will live a long and prosperous life if we do not take care of our bodies. One of the basic tenets of staying healthy is choosing the right foods to eat… and trust me, it is a choice! It is always a choice! We may look at the price of a head of broccoli and think, “I could buy two boxes of Hamburger Helper for that price.” Well, when you really think about it, yes, you may be able to feed your family for two nights with the reconstituted pasta and sauce, but will it have even half of the vitamins and minerals just one head of broccoli has? One way of being cost effective in eating healthier is buying produce from a local co-op near you. Here in Houston, we purchase our produce from Rawfully Organic, a co-op owned and operated by our good friend Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram, a raw vegan and an inspiration to us all. We are able to eat fresh fruits and veggies all week long on just one “half share” from Rawfully Organic. We feel better, happier and we save money!
In choosing foods, think about what will fuel your family’s bodies and minds better. Just a few decades of eating out of a box can cause so many health problems such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes – which, by the way, are higher here in America than in any other country. Doctors’ bills and painful procedures are no way to live! So spend your money on something you will enjoy – food!
Incorporate a few of these tips … I promise they will pay out ten-fold. You will feel better and your mood will brighten, so the people around you will enjoy you more and your energy level will soar. Who knows, you could get a promotion! Ahhhh, just think of the possibilities… and all from eating yummy food!
Just some food for thought – pardon the pun.
Remember… food is family, food is friends, food is life, and food is always, always, love.
Samantha Rensel is the owner of Savory Celebration with her husband and holds an associates degree in culinary arts and a bachelors in culinary business management from the Culinary Institute of America in New York. She interned at the famous Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, where she worked with world class chefs and developed a diverse portfolio of restaurant experience. More recently, she moved back to Houston, Texas where she was the front of the house manager for Central Market. She specialized in working with customers who requested specialized and customized products and services.