Food Rules: Eat Good, Be Well

I recently filled out one of those silly facebook surveys that was all about food. One of the questions asked about my favorite food as a kid. Without hesitation, I listed sour cream’n’onion chips (Keebler’s O’Boisies if we’re being specific. I could eat a whole bag in one hour of MTV programming after school. My runner up would be another quintessential sour junk food: Sour Patch Kids). Junk food, basically. I sucked at eating healthy when I was little and I’d be a liar if I said I’d prefer Brussels sprouts over mac’n’cheese at 32 years old.

Lately, my family has been on a whole foods kick – fresh meats and veggies, cheese, eggs, nuts, water instead of pop. No sweets or salty corn or potato snacks. No fried foods. We really needed a break from the carb overload we experienced over the holidays and whole foods just seem to make more sense. But what we saw on the “Before You Grocery Shopping Again” ep of Oprah the other day got us thinking about our food choices more specifically. For the majority of the show, Oprah interviewed Michael Pollan, author of “Food Rules.” “This short work is a condensed version of his previous efforts, intended to provide a simple framework for healthy and sustainable diet,” according to Wikipedia. “It offers 64 rules based on his previous book ‘In Defense of Food.'”

Here are some highlights that I really took to heart:

Processed food sucks/If it won’t rot, don’t eat it/If the average person can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t buy it. So there goes processed American cheese singles – which make grilled cheeses so awesome. No more convenient toddler snacks like Goldfish and animal crackers, snack bars, many jarred foods … the list goes on. I’ve already started chopping up fresh fruit in place of giving Ollie a handful of Goldfish while I make him dinner. He’s not complaining and it only takes me an extra few seconds.

If you want junk food, make it  yourself. I’m REALLY actually pretty excited about the idea of earning my French fry craving by having to peel, season and bake my own frites. Same with mac’n’cheese. And you know, homemade junk food probably tastes better than fast food, anyway. And I’m likely not to make them all of the time because, if I’m honest, how often do I want to spend hours in the kitchen for a simple junk food craving?

Dining out right. I get Chilis fever every now and then. Then there’s the Portillo’s urge. And the White Castle crave. If it’s salty, spicy, indulgent and nostalgic – I find myself wanting it every so often. But the truth is, the foods sold in most chains (and many single-unit restaurants) are not only trucked in from across the country from a big food service conglomerate, but they’re pumped with sodium and preservatives. Kinda makes me lose my appetitive just thinking about it. And really, why would I spend my hard-earned money on pre-packaged,  mediocre food that wasn’t even made with any real care? So in addition to eating at independently owned restaurants, I’m also on a mission to eat at places that serve fresh, homemade, and if possible, locally sourced foods. I already know of a handful nearby (see below), so there’s no excuse.

Vote with your fork. Today, the demand is for inexpensive, convenient food that has a long shelf life and that’s why stores are full of these items. The more of us who shop the parameters of the grocery store for fresh produce and proteins, the more likely stores will hear the message that we value and demand fresh foods. And that will drive down price. Such a simple concept when you think about it.

–Pay now or pay later. This ties back into voting with your fork. Cheap, processed foods are easier on the pocketbook than fresh foods. You can fill up your whole cart with boxed, jarred, canned and pre-cooked/processed for the same amount as a fraction of a cart full of fresh foods. Plus, fresh foods rot sooner than processed foods. You do the math. Especially for families struggling in this economy and who are starved for time, the seemingly sensible choice is the cheap and easy one. Here’s the scary part, though: Down the line, the consumption of these cheap and easy foods result in higher medical bills  stemming from a life-long poor diet. So it’s a matter of paying now for fresh foods or paying later for high medical bills. I’ve put a lot of thought into it, and even with my already-stretched budget, I’m voting with my fork and spending a little extra percentage of my paycheck on food that’s good for my family. I hope other people do the same and eventually, the high demand will mean a variety of fresh food for a fraction of the current price.

–Would your great-grandma recognize it? Oh my dearest Nan. Geese grazed on her  property in Arkansas before she moved back to Illinois. She made chicken soup using the whole carcass, plus fresh veggies. For breakfast, we ate omelets and sausage. It was that or her fiber cereal. Her homemade biscuits and sausage gravy rival any I’ve had since. She was the consummate chef. What would she think of cotton-candy flavored yogurt that comes in a tube? “Fruit” snacks filled with gooey liquid? Energy drinks? Hot Pockets? Nan worked hard, cooked like she meant it and lived to 89. No heart disease, diabetes or obesity.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to be a better consumer.  My family’s heath and wellness depends on it. What does your fridge and pantry look like? Do you think these “Food Rules” will change the way you shop at all?

Finally, here are some links to the like-minded (I know there are more in McHenry County. If you have any, PLEASE share!):

5 Responses to “Food Rules: Eat Good, Be Well”

  1. 1 dada February 2, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Oh man. Now I want a sour cream n’ onion chip.


  2. 2 Kate February 2, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    I was just writing about the Oprah/Pollan show yesterday (for a post on Thursday)! I’ll tell you, we had a lot of Chinese food this weekend, and I had leftovers Sunday and Monday, and it has made me feel like absolute crap. I guess it hadn’t fully sunk in how much my homemade foods were better for my body … now I know and am considering pitching the rest of the leftovers.

    • 3 Erica February 2, 2010 at 4:30 pm

      You’re a model citizen when it comes to fresh, homemade food. 🙂 We’ve decided we’re phasing out whatever junky food we have left in the house and starting w/the next shopping trip, we’re going to get serious. I forgot to tell you I had a pleasant trip to Joseph’s last week. Got tons of produce! And a jar of the Salsa Lady’s hot salsa — muy bien!

  3. 4 staci February 2, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    I have “Food Rules” and will probably finish it by the time I see you next, so I will be happy to pass it on to you. 🙂

  4. 5 Random Passer-by February 20, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    It’s a bit of a trek if you’re in McHenry county but Stanley’s fresh mart in Chicago is a wonderful, magical place. They take all the produce that isn’t perfect enough for Whole Food and Trader Joe standards and sell it for super cheap. You need to show up earlier in the day though because they restock on a day to day basis so once stuff’s gone its not coming back until the next day.

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