For the Love of Food

by | Aug 8, 2014
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week one fish serving is linked to bigger brains, omega-6s aren’t so bad for you, and BPA linked to developing food allergies.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (Yes, I took that picture of the pepper heart myself.)
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Thanksgiving Healthy Eating Tip: Slow Down

by | Nov 14, 2011

Photo by Photo Monkey

Worrying about carbs, calories and diets is one of the most unproductive things you can do on a holiday that celebrates thankfulness. Instead of giving you a list of healthy side dishes or tips on how to cut out calories, this Thanksgiving I offer just a single piece of advice: slow down.

The actual content of your Thanksgiving dinner matters very little in the grand scheme of things. A few hundred calories here or there can make a difference when projected over weeks and years, but for one meal the impact is negligible. Your body will adjust naturally and you’ll burn off those extra calories the next day, so don’t worry about it.

But for people trying to get healthy or lose weight, not worrying about food can feel very strange. There is always the fear that if you aren’t vigilant and conscious of what and how much you eat you may gorge yourself stupid and all your hopes of fitting into your favorite jeans by the end of the year will be ruined.

Overeating is certainly a possibility when food anxiety is a constant force in your life, but Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to start getting over it. Really. It may seem counterintuitive that such a food-forward holiday can be stress free, but let’s not forget that the real point of Thanksgiving isn’t turkey or pie, but being thankful.

Since most of us won’t be harvesting our own meals this year (hats off to anyone who is), it is silly to pretend this particular dinner requires more thankfulness than any other meal we eat. Turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce are tradition, but do not necessarily reflect our 21st century needs and values.

With the emergence of modern media, there are other essential pieces of our lives that we can no longer afford to take for granted. Free time is one. Exercise is another. But most important of all these is our real, human, non-Twitter relationships, particularly those with family and friends. It is far too easy to neglect these basic elements of our existence when we have so many other obligations and distractions, but failure to nurture them can severely affect our overall quality of life.

If you care about your health and want to keep your eating under control on Thanksgiving, why not focus your attention on strengthening relationships and spending time with the people you care about? Instead of worrying about yourself and what you want to accomplish, ask people about themselves and discuss mutual interests.

Let food be part of the celebration, but not the purpose of your day.

Once food is no longer the center of attention the only thing you need to keep in mind is to eat slowly–it is pretty tough to overeat if you are biting and chewing at a snail’s pace.

Slow eating helps you eat less food and appreciate it more. It also helps you make wiser food choices, since decisions about what to put on your plate are made less impulsively.

But slow eating does require some conscious effort. If you are in the habit of shoveling food in your mouth without taking time to put down your fork and chew (or breathe), it is easy to slip back into this pattern. Also, if people around you are all guzzling their food in a fury, you might feel a natural compulsion to keep pace and match their eating speed.

I’ve written before about how to become a slow eater, but at large family dinners some of these tactics can be particularly useful. Start by actively trying to keep conversations engaged while you eat. Chewing and talking are (hopefully) mutually exclusive, so the more you converse the longer it will take you to get through your meal.

Making an effort to put your fork down between bites is another effective way to slow your pace at the dining table. To give your hands something to do between bites, reach for your glass and take regular sips of your water (it is best not to rely exclusively on wine for this tactic) or wipe your lips with your napkin.

And don’t forget to chew.

Trying to eat slowly is much easier than trying to summon the will power to skip the mashed potatoes and biscuits. And slowly savoring the foods you love is far more enjoyable than inventing a clever recipe to replace the sugar or fat in your pumpkin pie.

Spend time with people, enjoy your meal and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

How do you approach health and food on Turkey Day?

Originally published November 23, 2009.

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For The Love Of Food

by | May 20, 2011

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

I love Marion Nestle calling out the food industry on their ridiculous health claims, the emphasis on food culture in health and the launch of the new and awesome Gilt Taste.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links at Twitter (@summertomato) and the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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Eating Like An Avatar

by | Dec 28, 2009

Avatar

Sometimes it takes a new set of eyes to see things clearly. Sometimes a new perspective can be enough to change your world.

In the blockbuster film Avatar, advanced neuro-technology is used to plug human consciousness into alien bodies (avatars) and operate them remotely. Scientists use these avatars to explore the planet Pandora and learn the ways of its native people, the Na’vi.

The Na’vi share an intimate bond with their natural habitat, making their behavior seem primitive and incomprehensible to the humans studying them. But when Jake Sully immerses himself in Na’vi culture as an assignment, his experience changes him in ways no one could have imagined.

Behaviors we don’t understand are often the easiest to ridicule and reject. But putting aside your preconceptions and coming to a new world with open eyes can be the best way to improve your circumstances and enrich your life.

Do you have prejudices that are keeping you from eating healthy?

I have certainly had many.

Believe it or not, there was a time I thought all organic food was an elaborate, expensive hoax designed to trick rich people into paying more for food the rest of us could get for a fraction of the price. I just didn’t get it. I hadn’t yet tasted the difference, so I didn’t believe it existed.

There was also a time when home cooking seemed to me like a laughable, time-consuming and pointless affair, better suited to married life or, well, anyone who wasn’t me. Why would I cook when someone else could do it for me?

Weekly shopping at the farmers market was another tough idea to swallow (who wants to get up that early on a Saturday?), as was ignoring free food at social events–one of the most fundamental and revered components of graduate school (it’s free!!).

My problem was that I didn’t yet see the value in these activities, so they didn’t seem important.

But of course, I was wrong.

It is absolutely worth the extra effort and money for higher quality organic vegetables that I am actually excited to eat.

Cooking for myself is by far the most efficient, tasty and healthy way to feed myself.

And shopping at the farmers market and maintaining a high-quality diet is the single most important thing I do to stay healthy; it is also really fun.

But I don’t expect you to believe me. This is not the kind of information you can read on a blog and automatically integrate into your life.

To understand my enthusiasm for farm fresh food and home-cooked meals, you really have to dive in head first and try it yourself.

There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.

So what’s stopping you?

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What’s Worse: Pests or Pesticides? [Poll]

by | Dec 2, 2009
Photo by star5112

Photo by star5112

It’s never fun to find an unwelcome critter in your food, but if you spend much time shopping at farmers markets or buying organic produce it is something you need to get used to. Without pesticides, sometimes there are pests.

But… usually not.

Before you get too grossed out and dash to your kitchen to throw away your organic apples, I want to make it clear that the vast majority of the food I buy (~90% purchased direct from farms) is perfectly clean and insect free. But unlike sprayed and irradiated conventional produce, occasionally there will be a bug. And sometimes there will be many bugs.

But as scary as this can be the first time it happens, bugs really aren’t so bad. Most critters can be easily rinsed off under the sink. Some of the smaller, more persistent little buggers can be coaxed out with a short bath in water spiked with a splash of vinegar.

Herbivorous insects pose no real threat to humans beyond mild annoyance. Yes, they can add an unpleasant crunch to your food if you don’t find them in time, but generally they contribute no flavor and–as many of my Twitter followers pointed out–they may add a little protein to your diet.

Twitterbugs6

Twitterbugs1Twitterbugs2

I somehow doubt that insects really provide a significant protein source, though I’ve heard they can contribute substantial vitamin B12 for vegetarians who ingest them accidentally in rural societies (couldn’t find a credible reference). But the point is that whatever insects do add to your diet probably doesn’t impact your health in a negative way.

That is, if you even notice them. Chances are you have never actually tasted an unwanted creature in your food (I know I haven’t), but they are probably there sometimes and you’ve probably eaten them.

Let’s be honest, the problem with finding bugs in your food isn’t how they taste. The real obstacle is our perception of bugs. In our society bugs are considered gross, so we don’t want to eat anything they have touched.

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But not all cultures consider bug eating repulsive (see photo). And after you’ve dealt with a few insects yourself, eaten your food anyway and come out unscathed, you realize there isn’t really anything to worry about.

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Only once have I encountered a situation where a vegetable was infested beyond salvation. These were some baby cabbage I had left for too long in the fridge. Over the course of a week the insects multiplied and completely took over. It wasn’t pretty.

But instances like these are rare and, in my case, it was self-inflicted.

True insectophobes, however, will not be comforted by this argument. I am entirely sympathetic to this viewpoint–at one time in my life I used to joke that I was afraid of butterflies (OK, live ones still creep me out when they get too close).

But what scares me even more than eating bugs is the alternative.

Twitterbugs7Twitterbugs8

We don’t yet know the extent of the damage done to our health by pesticides, but the history (dioxins, malathion, etc.) hasn’t been encouraging. The environment we live in is also significantly impacted by pesticide use.

Even if cancer and polluted lakes are a bit too abstract for you, there is still the bland, one-dimensional flavor of food produced on factory farms to consider. Taste is what really won me over when I first changed my eating habits.

I don’t mean to imply that it is never okay to eat conventional produce, just that there are serious issues to consider regarding where your food comes from.

Pests and pesticides can both be a little scary (I forgot to mention the live wasp that once crawled out of my spinach), but at this point it seems we do have to choose one or the other.

Which scares you the most? Vote now!

[poll id="6"]

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Orthorexia, Bacon Worship And The Power of Food Culture

by | Nov 2, 2009
By lepiaf.geo

By lepiaf.geo

Is it possible for healthy eating to become an unhealthy obsession?

Absolutely.

Orthorexia is a word turning up frequently in the media to describe an excessive focus on healthy eating and dietary restriction. Though the term is not yet an official psychological diagnosis according to the DSM-IV, it is being used by some clinicians to describe patients with eating disorders that resemble obsessive compulsive.

Paradoxically, orthorexics obsessed with health are not healthy and often shun food to the point of emaciation and starvation. But unlike patients with anorexia nervosa, the goal of orthorexics is not to be thin but to be “pure, healthy and natural,” according to Dr. Steven Bratman who first described the disorder in 1997. Suffers are frequently associated with a particular eating regimen such as veganism or rawfoodism.

That orthorexia has only recently been identified and characterized may be the best argument yet for Michael Pollan’s assertion in The Omnivore’s Dilemma that over the past several decades America has undergone “a national eating disorder.” Americans spend tens of billions of dollars per year on weight loss and fitness products, with only growing obesity and chronic diseases to show for it. We’ve shunned fats, sugars, starches and everything in between, and embraced each new diet trend with open arms and wallets. And perhaps not surprisingly, it appears some people are now taking it too far.

The irony is that as a condition like orthorexia has emerged as clinically relevant, we’ve also seen a notable health food backlash. Google searches for the word “bacon” have increased significantly in the past year, and books are being written from websites like This Is Why You’re Fat.

Google Bacon 2004-2009

Google Bacon 2004-2009

In other words, we have serious issues with food.

But why?

It is easy to be sympathetic toward all of these behaviors, even if their extreme forms make us a bit uneasy. For those interested in living healthy and being thin (the chronic dieters), the only guidance is offered by thousands of diet books and companies like Weight Watchers. Each of these systems has its own strict guidelines for success, while unfortunately few (if any) of them encourage us to behave in a way that we would naturally. Thus the dirty little secret of the diet industry is that the vast majority of them are ineffective for long-term weight loss.

This is why we now have a congregation of bacon worshipers. A growing segment of the population is tired of bland food and unsatisfying, ineffective diets. Bacon tastes good, and since we are all clearly dying of heart attacks anyway we may as well live it up. Right?

Even if this attitude is a bit fatalistic, at its core it reflects a desire to enjoy life. And anyone who counts themselves among the human race should acknowledge this as a sentiment that deserves respect.

But striking the perfect balance between health and gluttony is extremely difficult in a food culture where we are allowed to eat in our cars and in front of our televisions. The food industry has made sure that as far as food is concerned, there are no rules. So a bit of obsession seems like a necessity for someone that still holds the desire to eat whole, unprocessed foods from the bottom of the food chain. The healthiest foods, after all, cannot be found at your neighborhood supermarket. For taste, health and the environment, the best stuff is at your local farmers market.

But avoiding the supermarket, isn’t that orthorexic?

Not necessarily. Every day we take a little extra time to do things that are necessary and important, things like sleeping, doing laundry and brushing our teeth. We go out of our way to do these things because the alternative is simply unacceptable. Eating quality food isn’t an obsession so much as a life maintenance task that–like being clean–is not up for negotiation. Until we have farmers markets on every corner, a little extra effort will be necessary.

But delicious, high-quality food is not only about health. It is also about taste, enjoyment, community and life. Food is something that is worth building your days around, because when approached from this angle food improves your quality of life in every way. Eating like this is not a disorder, it is a culture. And it is something that we desperately need to rediscover.

When proposing the term orthorexia, Bratman suggested framing a diagnosis around two direct questions:

  1. Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?
  2. Does your diet socially isolate you?

In other words, seeking healthy food only becomes unhealthy when it is devoid of enjoyment and social relationships.

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a lecture at UC Berkeley given by Michael Pollan. Near the end of his talk Pollan proposed reestablishing food culture in America as “The Omnivore’s Solution,” the way to break our habits of both health food obsession and unbridled gluttony. He described health as “a set of relationships,” and encouraged his audience to think of food not as a product but as something we do.

Throughout history and around the globe food cultures are what have dictated when, where and how much we should eat, and countries that have worked to preserve their cultures have fared better against obesity and other diseases of civilization. For Americans though, food culture has been replaced by nutritionism and all-you-can-eat buffets.

This kind of thinking is often branded as elitist, but it shouldn’t be. Food culture does not cost money, it is a basic tenet of life that extends across class boundaries. It costs time, but this is a priority shift that is worth investing in. According to the latest Nielsen statistics, Americans are watching an average of 5 hours of television per day. Calculate in the cost of high-definition screens and monthly cable bills and your daily food investment will start to be put into perspective.

It is undeniable that food grown locally with care costs more than the subsidized, mass-produced products that fill your favorite supermarket. But despite our reputation, Americans have never been opposed to going out of our way for and spending a little extra money on food that tastes amazing and makes us happy. (If you don’t believe me I’ll redirect you once again to This Is Why You’re Fat.)

Is it such a stretch to say that we should be able to eat healthy and still enjoy our food?

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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