A 7-step approach to reconnect with the world of real food!
Some while back, I wrote this article for a big company’s Bulletin circular for their employees and collaborators. I recently dug it up again and read through it all to find that it is still very relevant and so had to share! Having dedicated an important chunk of my life so far to its study, research and practice, food would seem to be my area of expertise, let alone passion.
That said, I must confess I find it extremely frustrating that food is almost always talked about and limited to what one puts on one’s plate and into one’s mouth. Food is far more than that and this is what I intend to bring to your attention so you may appreciate and hopefully adopt a more holistic approach to food, in all its glory.
Allow me to present you with my seven steps to help you get back in-sync with the world of real food:
Step One: Look inside Your Fridge
Now let’s start at the very beginning! Your fridge is the best reflection of your more recent & underlying food habits: the good, the bad and the ugly. So let’s take one long, good look at ourselves in our own food mirrors. When you open your fridge door, can you see through to the back wall of the fridge? One common issue is that people tend to overstock their fridge. With the fridge stuffed full to the brim, most people do not even know what edible goodies are hiding in their fridge waiting to be whipped up into simple and healthy meals. There are plenty of online sources for how best to store food in your fridge to keep it fresh for as long as possible. Here’s a fine example!
Perhaps you barely have anything in your fridge apart from a half-empty ketchup bottle and a few pots of fruity yoghurt? Either extreme is not ideal, so what you would have to do here is be brutally honest with yourself and evaluate whether you need to consider buying less or more (real) food to hit some healthier middle ground. If your case is that you have no fresh ingredients in your fridge, just ready-made meals galore – you are going to need a complete overhaul and this is where my next step comes in nicely.
Step Two: Find a Food Role Model
Even the best at tapping into and harnessing the power of self-motivation need a helpful nudge in the right direction every now and then. No one is exempt from that, especially when facing the uphill challenge of taking on new, healthier habits. Either way, it should not discourage you at all. The answer is simply to look for a suitable food role model to inspire you to make changes for the better and keep them up! Now this can be anyone from a famous chef or food blogger whose style and philosophy you enjoy and can identify with. Personally, I am a long-time fan of Jamie Oliver, especially as of late seeing as he is currently studying for a degree in nutrition and incorporating a lot of what he is learning into his own material. There are also some great lesser known food bloggers that are doing great work. A simple Google search can get you discovering the right role model for you.
Famous and semi-famous people aside, your food role model could be a lot closer to you than you would first think. They may be a family member or a not-so-distant relative or perhaps even a colleague whose food choices make you snap your fingers and think: ‘Damn, I should have ordered what they are having!’. They may just be happy to share their secrets to food success and you may just make a new friend out of it!
Step Three: Eat Local and Organic Wherever Possible
This is the million dollar question: is there any real difference between organic and non-organic products? There are plenty of studies out there that will argue both sides. Nonetheless, the basic difference is the adding of chemical-based pesticides and the consequences on human health as well as that of the environment. Those two points were more than convincing for me when it came to making the switch and adopting a preference for organic produce. While I understand that it would imply a greater expense on food until it becomes the market norm and demand catches us to settle the prices somewhat. However, my take on this matter is that any extra expense (within reason!) with the intention of improving your diet is an investment in your overall health. Also, as a consumer, our most powerful way of voting in today’s society is with where and what we spend our money on.
I advise going for local because apart from supporting your local farmers and hence your local economy, you are also buying seasonal produce that would have been picked when ripe to eat and not earlier, as is the case for imported foods. Also, local produce spends less time in transit so the breakdown of nutrients from the time harvested to it reaching your plate is significantly reduced. I used to run a local organic cooperative-style farmer’s market in my neighbourhood in Barcelona and couldn’t be happier with the new-found flavours and connection with the producers that the usual fruit and vegetables found in supermarkets just don’t have.
Step Four: Grow Some Edibles at Home
This is a great way to connect with the food cycle right from the comfort of your own home. And better yet, a fun activity to take part in with your kids – should you have any! I am not proposing you set up a miniature farm on your balcony but what I am suggesting is to simply get a terracotta pot and plant some tomatoes, bells peppers, fresh herbs or whatever you heart desires. The simpler, the easier it will be to begin with. I can assure you, the satisfaction you will get from eating something you have grown and tended to yourself is unbeatable! What may start as a way to work some core values in both responsibility of looking after things as well as the cycle of life, you will quickly come to realise it can be a pretty therapeutic to disconnecting from the daily hustle’n’bustle by getting your hands stuck in the dirt and feel a little earth between your fingers while spending some quality time with your child. Even without children, you can still reap the many benefits!
Step Five: Eat Less Meat but Eat Better Quality
This is another point that has double benefits. Most people love meat because it is packed with plenty of flavour. Yet the truth of the matter is that we are consuming way beyond our actual requirements and this is having a significant impact on both our general health and the environment. First, the types of meats we are primarily consuming are processed meats. The latest cancer-related health warning from the World Health Organization has had most people chuckle at the thought that their charcuterie intake would have to be reduced. But if the general population is not willing to make a compromise by reducing their intake of processed meats for their own sake, how about we do it for the sake of the environment and our natural resources?
Rearing animals for meat consumption is a highly inefficient process, particularly in terms of water and land use. Both of these resources are becoming increasingly limited and with a rapidly growing global population the looming danger of a future where there is not enough food, space or water for everybody means that we need to start doing our part to help guarantee a future where that scenario is completely avoided. Nowadays, as consumers, we are all a part of both the local and global food chain so the time has come to actively start taking responsibility for our participation in it. Meat Free Mondays is a campaign launched by Paul and Linda McCartneys back in 2009. However, with such a boom in creativity and accessibility for vegetarian/vegan recipes or food options when dining out, I would even suggest going meat-free on Wednesdays and Thursdays as well. Overall, your health will appreciate you for it!
Step Six: Plan Your Meals and Enjoy Them
Now I know this can be somewhat tricky, especially with our more spontaneous lifestyles but I can tell you from my own experience that planning your meals can save you both time and money in the final run. You can break it down to whatever you can handle both in terms of shopping and cooking, be it three days at a time or a full-week ahead. Draft a meal time calendar (I recommend the breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and dinner routine) and as a list on the side, jot down dishes you feel like eating over the next following days that are within your cooking capabilities. Again, the Internet is your best ally here for recipe ideas, so surf on it whenever you can!
Then based on the dishes you choose, you can put together your shopping list so that you have finished faster than ever. If you find yourself with various remaining ingredients that you don’t know how to put together to make a decent meal, there are some new search engines for food that can help with suggestions for recipes based on what you have to work with.
So now that you have planned your meals for the following days, you will not face that mealtime indecision where you are unsure of what to eat. You can just get on with the eating part and take your time to enjoy it! After all, aside from being a basic need, eating good food is a luxury that should not be taken for granted. Try to avoid any serious distractions while eating such as working at the same time or cleaning up the house. Just sit down for 20 minutes, enjoy the people you are eating with and chew your food properly. This will lead to fewer symptoms of indigestion and another nice break in the stressful routine our modern day living is all too often associated with.
Step Seven: Waste Not, Want Not
Last but not least, an issue I hold close to my heart is that of food waste. I find it to be one of the current world’s greatest injustices that we are estimated to be throwing away billions of tonnes of edible food when there are billions of people living in hunger worldwide. In fact, calculations have shown that with the food we are currently throwing out on a global scale we could end world hunger. But instead of focusing on the negative here, I prefer stay inspired by the great potential solutions to this problem hold!
Food waste is complex problem but is namely characterised by a serious logistics problem and one that we can forget about easily, albeit passively. So next time you are out at a restaurant and you have ordered more than you can stomach, ask for the leftovers to be packed up and save it for a hassle-free lunch the next day. At home, where portion sizes are more within our own control, fill up your plate modestly and give your tummy a chance to let your brain know you are full. You can always serve yourself some more if you are still hungry.
Also, do not underestimate the power of your freezer to lengthen the shelf-life of many foods. Use it to your utmost advantage. If it is one thing you take from all of this, may it be to love and respect food so that we can all continue to enjoy it for millennia to come.
Hope you found this article useful and feel free to get in touch with any more tips & ideas of your own!