I love to teach.
I discovered that almost accidentally. A customer asked me to show her how to cook vegan, like I did in the restaurant, so she could get healthier. She was significantly over weight with many of the typical Western type diseases and was grasping at straws to try and change her life. I spent three months in the winter of 2009 teaching her what I knew; she lost almost a hundred pounds and got off most of her medications.
I was hooked.
The thing was I was a terrible example of being “healthy.” I had an ABC list of eating disorders that had cycled through most of my adult life. I had battled the same twenty pounds with every new faddish diet until I became vegan, but even afterwards I was still pretty oblivious to my general health. My metabolism was still great so when I was hungry I would shove the vegan version of fattening empty calories in my mouth and never sit down to an actual meal. As long as I could get up each day, and work for 16 hours I was good, right? I could cook all those great healthy foods for everyone else without actually having to eat them, couldn’t I? Not to mention that I was so stressed I usually had to drink myself to sleep. My diet was mostly sugar, white flour and hydrogenated oils from Albarino, crostinis and truffle fries. Nothing against my amazing crostinis or truffle fries, but not exactly the best choices for a well rounded nutritious diet.
Then I found a lump in my breast.
It wasn’t anything other than a scare, thank God, but it was a bell ringing, flag waving, hollering and loud as bloody Hell, wake up call. My girls were just 5 and 11 and I realized that if I didn’t manage to clean up my act it wasn’t a matter of if, just when. So I started to be the vegan that I taught other people to be, one whole grain and green juice at a time.
What I realized throughout this process actually made me a better teacher and certainly a more realistic chef. While everyone wants to pretend to love the granola crunchy healthy food when they are lunching on sidewalk cafes and everyone can see them, in the privacy of their own home they want comfort food, plain and simple. The trick I then discovered is to balance the two, so you are both virtuous and satisfied. I can teach you how important it is to eat heavy dark winter greens, but if you buy them and let them go bad in your refrigerator did anything I taught you actually help? So I decided to think about plant based in a more realistic way. Knowing that we have to change the way we eat as a nation, what can I teach people to make that a realistic goal? Knowing that our consumption of processed foods is in direct correlation with the downward spiral of our nation’s health, what can I teach to make a difference in your day to day consumption? It’s fine to show off my skills with chef driven plates of gourmet tidbits, but you have to do the day to day cooking. What are you going to cook for your family, day in and day out? Are you making a salt smoked Seitan with porcini risotto and frizzled leeks after working all day?
Realistically, probably not.
Someone asked on Facebook the other day, “What food trends are you completely over?” The top two answers were kale and quinoa. Obviously most of us wannabe health foodies are just pretending to eat it, when in reality we want to put the whole mess down the disposal.
Or is it just me?
So, in the quest to become a better chef and teacher, I have read every book published over the last ten years about how to change the way we eat. Each one says basically the same things about the long term (and short term) costs of being a fast food nation and a culture of convenience in food choices. However, what I missed in each wonderful, well thought out and remarkably researched book was the part that taught people what to do instead of pull OUT your hair or INTO the nearest drive through. The books that were designed to change people’s food choices in the kitchen had recipes and food combinations so austere and tasteless that it made me cringe. The beautifully written and elegant health food cookbooks were written for fellow foodies, to leave on a coffee table or to impress our friends. How often are you going to ferment your own Kamboucha? Really? I’m a professional chef and I consider it complete torture.
We are so busy preaching to the choir about how good for you this stuff is, we are not confronting the problem of balancing nutrition with what people actually WANT to eat. Couple that with the surfeit of highly processed foods, our contaminated food supply and the dietary issues we are facing as a very fat and very sick nation and we are in real trouble. Nowhere was I able to find a basic “How to…” about HOW TO EAT and HOW TO THINK about food choices (and there are many) and how to live better not just for yourself but for your planet. Our food choices are no longer ones that just impact us and our families, they are now inextricably entwined with our environmental crisis and we simply can no longer ignore it.
I’m so very glad you decided to pick up this book and consider examining the choices you have about what you put into your body. Whether you want to lose a few pounds, are suffering from a chronic health condition, have a major illness, or are just searching for something to make you feel better when you get up in the morning, whole food is where you must begin. This book will provide you the tools to take control of your health, an area where most of us have no voice, or the ability to exercise independent decisions or judgment that are contrary to accepted Western medical practice. This book will help you think independently about those food choices when you are bombarded with the fast food commercials and packaging that work so well. We have been taught that it is bad to equate food with emotion but don’t you naturally gravitate to certain foods when you are sick, happy, celebrating or sad? Take a moment to think about the foods you eat according to your moods. PMS for me always means chocolate and pizza, sickness means hot and sour soup and grits, a fresh squeezed green vegetable juice is what I want before a long class or event. When I am sad a big steaming vat of Pho or Pozole and I am comforted. Food is love and dozens of other emotions. I will talk about food choices when we are feeling a certain way. Why it’s important to embrace those emotions and need for self comforting.
It takes time to make a habit and over the course of this book we are going to learn how to use with raw, unprocessed and natural ingredients rather than processed options. Results vary all over the board so I don’t want to say that magically this book will make you lose 30 pounds in four weeks, make you feel like you are 25 again after a month, have perfect health at eighty five or make the pickiest eater down kale chia smoothies like it’s a Mickey D Shamrock shake. But, Ii there is one thing I have discovered from being a chef, it is that anything worth learning is worth working at.
And your health is something DEFINITELY worth having.
And your great and wonderful, fulfilling life is something DEFINITELY worth working for.
This book will help teach you a whole new way of thinking about food. It will teach you how to make healthy food taste really good (my major complaint about ‘health’ food). It will teach you the basics of how to make yummy snacks, meals and special treats that you can share with your friends and family. It will tell you the truth about a lot of the junk you put in your body and it will help you incorporate your new information into action. What it is not going to do is do the work for you. You have to do that. You also have to make your own decisions. Do you want to change the way you eat? Do you want to take control as much as you possibly can about what you eat and where is comes from? Do you want to take personal responsibility for your own health and wellness?
That is entirely your decision.
I have been teaching this same stuff for several years now and one thing I know for sure is that you cannot make anyone do anything they haven’t decided to do all on their own. When I tell you the truth about what you eat and how you are hurting your body with chemical preservatives and highly processed foods what are you going to do with the knowledge? I can give you all the tools, write you menus, give you recipes, teach you how to cook, be motivational, but I’ll be darned if I can make you change if you don’t want to. If you eat a Standard American Diet (SAD, which is kind of funny, right?) the food you are eating is not filled with the phytonutrients (plant vitamins) that allow you to get well, stay well, live long and be strong. You are guaranteeing that you will live a life filled with pills, shots, diabetes, doctor’s appointments and faddish diets. You may not actually even be fat, but you sure as hell aren’t going to feel great. You will look and feel old before you should, and I would venture to suggest that you probably aren’t going to be very happy stuck in that body as it begins to creak and groan to a halt. You may have any one of a couple of dozen different diseases, but they all boil down to essentially the same thing: your body is suffering chronic inflammation and is not processing the food you eat as nutrients.
It’s really quite simple, what you eat determines how your body functions. The way you eat as you begin to age will have a direct correlation to how good you feel and how vital you are. I don’t know about you, but I want to be doing all the things I’m doing now at 80. I probably won’t run an 8 minute mile, but I sure want to get there on my own steam and not on a scooter. Want to play a round of golf every Wednesday without a cart? Want to hike the Appalachia Trail? Want to be able to keep up with your kids and grandkids at Disney? I want those things for you too, and I know you are too smart not to make the connection and start changing things where you can.
We have two signs in our kitchen one says “be the change you wish to see in the world.” The other says “money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy marshmallows which are kind of the same thing” so while I wish each of you reading this book to think about your personal journey and the changes you want to make, I also don’t want you to forget to enjoy the marshmallows. Just remember to make them from scratch, with love and organic sugar, recipe on page number # 119.
Good luck and have fun.
OK so that’s your sneak preview. It will be ready in eight weeks in an E-book format. I’m SO excited!