What we are going to learn over the next 52 weeks is about so much more than just going to a cooking class at your local trendy organic grocery store or reading yet another cookbook. We are going to begin a journey that is about changing your lifestyle and the way you think about food as a part of your daily ritual, your cultural identity, and as a source of comfort. I am not going to teach you simply the recipes, there are thousands of cookbooks to do that for you, I am going to teach you the techniques that will allow you to build a culinary skill set. While I have been classically trained, the techniques I am going to teach you are not from that tradition; but from my own empirical work in the kitchen over the last three decades. Similarly, the recipes that you will take with you are not like any you have ever worked with before. The ingredient list will probably contain items you are not familiar with. But the techniques I will teach you are the key to making it taste like comfort food, rich, unabashedly soothing, comfort food with no apologies needed for cholesterol or calorie count. The key to what I do is taking food that is good for you and making it taste amazing. Making it taste amazing without adding animal products, transfats, sugar, preservatives, processed foods, flavor enhancers, or in many cases gluten.
We have become so used to have our food mass produced in this country, that our taste buds have almost become inured to prepackaged, preprepared, and almost seemingly predigested meals. The essential idea of this project, if it could be stated in one simple sentence, is to ‘return to the source.’ If we were all of sudden teleported to the year 1900 what would we find? Well, to begin with, hardly any type two diabetes; heart disease and cancer are almost unknown and high cholesterol…high, what? Although, in truth, our national average life expectancy was much lower, the so called Western diseases had not begun to surface in any large quantities. The lower life expectancy was in large part due to infant mortality, not typical twenty first century diseases. At the end of WWII the baby boom was beginning, the era of American economic domination had begun. We were making the mass exodus from traditional agrarian lifestyles to an urban setting and industrial and technological revolution. The fact that I just grossly summed up foreign policy, national consciousness, and cultural identity in one sentence should not scare you anywhere near as much as what happened next. Trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, bleached flours and the beginning of chemical preserving became the cure all answer for transporting mass quantities of food to urban centers without spoilage. Add the birth of McDonalds, and Food Inc. is born. A billion dollar industry poised to control what you put in your mouth, from the political arena to the grocery store aisle. So, what if you said no? What if you said, “I’m smarter than that. My body deserves better. I love myself too much to feed myself junk.” What would you eat?
Well, to begin with, imagine again that you were in this pre-Big Mac industrialized-food-as-big-business-world and lived in an agrarian culture growing and bartering most of your sustenance. Vegetables would be fresh from the garden and abundant. Meat and animal products would be used, but very sparingly, in small quantities, and as seasoning or flavoring not the base of every meal. Livestock would not be prophylactically treated with antibiotics or steroid enhanced. Animals would eat the food they were intended to by God and not just clear up man’s surplus corn or soy. As a farmer you would work hard manual labor for many hours a day lowering your BMI and increasing metabolism, so calorie counting would be superfluous. All your food would be cooked from scratch and at home. There would be sugar, but a rare special treat. During the winter, or fallow, months you would eat more sparingly of preserved food (canned, salted, dried or oil packed) and dried meats and beans. Alcohol would be a rare indulgence for very special celebrations.
Now imagine you lived now in any one of the identified “Blue Zones.” Blue Zones are areas of the world where the life expectancy far exceeds the norm in both quality and productivity. Blue Zones are always found in traditional cultural models rather than homogenous urban settings. Primarily, Blue Zone’s are agrarian societies, with diets that are predominately plant based and have a strong family unit and work ethic. There are more commonalities than differences with our pre Food Inc. world and Blue Zones but of the most important would be that most blue zone cultures have very little animal protein in their diet and that is predominantly seafood. Olive oil or fresh non hydrogenated vegetable oils are utilized abundantly as the major fat source. For those of you that have read “The China Study,” you will know that the groundbreaking research of Dr. Campbell shows that the Standard American Diet (SAD) and consumption of high quantities of animal proteins are the primary culprits of death from the “diseases of affluence.” What we are doing is following the careful and painstaking research of this monumental nutritional study, putting it into a ‘how to live in the real world’ context and making it taste good. We are also going to look at the work of Dan Buettner in his book “The Blue Zones” and identify ways to incorporate the social lessons learned from the cultures of longevity.
So to be incredibly simplistic we are turning back the clock with a few small changes. We are dismissing all the pseudoscience of the diet cultures in the last forty years and focusing on whole and complete foods. We are dismissing the faddism of the low fat/nonfat/high fat/low carb/no carb diets as so much nonsense and eating only whole foods that feed and nourish all parts of us completely. We are not depriving our bodies, constricting or counting calories, or using food products that proclaim to be DIET anything. We are moving our body to become attuned to its strength and energy, focusing on our support system as a replacement or supplement to the family unit, and replacing most of the food items currently found in our cupboard with ingredients in their raw and unadulterated form. We will learn how to listen to our hunger and eat consciously what our body needs not what our emptiness desires and most certainly not on auto pilot. We will learn that to feed ourselves and our family consciously and completely is the most important thing we can do to demonstrate care and nurturing. We will reclaim the power of #foodislove by remaking our relationship with comfort food. Not only that, we are going to learn to be 21st century rock stars in the kitchen.
All this in fifty two short weeks.
Fasten your seatbelts, boys and girl…it’s going to be a wild ride.