Archive for the ‘food theory and thought’ Category

And we’re back! I hope everyone had a lovely holiday season. I spent the bulk of mine cocooned on my parents’ couch in Michigan. We played some games, we opened some presents and we watched a lot of TV, as we are wont to do. A lot of that TV was Food Network or FN-related, and when it started, it freaked me out: What would my folks say? Would they give me the side-eye and ask how many of the things we saw I had made? Would my sister go into a “how could anyone ever eat meat/cheese/butter SO GROSS” tizzy before patting her own tiny stomach in a self-satisfied way? Would my mom immediately suggest we go on a walk?

Clearly, I have a lot of complicated feelings about food. Much fewer than I did when I was younger. Food has always been a challenge for me. I think that’s why I like baking, especially for other people. There’s therapeutic value in measuring, and mixing, and tasting and giving a treat to someone who will really appreciate it. It takes your head, and your appetite, out of the game. For a long time, it wasn’t about the preparation for me, it was the aftermath: Why did I feel/look the way I did? I think a lot of that has to do with my family. My parents are crazy-supportive people. The kind of parents most kids dream of having. But I absolutely regret the first time (and I don’t remember when this was) I ever opened my mouth and said the words “I’m fat.”

You see, supportive parents want to push, push, push their baby birds to do the very best they can, to achieve the most. They never compared me to my sister, who’s a good six inches taller than me, rail-thin and vegan (except once, when my dad plucked a banana from my hand as I was about to bite, and handed it off to her, saying, “You don’t need this. She does.”). I’m grateful for that, since I spent a lot of my young adulthood doing just that. My folks, like all good parents, just wanted us to be our best selves, and be as happy as we can be. So a self-criticism like “I’m fat” was a recipe for encouraging exercise (my mom got me to join Curves with her when I was in high school), discouraging snacking, and a whole slew of food issues I wish I had never brought onto myself. Eating at my parents’ house, especially, has been fraught with nerves, the likes of which have previously:

  • sent me into “secret eating” mode, in which includes but is not limited to sneaking Christmas cookies after parents have gone to sleep, hiding food in my room, and once, at age eight or so, getting caught standing on the kitchen counter with a flashlight and my stuffed Lamb, mawing down Willy Wonka Heartbreakers at an alarming rate.
  • made me hyper-vigilant of portion sizes, so I only put two bites of kielbasa, a smidgen of kapusta, a dollop of potatoes, etc., on my plate, going for some sort of “oh, this is all I need” food martyrdom, only to be hungry again an hour or two later.
  • driven me to many, many visits to my grandparents’ houses, where I get a pile of junk food and a comment from my Grandma Woho “you must have lost weight!,” no matter how much I’ve gained.
  • on more than one occasion, spurred an IBS attack, the likes of which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (Nicole R. from second grade, who stole my friend Julia’s Squiggle-Wiggle Pen).

My parents have never called me fat; I need to make that very clear. And I haven’t called myself fat in years, although I think if we are going for an accurate description, I am obese by BMI standards (which are, of course, bullshit) and curvy/full-figured/round by many other people’s. I’ve been called a fat bitch by people I know, and by strangers on the bus and on the street. By my own standards and descriptions, I am awesome. That is what I am.

It’s taken a lot of time, and effort, and self-actualization to figure out my relationship with food and my body. It took a “you can’t tell me what to eat anymore” conversation, and several instances in which I felt like I needed to somehow “prove” that I’m healthy. “Look, I can run a mile! See how well I do in my yoga class? Still not diabetic!” But really, who do I need to prove my health to? Myself, and my doctor – and maybe not even that guy!

What I know now is this: I can run a mile. I do just fine in yoga, but not so well in Budokon classes. My blood pressure, heart rate and A1C are all pretty awesome – no major diseases in sight. I love to cook, and I love to eat, and I’ve learned what feels nourishing vs. what will satisfy only emotionally, and what benefits and pitfalls last with each thing I eat. I’ve learned that caffeine triggers my IBS, but so does stress, and that ordering three well drinks will make me sick for days, but one or two Makers Marks will warm me, and that’s it. I’ve learned that sometimes, I really DO need a cheeseburger from McDonald’s, and I’ve learned to not feel guilty about enjoying it. Food is fuel, yes. But it is not inherently good or bad. It is just food.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying: It sure was nice to watch the Food Network with my family and not feel anything other than pleasure about being home. My mom and I even decided we wanted to make one of the recipes we saw. Here’s my adaptation.

Lindsey’s take on Giada’s Forbidden Rice

You’ll need:

3 1/2 C salted water

2 C forbidden rice (Trader Joe’s didn’t have any when I went, so I went with brown jasmine rice. You do you!)

One big chunk of ginger, peeled and diced

Cook the rice with the ginger in it. Yum. 

When that’s done, saute with some oil:

A whole bunch of sugar snap peas, cut into 1-inch pieces (try to get the threads out of these guys if you can)

2 peaches, sliced (it is fine to use four peach halves from a jar, as far as I’m concerned)

Saute the peas for a couple of minutes, then throw the peaches in. After a couple of minutes (you want them to retain their shape), put those on top of the rice, which you have cleverly put in a bowl while the peas were sauteing, of course.

For the dressing, you’ll need:

1/4 C rice vinegar

1/4 C grapeseed oil

3 TBSP honey

1 TBSP soy sauce (but don’t kid yourself, you’ll probably add more)

Stir those together and pour over the rice. Eat warm or room temp. I put mine in the fridge, then warmed it up and ate it with some toasted peanuts. Delicious.

Happy new year, team. I hope that in 2012, any resolutions you made about food were to enjoy it, be healthy and not make yourself crazy.




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In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I found myself looking forward to the day-of not because I would get to enjoy the company of my friends (which I did,) gorge myself on food (which I did), drink a lot of wine (which I did), or text message my Black Friday shopping boyfriend at 4 a.m. to ask him to grab some Tums at Target (which he did).

No no no. I was looking forward to spending the day in the kitchen, preparing a lot of food.

This isn’t weird to me. I learned how to cook some basic things (read: desserts) at a fairly young age. My parents were always indulgent when 12-year-old Jessica wanted to try a fancy pasta recipe that involved buying cheesecloth and fresh shrimp, and my sisters and I were granted full kitchen access. My high school friends and I used to throw little dinner/snack parties and wow each other with how decadent/elaborate we could get with indulgent snacking. I did a fair bit of cooking for my family when I lived at home.

Making food has always been a fun and satisfying activity. Even though I never set out to have food serve as a “hobby” of mine, I recognize it as one now. Standing in the kitchen, preparing a meal, takes you away from the rest of your life.

This is not revolutionary stuff. Plenty of food writers have captured this experience with a great deal more eloquence and sensory details than I can muster. But it’s important, I think, to having a healthy relationship with food. You have a lot more respect for the food you eat, the body you have that you fuel with that food, if you take the time to prepare it yourself. And if you enjoy the process? It gives you reverence for the act. It makes you want to do it more. It keeps you in the kitchen, even when you have no energy or motivation. If cooking becomes part of your downtime and not part of your chores? Then every day, you are nearly required to have enjoyment.

I say this from the midst of a really-busy semester. I’ve been subjecting my boyfriend to weekly meals of rice & beans & ground beef. While I find this endlessly delicious, as I have previously discussed, my boyfriend finds it largely uninspiring. I won’t even buy white rice! How mean of me. Anyway, as the weeks go buy, menu planning has become harder and harder this semester. I want things to be quick, easy, and healthy. That doesn’t leave very many options.

Yesterday I spent 4 hours cooking a single meal. My excitement for Thanksgiving cooking coupled with the unfamiliar feeling of standing in the kitchen for 2+ hours made me realize that I’d temporarily forgotten that cooking is fun.

It is.

And the time and effort and chutzpah to try a new recipe often make for a tasty result! I cooked a chicken and sausage gumbo from Annie’s Eats last night. There were three separate meats involved, and a roux, and copious chopping. I accidentally ate too many snacks while I waited, so I was barely even hungry once it was done.

But it was delicious.

And the boyfriend didn’t make quite the same face as when we at gumbo in New Orleans… but he liked it.

I hearby solemnly swear to make something interesting over Christmas break.

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Meal planning is a skill.

One of those adults-only, you-didn’t-think-something-so-simple-would-be-so-difficult kind of skills.

And sometimes, it gets really annoying.

Feeding yourself gets really annoying.

This happened to me last week. A combination of meal-repeating-boredom and sickness induced eating-apathy and general meal-planning-sucks, I wanted to crumple up my shopping list before I even wrote anything down.

But we’d forgotten to buy cat food the week before and the bag was totally empty so we had to go to Whole Foods RIGHTNOW on a Friday night and I didn’t have a list ready, so I said,

“You know what, Jessica? Just make some shit you’ve never made before.”

So I dipped into my “Mmm… That Sounds Good!” bookmark folder and selected the first handful of meals that looked appetizing.

And, lo and behold, I became excited about dinner again.

So excited that I blew off writing a paper last night in favor of making dinner.

I could have heated up leftovers or eaten an egg sandwich, but I really didn’t want to see all my produce go bad.

Sunday: Vegetarian Enchiladas

– We’ve been eating these every week, so they are somewhat boredom inducing (not to mention RAGE inducing when I forget to buy more frozen corn and manage to BURN THE CUMIN AGAIN), but The Boyfriend has taken to eating the filling as a weird kind of lunch-time salad/wrap thing, so I figured I could humor him. Plus they reheat well for lunches.

Monday: Kale with Shallots and Pasta with Mushrooms

– These were good, but in typical-Jessica fashion, any time I make more than one dish at once, the kitchen ends up a mess (there was a spilled glass of wine) at least one dish ends up sub-par (kale), and something is cold (pasta). I need kale cooking practice, but it was definitely edible, and the pasta was fine with only one type of mushroom, and there are lots of leftovers!

Tuesday: Tyler Florence’s Potato Salad

– This is my go-to potato salad, and I had a bag of redskins languishing in my cupboard, so I gathered up the other strange ingredients at the store and will whip up some of this tonight. I boiled the potatoes on Sunday (look at me prep!), so it should come together quickly before we depart for trivia.

Wednesday: Cauliflower Soup

– I have no idea why I decided this sounded good, but whatever. I have a giant head of cauliflower in my fridge and I’m going to eat it, goddammit! The challenge will be my lack of immersion blender… or full-sized blender, for that matter. Picture me scooping soup in and out of my Magic Bullet… because that’s exactly what is going to happen.

Thursday: Nothing

– I work until 9 on Thursday nights and Lance doesn’t get home until 8:30, so no dinner on Thursdays. If I’m hungry, I whip up some noodles after work, or maybe some eggs or something.

Friday: Butternut Squash Mac ‘n Cheeze

– Again, I don’t know why I decided this would be a good idea to make. It seems labor intensive (have you ever cut up a squash? uuuhhhh) and involved buying cashews and nutritional yeast. But it looks kind of good, eh? And healthy? And it will give me something to do on Friday afternoon other than take a nap on the futon, so we’ll go with it.

Maybe if you are lucky, I will report back on any relative successes or failures. Or share with you other tips about planning your freaking #$#$%ing meals like a mother%@#$ing adult already.


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Part One

Part Two

Part Three

So here I am, after a year of not-eating-meat. I am thinking about how to proceed with my food-life, how the past year has gone, what I’ve learned, and my goals for the future.

Point #1: Not eating meat is really not particularly difficult or unpleasant

I’ve had cravings, for sure, and a lot of weird dreams where I eat meat and wake up with a guilty, dream hangover, but overall, eating vegetarian is pretty easy given my particular lifestyle. I don’t think I ate any fake-meat products (other than some at my parents’ house which I shared with my vegan younger sister), I learned how to cook a lot of new tasty dishes, and I developed a repertoire of interesting, satisfying, non-meat meals.

As I mentioned in Part Three, if it’s something I CAN do that has a variety of positive impacts, then why not continue to do it?

I worry that if I “give myself permission” to eat meat again, I will just throw it into my diet just because I can. There’s no reason to eat at McDonald’s, but if you are a meat-eater and starving, you might end up with a double cheeseburger (and a stomachache…), but as a vegetarian, you’ll probably hold out until the nearest Subway.

So why mess with a good thing?

Point #2: I am somewhat concerned about my overall nutrition as a vegetarian

I don’t think that a vegetarian diet is an inherently unhealthy diet. I’m sure there is much research proving the opposite, actually. However, I do worry sometimes that my particular vegetarian diet is a little heavy on the carbs, on the sugars, and on the cheese. I probably eat one or two bean-based meals a week, but that’s about all I can stomach – is my diet lacking in lean proteins? I don’t have a weight problem, necessarily, but I am concerned that relying on salty hummus & crackers & cheese all day, every day, is contributing to a few unnecessary pounds. Fruits and veggies and beans are great, but sometimes I struggle to find foods that actually fill me up, which leaves me susceptible to over-snacking.

I am also concerned about those pesky Omega-3’s. I’ve been getting better at eating greens almost every day, and when I have a bowl of cereal or oatmeal I usually throw on a tablespoon of ground flax seed, but I wonder if a little salmon once in awhile might improve my health/quality of life.

I haven’t done much research or analysis of my own nutritional intake, but it’s something I think about from time to time. There isn’t any reason a vegetarian-diet can’t be healthy, but there might be a better choice for my current lifestyle and nutritional needs.

Point #3: I am unsure of how far my morality stretches, and in what directions.

Jonathan Safran Foer did a good job of challenging my own beliefs about the reality of killing animals to put them on my dinner plate. That is for sure.

However, I’m a moderate at heart: I don’t think that meat, as a source of fuel, is an inherently “bad” thing. Like Michael Pollan, I think that the quickest way to turn people off to dietary change is to tell them what not to eat – in the long run, meat is going to be around, so proselytizing against carnivorism is not going to get you or society anywhere. It is better, maybe, to find BETTER sources for meat than CAFOs, and to promote and support those endeavors with your “food dollars.”

I also agree with Barbara Kingsolver that LOCAL is probably much more important than MEAT vs. NOT-MEAT. Meat is really just another vehicle for calories, and in many climates (see: Boston), the weather just doesn’t support eating high-quality, local produce all year-round. In February, I am probably doing more good eating a hamburger from a cow in Vermont than I am filling my basket at Whole Foods with organic lettuce and tomatoes and broccoli shipped up from Argentina.

So I’m not sure how “okay” I am with eating animals. It could be a situation where practicality wins out over theory.

Point #4: I don’t know if my budget will allow me to eat the kind of meat I would like to include in my regular diet

All practicality aside, the thought of returning to eating meat indiscriminately turns my stomach – literally and figuratively.

There’s just too much corruption/danger/bad karma/brutality going on in the general, mass-produced meat industry these days. I go to Qdoba and watch people order a chicken queso burrito: they see tasty chicken pieces for their dinner, I see a pile of who-knows-what from who-knows-where.

I haven’t thought about specifics yet, but I think in an ideal world, I would be okay with eating locally-produced, ethically raised/caught/slaughtered meat dishes from trustworthy vendors.

The good news: I live in Boston. I can find that kind of meat, I can find restaurants that only serve that kind of meat, etc.

The bad news: I live in Boston on a grad student’s budget. I can’t afford to add another 20-30 dollars to my weekly food bill just so I can eat chicken parmesan on Friday nights.

So basically, even if I was like Yeah! Rah! Let’s Eat Meat Again!, I can’t really integrate it into my diet in any sustainable way.

In Conclusion:

I am still thinking about the past year and how to proceed in the future. Until I have time to settle things with myself, I will continue to abstain from eating meat. I can envision some kind of Vegetarian-in-Practice, not-in-Name scenario, where I continue to eat as I have grown accustomed to, but with a few concessions. A slice of turkey or a scoop of sausage gravy on family holidays. A special occasion cheeseburger from a restaurant that sources Good meat. Maybe a Thursday-night salmon dinner if I can find an acceptable/affordable source.

It’s tricky, fluid, and confusing, but I am really glad that I decided to live as a vegetarian for the past year. I’ve never once regretted my decision or how I’m choosing to interpret my task as a Responsible Eater. I’m glad that, because of my choice, I have explored new foods, forced my roommate to eat fancy vegetables she’s never tried, and that my boyfriend is practically vegetarian by default. I don’t know if my health has improved or not, but I did only get sick four times in 2010 (that’s pretty good for someone who is living with a brand-new elementary school teacher), and I haven’t struggled so much with low energy levels.

It’s been a good year. I hope the next 365 days can be just as excellent and full of great food, whether I am herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore.

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Part One

Part Two

A year ago, I decided to stop eating meat.

It wasn’t much of a stretch. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice medium-rare (maybe more toward the rare) steak, a thick cheeseburger, and you can’t keep me away from seafood…. mmmm…. but on a practical, day-to-day level, I’m very okay with not eating meat.

Sample menu from the Casa de Vegetarian-Jessica:


2 eggs, over easy, fried in a little butter

toast with butter and honey

Morning Snack

Starbucks mocha

Trail mix


Sharp cheddar and whole grain crackers

Apple and peanut butter

Afternoon Snack

Hummus and tortilla chips


Rice and broccoli casserole


Wine 🙂

I felt the heat, occasionally, at restaurants. You’d think that in this day and age, in hippie-Liberal Boston that you’d be able to feed yourself on most every menu… but that is not the case. I often found myself choosing between two undesirable entrees, or ordering things like the Chicken Bacon Ranch Salad, hold the Chicken and the Bacon.

That being said, I started out this dietary change with something in mind and that something is still here, a year later:

It’s more important to me that I cultivate a non-meat-based lifestyle than adhere to any particular LABEL.

So yes, I ate eggs. Lots of eggs. And when I was at the beach with my family at a seafood joint, I ate crab legs. And instead of ordering separate entrees on my anniversary dinner, I went to the Melting Pot and ate 7 kinds of meat. There may have been a surreptitious piece of bacon sometime in the last 365 days. I really can’t confirm or deny that.

So maybe I’m not a real vegetarian. I’m cool with that. Again, it’s not about ascribing to some higher standard of eating, about feeling like an elite-eating-member, about anything except the practical bits of life:

I don’t eat meat 99% of the time, which is better than not eating meat 98% of the time, which is better than not eating meat 1% of the time.

I’ve read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle a few times, and it really resonates with my idea of living harmoniously and healthily with food. For those of you who haven’t read, Kingsolver and her family decided that food was important to their family, so they moved from food-desert Arizona to a homestead in Appalachia. The book is a year in the life of a family eating locally – buying local, growing vegetables, raising (and slaughtering) chickens and turkeys. It’s really inspiring to read not only because it’s delightfully pastoral and… well.. written by Kingsolver, but also because it’s a story of a family that is doing what they can, in their life, within their means, to live in a way that is commensurate with their values.

So while I’m not caught up in labels, not sure what vegetarianism means to me on a personal/moral level, it’s still something I can do. So I might as well do it.

But I told myself I would re-evaluate my stance in a year. So stay tuned for that, tomorrow.

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Read part one here

Michael Pollan’s take on American-ized industrial food is clear: stay away, vote with your food-dollars, don’t eat food your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as edible just because it’s what you grew up on.

Factory-produced meat is part of this problem. But Pollan isn’t anti-meat, at all.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

So why did I decide to cut it out of my diet?

Blame Jonathan Safran Foer.

So I read In Defense of Food. Last January, I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Consider the first book to be an introduction to the food-dissertation that is the second. The first third of Omnivore is an in-depth look at the meat industry in America, which expounds upon the corn conundrum I mentioned earlier and begins to describe the things we just don’t want described – how your meat gets on your plate.

Now, as I said, Pollan isn’t anti-meat at all. I think that’s really smart and wise. Meat, in itself, isn’t bad for your health, bad for the environment, bad for the world. And asking a meat-eating country to change the food industry/national health by giving up on an entire food group (one that is caught up in family and cultural tradition, found in most restaurant meals, and is so tasty), is probably a bad strategy.

But then I read Eating Animals.

Where Pollan is kindly and diplomatic, Foer pushes buttons. Where Pollan looks for the best route for the most people, Foer asks you to reexamine your own choices.

Part memoir, part expose, part manifesto, this book grabbed me and pulled me in. There were lots of shocking descriptions of what goes on inside the meat industry. I know – big news, right? Read about some disgusting animal slaughters and then you can’t look at meat the same way again. Right?

I think that that was partly true. There are passages from Foer’s book that I still remember vividly, that not only revolted me but disturbed me on some kind of primal, human level. But what really bothered me was how hard the meat industry works to keep this a secret. Foer’s book is peppered with anecdotes from vigilante animal rights groups who resort to midnight breaking and entering, just to SEE what is going on in a chicken house.

Nobody WANTS to see how their meat gets to their Big Mac.

Especially the meat companies.

Because if you knew, then it would be difficult to reconcile continuing to purchase their product.

On a personal level, knowing what I then knew about the American food industry, the dangerous and sometimes horrific path “required” to turn animal into food, I was willing to listen to what Pollan so carefully skirted in his books, and what Foer wasn’t afraid to ask me.

Are you morally okay with causing the willful and malicious destruction of another life for the SOLE purpose of pleasing your tastebuds?

The answer was no.

Not a resounding, life-changing, screaming-vegan-from-the-mountaintops NO, but a “I would rather not take part in that process right now,” kind of no.

So I took my future-roommate out to dinner for her 24th birthday – February 19th, 2010 – ordered a cheeseburger with the works, and the next day I stopped eating meat.

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Two Christmas’s ago, I added Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food to my yearly book wish-list. My mother obliged my request, and I read it during the month of January 2009.

This book opened my eyes to a lot of issues with American food production and shed light on my own daily struggle to take the reigns of my own nutrition.

There’s a lot going on in this book.

– How the government is making us fat with regulations, dietary guidelines, and agricultural subsidies.

– How the ideology of “nutritionalism” has robbed Americans of any real connection with nourishment, left us grasping at some nebulous/questionable definition of “good health,” and made feeding oneself difficult and dangerous over the years.

– Simple rules for improving ones relationship with food, helping to support a better food system for all Americans, and – in the process – achieving better health and nutrition.

And so much more…. an awful lot of mind-blowing for 200 or so pages.

When I read this book in 2009, I wanted to put it under my pillow and kiss it before bed. I wanted to re-read it immediately and tattoo his new Food Rules to my forehead.

But there was one particularly interesting section of the book that stuck with me. It was about Omega-3s.

Omega-3 fatty acids, Pollan asserts, are crucial for any diet. You get them from eating plants. Having low levels of Omega-3 acids – or having too many Omega-6 acids (which come from seeds) and not enough Omega-3s – can have the side effects of cardiac disease, neurological issues, mood disorders, and diabetes. And that most Americans probably suffer some of these side effects from this imbalance.

Those side effects? Also current national health issues.

So we eat too many grains and not enough leaves. I get it. But what really threw me for a loop was when Pollan stated that it’s not that Americans are necessarily eating less greens (although this is probably true)… it also has to do with the MEAT that we eat. Back when people still ate meat from small farms, before huge, mega-farms and Confined Animal Feeding Operations came into vogue, people used to get enough Omega-3s from their MEAT: cows and pigs and chickens raised on smaller farms were allowed to graze. They ate grass. The grass was metabolized, the Omega-3s permeated the animals, the Omega-3s then ended up in our bodies through our chicken dinner.

Now, because of a number of factors, the animals we eat no longer eat grass and bugs and whatever other interesting plant matter they can get past their teeth. They eat corn. Lots of it. Corn is not a leaf. Corn has limited nutritional value, therefore, the meat we eat has limited nutritional value.


This made me feel very deceived. At the time, I didn’t know what to do with all that information and I still don’t. But a year ago this Saturday, I stopped eating meat, so I’m going to post a little bit this week about why I made that decision, what it means to me and for my life with food, and my plans for the future.

Stay tuned, and read this article if you have a chance.

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