As can be seen by my waistline, I love food. I think those who can cook are artists, touched by the divine. This goes for both great home cooks as well as superstar chefs. I grew up watching Julia Child, Graham Kerr "The Galloping Gourmet," Martin Yan, Justin Wilson, and my favorite Saturdays are still those when I can curl up on the couch and watch the parade of cooking shows on PBS.
So it was a real problem, for a period of time in Baltimore, I lived in a 'Food Desert.' The quality of our local supermarket got progressively worse, and was eventually closed, meaning that those who lived in the neighborhood had to walk further or take public transportation in order to do their shopping. There was food around - at the corner stores, gas stations, fast food establishments, chicken shacks, Chinese carry out, pizza chains. And there was an amazing weekly Farmers Market...but for 'real' food during the week, not precooked or processed, and at a less than the sometimes expensive Farmer's Market price, you had to travel. We eventually got a new supermarket, practically around the corner from us. But the problem in some areas of the city remains, and was of such a concern that the library partnered with the Health Department to allow people to do their shopping on line and pick up their groceries at their local Pratt Branch.
A really fantastic partnership, and one that I hope gets replicated in many places across the country.
I still think about 'Food Deserts' now, even though surrounded in Brooklyn and Manhattan by fruit sellers on numerous corners, food trucks, pizza parlors, and bodegas. We would seem to be overwhelmed by abundance, and the range of the availability of some items is better, but there are still problems. Bodegas are monuments to packaged and processed food - or perhaps I should say 'food-like' items. And once again I find that the quality of meat and poultry at our closest supermarket leaves a lot to be desired (I'd say it ranges from adequate to poor), with better choices a few blocks further away.
How difficult is it for the average person to eat healthily and inexpensively when surrounded by aisles filled with empty calories and high fructose corn syrup? Or perhaps the better question might be 'Why is it so difficult?' But then, that's gets us into the realm of agribusiness, politics, money....I'm in danger of losing my appetite!
Here, from Michael Pollan, are some basic 'Food Rules'
"Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
Probably the first two words are most important. "Eat food" means to eat real food -- vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and, yes, fish and meat -- and to avoid what Pollan calls "edible food-like substances."
- Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. "When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can't pronounce, ask yourself, "What are those things doing there?" Pollan says.
- Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
- Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
- Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. "There are exceptions -- honey -- but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren't food," Pollan says.
- It is not just what you eat but how you eat. "Always leave the table a little hungry," Pollan says. "Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, 'Tie off the sack before it's full.'"
- Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It's a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. "Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?" Pollan asks.
- Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.