J is for…

our food Journey:

One of my friends recently tuned me into an interesting blog called Homestead Revival. It’s largely about “food journeys” — working to make healthier choices in how we eat.

So I’ll take J as an opportunity to tell the story of our food journey so far.

I’ve pretty much always been wary of artificial foods — seemed to me that butter was surely better than margarine (certainly tasted better), for example, sugar better than artificial sweeteners, whipped cream better than cool whip, and anything made from scratch better than anything from a package. But I didn’t know very much about it all — it was just preference and a hunch.

One time at my in-laws I was glancing through a cookbook with a pretty cover (four? five? years ago) with long chapters of text, lots of quotations and anecdotes in the margins, plus the recipes, and mostly found everything politically strident and hard to believe, but some of it intriguing and likely — things like making stock from meat, bones, and vegetables. The book was Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, a proponent of dentist Weston Price’s ideas about diet, based on his observations of a variety of traditional cultures with strong bones and teeth.

Several things especially struck me.

First, that sugar is not much more natural than high fructose corn syrup and perhaps just minimally better than other artificial sweeteners. Raw honey and pure maple syrup are better alternatives.

Second, that vegetable oils are not automatically better than animal fats. What matters is not the amount of fat, nor necessarily the saturation of the fat, but the portions and the balance and the methods of use. Hydrogenation creates trans fats — fats that are improperly shaped for our bodies to use. Animal fats are better for frying because they don’t go bad or burn at high temperatures, and at high temperatures fried food absorbs much less of the fat. And so on.

So we started making some changes and reading further. Here’s where we are at the moment:

No more margarine.
More honey (not raw yet) and maple syrup (not sure how pure the grocery store stuff is — how it is processed).
Occasional brown rice. Haven’t found one yet that we both like as much as white rice.
Making stock from roast chicken carcasses after eating most of the meat.
Making our own pasta sauce — but still using canned tomato products.
Making our own bread — mostly whole wheat, and sourdough half the time, from homegrown starter.
Local beef that is grass-fed for most of its life then grain-finished.
Soon, local free range eggs.
We grow a garden — this year’s my most ambitious so far.

What I’d still like to do:

Pastured chicken and pork, and 100% pastured beef.
Pastured dairy, perhaps even raw; especially butter.
Raw honey and research the maple syrup.
Experiment more with soaking, sprouting, and fermenting. (We tried some fermenting a few years ago with yucky results, but a local friend is ready to experiment with me.)
No more cake, brownie, corn muffin, or mac and cheese mixes.
More seasonal and more local and more organic fruits and vegetables.
Preserve our garden’s produce — freezing or fermenting.
Further reduce boxed cereal.
Figure out how to have sweets in moderation, with an attitude that will help Amy (and me) feel free to enjoy them occasionally, without fostering craving or a sense of deprivation.


17 thoughts on “J is for…

  1. Hi, Marcy,
    I saw your blog listed on Arlee’s challenge list, and since I am doing the challenge as well, I dropped in on you to check yours out. I really enjoyed what I have read and will be back. I have come to a lot of the same conclusions about foods as you have. Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am almost 77 and live in East TN and have done so most of my life. Please come and visit me if you have time. I read your posting on “toilet dreams” and thought, “Wow, a lot of people must have those dreams”. ha. I’ll be back.
    My best to you, new friend.

  2. This is all very interesting.
    One thought – If you eat a lot of rice or grains, a great investment is a rice cooker. I am not usually one for single-use appliances, but this is SO easy and the results are wonderful. (I have made quinoa in it also.) My husband is a long-time Chinese cook – well, he’s not Chinese, but he loves to cook Szechuan recipes. And he would ONLY eat white rice. Since using the rice cooker, now he loves the brown rice and actually prefers it. And it is foolproof and makes for easy cleanup! Sorry to sound like a commercial, but it is a helpful product!

  3. Hi Ruby and Raquel!

    Ruby, thanks for the introduction — I just read a little at your blog, and we don’t live that far from Warsaw — small world. I will be back later. I would love to hear about your food journey in more detail!

  4. It’s all about one step at a time… at least that is what I try to tell myself! Sounds like you are really doing well at making some healthier choices!

  5. Wonderful post on your food journey! You’re well on your way to making some fabulous changes! I haven’t arrived at my final destination yet, either, but I’m enjoying the ride along the way! Thanks for mentioning Homestead Revival!

  6. Marcy, have you tried either of the Brown Rice recipes in Nourishing Traditions? We really like the one where you soak the rice in water and yogurt for something like 8 hours first.

    And I just made chicken stock after cooking our chicken. Mmmm.

  7. Hadn’t thought to look at rice in NT — soaking in yogurt sounds like a recipe for sour rice. Even though I understand the benefits and tradition of sour stuff, neither of us has much of a taste for it… might be worth a try though!

    No one seems to carry plain yogurt anymore, though — need to get a little starter (I know one person in playgroup who makes yogurt) and try making it.

  8. It’s really not sour, surprisingly enough. It comes out with almost a creamy texture to it.

    Yes, I’ve noticed the same about plain yogurt–it’s harder to find. I got some plain whole milk yogurt (for a recipe) at Kroger. Lauren and I used to make yogurt, but then I scorched the milk one time and decided to use it anyway and now our yogurt incubator forever imparts a smoky flavor. ::sigh::

  9. Well, that’s good to hear — will have to give it a try.

    I’ve seen / heard about making yogurt with hot water in a cooler — but that it might be too runny. We don’t have an incubator, but we do have a cooler. I suppose whole milk would maybe make a thicker yogurt, and we could also hang it and let some of the whey drip out to make it thicker. Good to know Kroger still carries plain yogurt, though!

  10. You probably know this, but a yogurt incubator is really just a cooler that’s sized for making a batch of yogurt and has a plastic bucket that you can pull out of the insulating portion, making it a little easier to work with and to clean. It should be very doable to use a cooler instead. You just have to heat the milk up to a certain temperature, let it cool to a different temp, add the yogurt cultures (which can be a few tablespoons of any live culture yogurt) and then put it in a cooler to keep it near that temperature for several hours.

    Ours was always runny because we were using skim milk, and though we ran it through cheese cloth, it was always tough to get just the right consistency. Usually it was either very runny or almost like cream cheese.

  11. Hi again, Marcy! I covered most of this in my FB message. BUT one thing I want to recommend to you (since you want to try it out) Pickling! DO it!! It’s easy, fun, and delicious. I mean EZ. Check out this blog by a friend of mine who makes THE BEST canned produce anywhere. I have had loads of pickled vegetables for the last two years – easy and delicious. The perfect complement to a garden.

    Here’s the link: http://www.grist.org/article/2009-09-18-real-deal-pickles-pickled-pepper-hot-sauce-apickling-made-simple

  12. Brad,

    Yeesh, the pickling! I’ve made progress — this year’s attempts were better than the yucky ones I mentioned in this post. And I found a local person who does vast quantities of all kinds of lacto-fermented things, and took a fermentation class with her, and had her taste my pickles (and some kraut), and she thought one batch was just a bit too salty and the kraut was great, but I still didn’t like either, and I didn’t like anything I ate at her class, although the kombucha wasn’t awful.

    I will try pickling again this year at least once. I bet a lot of my reluctance and distaste is cultural — I’ve grown up on sweet food and I like it better, and that’s not going to change overnight. But I also remember the pickles in the barrel at the deli in the mall, and I want to make THOSE. Your friend’s article suggests cutting half the salt in the brine might approach the flavor I’m remembering.

    By the way, I have used two methods to seal the mason jars I use for pickling (don’t have a crock) — one is boiled marbles tied in cheesecloth, and the other is a ramekin that fits in the neck of the jar — make sure there’s enough brine that putting in the ramekin makes a little spill.

    I like the idea of making hot sauce — might have to try that one.

  13. Not quite a year later — we now have 100% pastured beef in the freezer, I’ve tried and disliked raw butter and raw milk, we get raw honey and free range eggs, we’ve done more canning and freezing, we eat boxed cereal somewhat less, and I feel quite liberated that I no longer maintain a sourdough culture. Oh, and Mark has taken up deer hunting, but didn’t get anything this first season.

  14. Pingback: Oatmeal « Becoming Three

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