One of my favorite things about writing this blog are the interesting discussions that take place in the Comments section—and did we have a great one this week, sparked by Sylvia’s Real Life Minimalist feature! For those of you who missed it, it revolved around the myriad of choices we make when it comes to food—such as being vegans, vegetarians, omnivores, or other; opting for grass-fed versus grain-fed animals; and the implications of our eating habits on our health and the environment.
I’ve written very little about food on this blog, save from my desire to eat every meal from a single bowl. It’s not because the topic doesn’t interest me; but rather, because food is such a personal (and controversial) subject, and there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to diet.
This week, however, I received several emails requesting that I write about my personal dietary choices. I’m happy to oblige, and keep this discussion going—but here’s my disclaimer: these are my own personal choices, and not my recommendations for anyone else.
So, here we go—fourteen things you didn’t know about me and my food:
1. I’ve always considered myself a vegetarian, but technically that’s not correct. The more appropriate term, it seems, would be lacto-ovo-pescaterian. What a mouthful! That’s because I eat fish, dairy, and most recently, eggs (more on that below).
2. I feel a little guilty when I eat fish; swimming around all day seems like a pretty nice life, and I hate to cut it short. But the health benefits are so great, and they’re so tasty, I do it anyway. For health and environmental reasons, I stick to wild-caught and avoid anything farmed. I also indulge sparingly, about 2-4 times a month.
3. I can’t become a vegan because I love a good artisan cheese. My husband and I like to make a casual dinner (or picnic) from bread, cheese, olives, and wine.
4. I have no fear of carbs, but no craving for them either. So I partake in bread and pasta when I wish—but since I don’t have a frequent desire for them, it all stays in moderation. I’m also lucky enough to have inherited a good metabolism, and I usually walk about 2 miles a day.
5. I used to detest eggs, mainly because my experience with them had been limited to the supermarket variety. That changed last year, when I stayed at a wonderful little bed-and-breakfast on a farm in Wales. The hostess made the most delicious breakfast with eggs from her own hens—and since then, I’ve come to enjoy the occasional farm fresh egg.
6. I don’t eat meat in large part due to taste; I simply don’t like the flavor or texture of beef, chicken, or pork. My parents don’t either, so except for a Thanksgiving turkey, it rarely made an appearance at our dinner table. I imagine my body doesn’t feel the need for meat since I basically grew up without it.
7. That said, I occasionally sample a local meat specialty while traveling. I’ve had pheasant in England, Iberico ham in Spain, and mangalica (hairy pig) in Hungary (thankfully, it wasn’t hairy when served!). This usually takes the form of my swiping a few bites from my husband’s plate, as I typically can’t stomach an entire meat entrée. (My husband also doesn’t eat meat at home, but sees it as a cultural experience when we travel.)
8. I recently read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and am quite disturbed by the industrial food system. As a result, I’m more determined than ever to eat as locally as possible. And to be honest, you couldn’t pay me to ingest the beef or poultry from one of those factory farms.
9. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I enjoy indulging in the local specialty when I travel (churros in Spain, pastel de Belém in Portugal, macarons in Paris). When at home, however, I’m perfectly happy with the occasional square of dark chocolate.
10. I’ve loved vegetables since I was a child. I can wander around a farmers’ market or produce section for hours admiring the colors, shapes, and varieties, and prefer simple preparations (steamed, sautéed, grilled) that bring out their natural flavors. (I’ve been frustrated in many a British pub when my veggies arrive swimming in cheese or sauce!)
11. I like tofu. (Yes, I know it’s processed, but it’s a good source of protein for me.) I prefer it steamed with vegetables, or served cold as hiyayakko.
12. In general, I prefer simple, rustic food over elaborate preparations. My perfect meal would be picked from a garden (or plucked from the sea) and cooked over an open flame.
13. I can’t eat anything that’s cute—ducks, lambs, rabbits, etc. I’ve even spent too many afternoons in the company of cows (walking through pastures in England) to be able to eat one. Of course, I don’t fault anyone else who does; it’s just my own personal hangup. I still feel bad about the pheasant, particularly after encountering quite a few on our countryside rambles.
14. Eating seasonally makes me extraordinarily happy. I look forward to asparagus and strawberries in the spring, peaches and corn in the summer, and apples and squash in the fall. It reminds me of my childhood (my parents had a large garden when I was small), and gives me something to anticipate and celebrate year round.
To sum it up, I’d say my diet is 95% plants (fruits, grains, and vegetables), supplemented with a daily yogurt, a biweekly cheese, a weekly fish, and a monthly egg. Hey, you wanted to know. ;-)
If there’s anything minimalist about the way I eat, it’s the following:
* Moderate portions. I tend not to overeat, simply because I don’t like to feel stuffed.
* Minimal processed foods. Fresh, whole foods are tastier, and more fun to cook and eat; plus, you don’t have to read labels and worry about the ingredients.
* Minimal packaging. An added benefit of avoiding processed foods.
* Minimal environmental impact, I hope. I try to eat local foods when possible, and avoid anything I know to be particularly harmful to the planet.
* Minimal angst. I really don’t spend a lot of time worrying about food or fat or calories or fads. I eat what I like, and what makes me feel healthy.
I enjoyed writing this post, and hope it doesn’t incite a firestorm of controversy. Let me reiterate that this is simply how I eat, and not how I think anyone else should. I’d love to hear more about your choices, and hope you’ll share them in the Comments!