What is good food? (Part 2)

We’ve been over the thinky parts of identifying good food in concept in the previous post. Now, let’s look at an example of how one might retrain the body and mind in identifying good food in practice without going to potato-y extremes.

  • Pitch. Clear out the cupboards, the fridge, the freezer. Take stock of what you have on hand, and ditch all of the junk. I have a pathological aversion to wasting food, so this part was hard. I got through it by reminding myself that the food I was throwing out was just barely food in the nutritional sense. Focus on the junk, less on the food.
  • Plan. For the week, you’re going to make one big starch (whole grain, potato, squash), one big batch of beans or lentils, and a vegetable (cooked or raw, preferably green). At this stage, you’re picking what you want to make yourself eat and buying it. Don’t get adventurous here – choose foods you either know how to prepare, or that you feel confident in preparing. And try, as much as possible, to keep your choices local and in-season.
  • Prepare. Set aside one hour on a day off, or during a time you have some good energy: after work, early morning, whenever’s good for you. You’re going to use this time to make good food convenient. It’s much easier to opt for the good thing when it’s at the ready. If you’ve got a bit more time, that opens up your options some, but I wouldn’t try for less than an hour in a week.

Keep the preparation simple and use only salt for seasoning – as little as you can. Make your meals by combining these foods, and eat when you’re hungry. Don’t know if you’re hungry? Just think about sitting down to a plate of your prepared foods. If the thought is less than exciting, or if you think you ‘just couldn’t’, you’re either not hungry at all or not hungry enough.

You’re not hungry at all if, instead of eating your healthful, nourishing food, you fantasize about another food – especially a specific food, like chips or chocolate. That’s a craving. Have a glass of water and distract yourself for five minutes.

You’re not hungry enough if thinking about the food you’ve prepared leaves you the tiniest bit queasy. Have some tea or black coffee, something without calories but with flavour, and wait awhile longer. By the time you’re hungry enough, your humble meal will taste like a banquet. Your body will want to weep with gratitude.

It’s hard at first, and this might still seem extreme, but the sad fact is that so many of us take plentiful food for granted, and that the result is we’re just as likely to eat out of boredom as hunger. We fork out big bucks for calorific convenience, then pay out again to the gym, or the diet planner, or the plastic surgeon when the consequence of that convenience becomes inconvenient. In places without state-funded medical insurance, higher medical costs are added to that bill. While we’re at it, we can tot on the bill for constantly replacing clothing that doesn’t fit or that wears out quickly.

Bad food is bad for everything, not just your waistline. Calorific and highly-processed foods take as much toll on the world around us as on our health and pocketbooks. And those costs come back to haunt us in the form of property lost to extreme weather and natural disasters, health costs from air and water pollution, and rising food costs from crop failures.

If it doesn’t start with a potato, maybe it starts with brown rice, kidney beans and cabbage. But it has to start somewhere.