Consuming Food

Food has been a large focus of our lives for the past couple of months. In fact, you could say that it has been consuming us.

After it became painfully obvious that we could no longer sustain some bad habits, we decided to make some changes. First, we cut back on take-out food — pizza, chinese food, burgers. When I was working a lot and juggling after school schedules, we ate that stuff far too often. Now, we're trying to keep those choices for emergencies only.

Then we cut back on carbs – pasta, white rice, bread, couscous. Even potatoes. Steve and I are allowed a small scoop of whatever that I've made for the kids, but that's it. 

Without carbs, we're basically on a meat and vegetable diet. This means that you have to cook a lot more food to feel full. Luckily, I do have a lot of vegetables from our CSA. Lots of vegetables means much more time in the kitchen with cleaning and prep work. I need to make a lot more dishes, because nobody can eat a whole bowl of kale for dinner. One dish might be a tomato from the garden with salt, pepper, basil, olive oil, and a plop of goat cheese on top. Another dish might be a salad with roasted beets, spinach, lettuce, scallions, and bacon. Another dish might be roasted chicken. We're eating well, but I spend two hours in the kitchen every night. 

This weekend, I mistakenly watched a series of documentaries about the state of meat production in this country — Food Inc., Frankensteer, and Forks Over Knives. So, now I'm officially freaked out about meat, too. This weekend, Steve and I decided to stop buying any meat from the regular grocery store and only buy the ethical meat at Whole Foods. Whole Foods rates their meat on their happiness before death quotient. A 1 rating means that the animals weren't raised in crates or cages. A 6 rating means they spent most of their lives in a spa. Ethical meat ain't cheap, so we're either going to have to cut back on burgers or eat less meat, too. 

It's hard to tell what the payoff from all this is. It's been too soon. Steve immediately lost 10 pounds. I lost a couple. We're shooting for long term benefits — less junk in our bodies, good karma for the environment, all that. There is one clear short term benefit. Healthy, carefully crafted food just tastes better. 


27 thoughts on “Consuming Food

  1. I still have nightmares about sweet potatoes and my CSA two years ago. It was a bumper crop and we got between 25-30 lbs. Every week. For 5 weeks. Pretty carb-heavy though. 🙂

  2. I can see worrying about keeping laying hens and dairy cows happy, but keeping animals raised for meat happy just means that they have more to live for and makes eating them worse.

  3. My kids have reached the annoying stage of demanding a say in what they eat. Surprisingly, they’re not really wild about experimenting with exotic vegetables, such as kale. The older two point out that they speak from experience, as their schools use the more nutritious veggies (kale, spinach, etc.) in soups and stews. So, not only do they know they don’t like it, they’ll know it if they see it. (rats!)
    Plus, there’s the long-term after-effects of my past attempts to try out different brands. All condiments are scrutinized for the dreaded “organic” label. They really do warn each other, “Watch out, it’s organic!”
    So, if I find an organic brand they like, I tend to stay with it. Years of reading labels to deal with various food allergies has led me to try to avoid high fructose corn syrup if I can. It’s in far too many things, even now. Fortunately, even the kids want to avoid it. I highly recommend the video put out by the Corn Refiners Association, which you can find by searching for “HFCS Commercial – Party” on YouTube. The commercial very effectively turned my kids away from HFCS.

  4. Kudos you to guys!Having taught Food and Politics course, along with writing an article on CSAs, I can’t believe how hoodwinked the American consumer is. Reading Eating Animals…then you’ll really want to vomit. I tried to convince Pesto to go vegetarian, but trying to keep him satiated would be nearly impossible. We even contemplated raw for about 4 weeks (this was in Jan) and thought about the sheer quantity of food–pounds of veggies. CSA is excellent–forces you to eat seasonally and of course you don’t want to waste the produce.
    Meats are whole ‘nother ball of wax. I found WholeFoods poor in terms of meat because a) few items are locally sourced, and b) not all (few) meat is organic. I imagine this might vary according to region, but why go to WholeFoods if I can’t get organic or local meats? Drives me crazy. On a trip back from a conference in VT I stocked the car with local meats from VT. Local bacon…mmmm…local lamb…mmm….Do you have a Trader Joe’s nearby? They do a decent job of organic/fair price, ok quality. The big issue here is price. Pesto bought two pork chops from the Union Square Farmer’s Market at $28. But let me tell you, I would eat pork chops 2 or 3 times year from this place and never eat any other chops. They were orgasmic.
    Sorry, I’m enthusiastic about food 🙂

  5. I should have said – my CSA does ethical meat shares – monthly delivery only in the winter, but we switch the weekly vegetable CSA to a meat CSA. Combined with a medium-large freezer, we cover about 1/3 of our food that way (more veggies than we can eat in the summer, more meat than we can eat in the winter if we are good about vegetarian meals).
    My kids have never known they can eat differently at home, so we have them somewhat hoodwinked. We treat the box delivery like Santa Claus: The box! What’s in it?! My 6 yo still hates beets though; what can you do?
    It costs less than retail organic, but still quite a bit more than retail regular.

  6. What does organic mean to everyone? I’ve noticed an increasing number of items labeled as such in our stores but have been really unclear about what I’m getting. Is there some way to tell? What about when fruit/veg are foreign grown?

  7. Once you stop eating processed foods you realize how yummy “real” food is. But like Laura notes, the time required for some of the cooking does make it a luxury (time rather than cost).
    And you know those home ec classes we had to take back in the day? At least the kitchen became less of a mystery.

  8. I did the same thing a few years ago – starting buying more organic vegetables and “good” meat and cut back on carbs.
    Vegetables are easy but OMG the cost of the meat. Steaks for our family of four is about $60 – I have two enormous teenaged boys. I am less worried about the animal’s quality of life than the effects of antibiotics and feed that isn’t natural for the species (grain instead of grass, for example).
    I’ve been off chicken for years, but now that I’m buying the free range version, I can’t believe how good it tastes.

  9. This confirms what I figured about the difference between the beef industry and chicken and pork:
    NPR says that the average US cow-calf cattle herd is just 40. They don’t make it clear if that’s 20 mama cows and 20 baby calves or 40 mama cows, but in any case, that’s a very moderately sized ranch. So, it’s safe to say that the majority of US beef starts out organic/humane/whatever and remains so up until about 600 pounds. At that point, it’s fall and the calves go on the truck, so that the ranchers will not have to feed them hay over the winter and the cows can get on with the business of producing the spring’s calf crop. (NPR says that the calves go first to an intermediary place to reach 800 pounds and after that to the feedlot until 1400 pounds.) The grass stops growing in the winter, of course, so ranch cattle get grass hay and some alfalfa hay (which they absolutely adore).
    Theoretically, it should not be that difficult to source humane or organic beef–there are small cattle ranches pretty much everywhere.

  10. The average cow herd might be small, but that doesn’t mean that the majority of calves start on small ranches. I don’t know the actual stats, but mathematically a small percentage of very large ranches could be raising most of the calves. Certainly nobody is earning a living from 40 calves a year.

  11. While there are large ranches, there are also a lot of tiny cattle operations–if you drive around the countryside, lots of people own a couple dozen cows. It doesn’t require a lot of infrastructure (at least not in comparison to nearly every other form of agriculture) and it’s not all-consuming like a dairy (blech). It makes a very fine evening and weekend gig, if you like that sort of thing.

  12. I know that, but I also know (or knew) a great number of people with several hundred head and they were considered small operations.

  13. Of course, I left before artificial insemination became so common. That might have cuts costs for the smallest operators. No need to keep a bull or even transport a rental.

  14. My relatives on the other side of our state are free-range ranchers, most of their beef goes to Whole Foods. I can tell you, it’s the way we’ve been doing it for 5 generations. My dad left the ranch when I was little, but I grew up walking rolling hills with those cattle. It’s sincerely quite idyllic. I love knowing exactly where my dinner was born and raised.
    Now chickens, sigh. I still eat commercial chickens. Have no connection there.

  15. My sister keeps chickens. She claims they’re quite easy. The biggest problem is trying to keep them safe from predators.
    Weasels and fisher cats love chickens. They will kill more than they can eat.

  16. We know several people who keep chickens. The chickens themselves seem pretty easy, and so far none have been attacked by predators. One set is pretty carefully fenced, and the other live with dogs (who, strangely, have no interest in the chickens).
    Keeping chickens doesn’t work for eating them, though. They do get eggs, but not in the measured way they’d like to get eggs. And as, the chickens become more free range they will lay their eggs in places too time consuming to find easily.

  17. I live in a rural area with no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
    But I also happen to have a friend who raises grass-fed beef. Her herd size is limited by the amount of land she has available. You can’t just keep cattle on the same piece of ground all the time. If you do, the cattle eat all the tastiest and most nutritious grass, and keep eating it as it comes up until the grass dies of stress. She has to have enough land (and enough rain on that land) to move the cattle from place to place to allow the grass to recover between “harvests.” All that land can get expensive. (My University of Nebraska entomologist husband has begun taking a look at the ecosystem services provided by dung beetles on rangeland.)
    She also used to raise pastured poultry. I got so “spoiled” by the texture and flavor of quality chicken, I CANNOT buy it from the store anymore. Alas, she quit raising meat birds. It was a grueling amount of work to raise and process meat birds through the summer season. She could only sell the birds direct-to-consumer because of uber-expensive health inspection upgrades that would have allowed her to sell her birds to restaurants, stores or across the Wyoming-Nebraska state line just a few miles away. And, she lost 700-plus birds in a freak hail storm and heavy rain last year. While you can buy crop insurance, poultry is apparently not insurable.
    Quality meat is expensive for a reason.
    I am pleased that more farmers markets are developing here. (We even have a winter market.) But I am not too keen on the increasing availability of CSAs. That many random vegetables coming all at once is an imposition!

  18. “That many random vegetables coming all at once is an imposition!”
    Yeah, it sounds like having to pay the traditional neighbor with the zucchini glut.

  19. I live in a rural area with no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
    One of my high school classmates is out that way. Apparently Cabela’s has lots of employees.

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