Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Food Purist


I tell people I’m a food purist. And I say I’m gastronomically conservative. 

Sometimes these terms are misunderstood. These terms that, as far as I know, I’ve made up; I don’t see them commonly used this way, but I could easily have picked them up subconsciously and adopted them. When something is so universally true, as I think food purism is, you often see the same or similar permutations of the concept showing up in different places.

Anyway, being a food purist doesn’t mean that I only eat the foods that offer the best nutrition per calorie, or the foods with the highest antioxidant levels or the most enzymes or the least fat or the lowest glycemic index, etc. etc. That’s all popular science and I don’t get bogged down in it. All of that is changing constantly, anyway: One day eggs are good for you, the next day, you can only have whites, then they’re good for you again, then you find out they’re bad for you. Not that I’m saying anything about eggs right now, but this is just to illustrate the downside of relying on scientific research for your beliefs about food. They don’t really know what they’re doing or what they’re talking about. They’re really just taking stabs at understanding it all. Take it as information, but certainly not as concrete truth. In the mean time, I have a technique that supersedes the need for science. Food purism is intuition-based. 

I like peanut butter.  But to me, that means ground peanuts and maybe some salt. Period. Most people think of peanut butter as Jiffy, or Skip or Peter Pan, which includes a hydrogenated oil to prevent the natural separation of oils from the peanut meat, it includes usually a few different kinds of sugars, some preservatives and salt. To me, those are two entirely different creatures. The peanut butter sold at the grocery store is not peanut butter to me. As a food purist, I’d call that a “peanut flavored spread” or something like that. 

If someone says to me, “Oh if you like peanut butter, you should try this. It’s called PB2. It’s even better. It’s dehydrated, and then the fat is removed, and then oil is added back in, and of course there are preservatives and salt and sugar added as well.”  Well, they lost me at ‘it’s even better’. That sets off my warning alarms as a purist. 

A food purist is someone who believes the the earth is here to sustain and support us.  And that all the animals and plants all here to sustain and support each other. Including eating each other as necessary. What is important is that the food remain as close to how it appeared to us in nature, in order to retain its health- and life-giving qualities. Even once a piece of food is opened and exposed to oxygen, the health benefits begin to decrease. So that the closer a piece of food is to how it came from the earth is the degree to which a food purist would include that on their diet. The more it has been tampered with, the less likely I am to eat it.

For example, going back to the egg. If a chicken is running around on a farm its whole life, eating insects and grass and whatever chickens eat, and then that chicken lays an egg, which the farmer then finds and sells to me, I see that as a healthy thing, worthy of my eating. On the other hand, if a chicken has been tightly caged in a warehouse, force fed ‘meals’ which includes soybeans, antibiotics and hormones, doesn’t see the sunlight or scratch at the ground, and then never has any say as to where or when she lays her egg, nor has any connection to it as it rolls down an aluminum chute... I see that as an unhealthy egg. I wouldn’t think that would be bringing much health to my body, so I’ll pass. 

So I’d eat the first egg, gladly, but I’d skip the second egg.  It’s not the ‘yolk’ or the calories, or the HDL/LDL lipid ratios. blah blah blah.  It’s nature. It’s intuitively more healthful.

Organically grown vegetables from a small local farm compared to large, commercially run agribusinesses makes the difference between whether or not I think “apples” or “potatoes” are healthful. 

I don’t opt for foods that have been doctored with. My coffee, for example, is organically grown and fair-traded, freshly ground each morning because of the detrimental effects of oxygen on the inside of the bean. No ‘decaf, no ‘hazelnut’, no creamer, no milk, no sugar, just coffee beans and water. Pure. 

Yogurt. I don’t opt for the non-fat, I don’t opt for the ‘fruit’ flavored one, I don’t get the one with antibiotics added, or with whatever super new qualities they’ve found a way to ‘add’ in their laboratories. As a food purist, those attempts at making a natural food ‘better’ actually is what makes it offensive to me. 

I try to keep it simple when I’m eating. I take into account all of the different ingredients I’m introducing into my system at once. When I include something in my diet that has a Nutrition Information label (increasingly rare, as those are mostly impure foods in my mind) then I have to keep in mind the entire list of ingredients when I’m ingesting that product to really be in touch with what I’m actually eating. If I see a word or a phrase that I can’t picture in my head, I tend to avoid it. I don’t know what potassium sorbate looks like. And I can’t picture natural flavor (despite the word ‘natural’ it seems strangely deceptive to me) so I don’t like it. Guar gum? Soy lecithin? All of those things just seem unnatural.  Like Silly Putty or Slime they might be fun to play with, but not to eat.

As a food purist, I can eat ice cream and french fries and pizza and all those things that people would consider unhealthy.  And I don’t consider them unhealthy if I’m using them correctly. There are ice creams made without hormones or artificial flavors or fillers or preservatives. Pizzas can be made with care from natural ingredients, or throw together with synthetic ingredients. And french fries... Well, OK deep frying is hard to justify, but I could use organic potatoes and organic oil to fry them in. And my reasoning is that there are emotional ingredients to healthful eating sometimes as well, and I can’t imagine having a life without eating french fries, so I just make sure that when I do have them, that’s the exception to the rule, and not the rule. 

Hey. I’m a food purist, not a robot. :)
Roasted Chicken - raised on a farm