I am at a stage in my life where I often re-examine choices I’ve made and obsess over alternative directions. My hindsight circumspection sometimes occurs when on vacation, because even as a parent to young children who drain any “relax” from a vacation, the break in routine from work and school somehow shifts my focus, even if briefly. It comes down to food, often enough. My analysis was forced by the undertow of pregnancy hormones. First trimester nausea during all three of my pregnancies had me eschewing most animal protein for raw carrots, certain fresh fruits (certain citrus just smelled … off), or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My manifesto below is meant to make you think. Thinking may lead to change. It’s up to you.
When I started this blog five years ago, I was caught of in the throes of meat, refined sugar, and some rich dairy, but in small amounts. I couldn’t possibly eat a steak every day. Nor could I even come close to a jar of M&Ms a week. As much as I love yogurt and ice cream, I have never made a consistent habit of eating them every day (save for my Greek yogurt bingeing during my bout with gestational diabetes). To me, my first loves have always been fruits and vegetables — plants. They are prolific. There are more varieties of fruit than there are meats from which to choose. I have always been partial to fruits and vegetables over a plate of ground beef. They make more sense. They taste better. There is something primitive and beautiful about getting one’s fingernails in the dirt, tending a tomato plant or an onion.
After reading the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, as well as watching the documentaries Vegucated and Forks Over Knives a few years ago, I realize the huge impact we have on this planet’s welfare and health. It is not just the health of the world’s people that I mean; I mean of the planet itself. The exponential increase of the manufacturing of processed foods and of meat consumption in industrialized countries is profound. It only makes sense that we see more of the world’s foliage, ice caps, and unspoilt land crumble away. We’re using it up to create rows and rows of aisle in grocery stores, choices ad nauseum, of every chicken nugget shape imaginable, the cutest baby spinach quiches in a neat package in your freezer section, and 10 pound economy packs of ground beef. I don’t mind having the choice; having twenty of them is auspicious and extreme. It reminds me when a close friend got back to the US after living in Russia for a couple of years. We were in the grocery store, I have no idea what we were buying, and she stopped in front of the toothpaste aisle. She was silent and I asked what was wrong. “There are so many choices! There are too many!” she responded incredulously. She was right.
I don’t mind eating all kinds of food, but I advocate against bingeing on any one of them (except a variety of vegetables and fruits, perhaps). This blog shares some of my favorite go-to recipes, like dried bananas or popovers or smoky popcorn (the BEST). But this blog also showcases some special dishes, that are eaten occasionally, possible even rarely. Would I eat a delightfully pretty daisy cake very often? I wouldn’t! Or eat my favorite cake ever, pandan chiffon cake? Nope! Do I eat meat every day? Or even weekly? No, not necessary!
So what is my point in all of this rhetoric? I advocate strongly for a whole foods, plant-based diet, for the health of you and for the health of the planet. “Plant-based” is exactly that: a base on which one can build the rest of their food choices that are NOT plants. This also means go light on the processed stuff. Like, the vegan “butter” is too processed for my tastes (what the HELL is it made out of??). I’ll go for the real butter, and sometimes make it myself. This also means that I’d rather eat salad with homemade dressing for breakfast instead of sausage and eggs. Sometimes. Go to farmers’ markets and pay a little extra for the taste of an organic peach that will far outweigh the mealy ones in the grocery store. Buy something different, like white asparagus or jicama or kohlrabi — and figure out something to do with it. Experiment. You may be surprised just how you feel.
It’s also not just about the pleasure of eating, it’s the overall health of your body. Think about it. Make gradual changes. Combat obesity with small choices; they may become huge choices as they shrink you. Rampant high cholesterol in families is rarely genetic: it’s diet. You don’t have to cut meat out entirely, just don’t eat it everyday. Don’t give up the french fries forever, just make them a special treat. Relish the amuse bouche — size does matter, and small can be very satisfying without overdoing it. And little eyes will see your choices too, and can predict the health of new generations.
To celebrate abundance of fruits and vegetables, I give you a carrot-ginger dressing on a Napa cabbage salad, similar to the creamy dressing you find on iceberg lettuce or cabbage at Japanese restaurants . It’s the one my husband swoons over. I can change it up and use it as a dip for fresh vegetables. I’ve put it on meat. It’s so fragrant that you can almost taste it without eating it. It is the dressing that could make a tire palatable — it’s really that good. It’s also vegan — yay for so many more people!
Author: story of a kitchen (adapted a little from http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Classic-Carrot-Ginger-Dressing)
1 cup vegetable oil
½ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
⅛ to ¼ cup soy sauce (Sodium content between soy sauce brands can differ wildly. Add ⅛ cup first, then more if you think the dressing needs it.)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated ginger
2 medium (about 8 ounces) carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
½ medium onion (about 6 ounces), peeled and roughly chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
one large head of Napa cabbage, chopped into bite-sized pieces. (Savoy works, as well as other cabbages. Cucumbers are a nice pairing for flavor but are sometimes too juicy and slick for the dressing to "hold on." The crevices in Napa are just about perfect for this dressing.)
Put everything into food processor and run until fully blended. I prefer a little chunk in my dressing, but almost smooth. Blend how you like it.
Toss cabbage to coat with dressing and serve with more on side, if desired.
Unused dressing keeps for two weeks in a tightly-lidded jar in the fridge. Give it a shake before using.