Wednesday, April 02, 2008

What Makes a Meal...

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Clearly I’m not the first one to quote the opening lines of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, or to see the logic in his argument that eating food is much different than eating the processed products that line most of the shelves in our grocery stores.

But I probably wouldn’t have been attracted to those lines—I might not have even read the book—if I hadn’t gone through such a major transformation in terms of what I think of as food and how it relates to health.

I thought about all of this when I came across a post from someone on a celiac listserv. The author said he would never go back to eating gluten, celiac disease or no, because his attitude towards food and cooking was so much healthier now.

I couldn’t agree more. I’d always been conscious of eating “healthy”—low-fat versions of everything I could find, heart-smart butter-like spread, even fat-free cheese (which, I admit, is an affront to the institution of cheese and consistently melted into an unappetizing pool of gooey yellow sludge. It was probably a subconscious part of my decision to give up dairy.) I bought pre-packaged, powdered low-calorie soups I added hot water to, convincing myself they made me full.

And then I was diagnosed with celiac disease and processed, pre-packaged foods were the first casualties.

Thank goodness.

I’m a label reader by proclivity as well as necessity, ever on the lookout for hidden sources of gluten in my foods. As such, I can’t help but notice how little time I now spend standing in grocery store aisles, poring over labels—after all, fruit, vegetables, fresh herbs, and meat/fish have pretty short ingredient lists.

Without being conscious of it while it happened, I became one of those people who, with the exception of canned beans and dog food, only shops the perimeter of the grocery store. Buying fresh, whole ingredients isn’t cheap, but since I’m not spending money on fake foods, the bill evens out each week. Now, we cook, rather than re-heat, a distinction I never would have thought about before.

Sure, I miss the sensation of biting into a toasted bagel, and the aroma of pizza baking can get to me. But going gluten-free forced me to look at what I eat, not just how much I eat or how many calories I ingest, and I wouldn’t go back to my outdated notion of “healthy eating” for anything. My life after diagnosis began as an odyssey of food exclusion, but I no longer see it that way.

After all, I take enough medications and put enough foreign chemicals in my body as it is. I certainly don’t need to add anymore into the mix.


Brittney said...

I love this post. In Defense of Food is on my list of books to read (I eye it everytime I'm in the bookstore and wish I had the cash to buy it). Having to take a much closer look at what I eat these days has made me think a lot about what is going in my body. Like you the smell of pizza...I'm not even going there.

I think people need to take step back and look at what they are eating. Being around college students all day I see cheeseburgers, french fries, etc. Part of me is jealous they can eat that (obviously I'm still adjusting) while the other part of me is say "how in the world can they eat that!"

BTW..I'm still trying to get over the food exclusion part and move on to enjoying what I eat. I think I'm getting there.

Anonymous said...

A great approach. :)

Anney E.J. Ryan said...

From what I've read, that yummy cooking smell is actually chemical induced. According to "Fast Food Nation," most food companies include natural and artificial flavors in their foods. The only difference between natural and artificial is that natural flavors come from natural sources. But it's still chemicals. Food scientists are so good at inventing flavors that they can make a burger smell like it's come right off the grill... you get a textural smell. That's why it's so hard to turn away from that pizza! It's better than the real thing. Every time, I try to appreciate the smell, rather than the taste, and remind myself, like a horror movie, that it's not real.

AmyT said...

Hey Laurie,

On the topic, did you see my little competition on "7 Words of Wisdom for Diabetes"?

See here

and here


Anonymous said...

It really is amazing how little of our "food" is actually real.

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