Friday, November 28, 2008

Food Fog

Is there anyone out there who still really enjoys food? Making a meal like yesterday's traditional feast makes me wonder.

There's a great pleasure in making a meal for a group, even on a day where the various ingredients are more or less standard. You plan it, and create each element according to a schedule, and if you bring it off with only a couple of mistakes, you feel like you've accomplished something. (My biggest mistake was when the pepper grinder came apart in mid grind and deposited its load of peppercorns on top of the uncooked dressing! I wonder if anyone else bit down on a peppercorn?)

But how much of the pleasure of the day actually connects to the food you’re eating? There’s anticipation, and the enjoyment of seeing family, and the absence of guilt since you’re all together in real time for once. And the food is good, sort of, except you always eat too much and it’s uncomfortable. The food never tastes like you remember, either. Each one of you at the table has his/her own memories of childhood holidays, taste memories as well as sentiment. Nothing ever quite matches.

Yesterday, the food was made with lots of butter and no salt. My husband is on a low sodium diet, so even the butter was unsalted. Butter in the sweet potatoes (and cumin, and a little brown sugar); butter in the green beans; butter in the gravy. How often do we use butter? Try never, except when eating out. Since we avoided salt, however, I figured I’d better use all the flavor I could find elsewhere.

I used to be a pretty good cook. Once I even made blanquette de veau for thirty while coming down with the flu. But that was before cream and butter were removed from everyone’s culinary arsenal. There are no substitutes, you know. Not that taste as good, anyway.

I do still try—olive oil, a lot of Italian dishes, curries, etc.—but the medical profession keeps finding things to remove from our approved list. And mainly, we should eat whole grains and fiber-rich food. Whoops, no we shouldn’t, if we need to restrict potassium.

A lot of people on low-sodium diets to regulate blood pressure substitute potassium salts instead to flavor their food. But people on Cozaar, one of the secondary control drugs for blood pressure, have to eliminate potassium from their diet, or risk kidney problems. Instead they are directed to eat the white stuff nutritionists been telling us for years to avoid--white bread, white potatoes, for instance--the emptier the calories, the better. I love the irony, really. Eat foods with fewer nutrients (including potassium) and less fiber in them, in order to take a potassium drug. Then take something else to undo the effects of a diet without fiber. Terrific.

I wonder if the reason for so much American obesity is precisely this: That we’re constantly nagged on all sides about what we shouldn’t eat, which increases our anxiety and focuses our attention with every nag on food itself, the great emotional palliative. So we eat. Maybe if we just made meals that taste good, and are full of balanced nutrition so they’re good for us, too, we’d all be walking around at our proper weight and on minimal medication. And we’d be happier. Let’s not forget about the health benefits of being happier.

1 comment:

Texas Legacy Lady said...

I guess it's a good thing I haven't located the pepper grinder since we've moved into the new house. I may have had a similar experience. Everything turned out great and I had everything ready at the same time which makes me proud. Of course it was a very precisely organized and timed effort.

I also cook without salt and we try to avoid foods with too much sodium. Jim even eats unsalted chips. This all began years ago when my mother was placed on a sodium restricted diet and I never stopped.

Unsalted food doesn't have to be flavorless. You also will taste the food, not the salt and I think enjoy it more. I use a lot of peppers, garlic, chives, green onions, celery, parsley, cilantro, citrus zest and juice and many other herbs.

Madalene Hill and daughter Gwen Barclay inspired me to use herbs. After visiting their herb farm in Cleveland and then having lunch and hearing lectures at the restaurant on Westheimer and then in Round Top at Menke House I have grown to love herbs and what they can do to enhance flavor.

Even apartment dwellers can have pots of herbs on their balcony or patio. I love to step outside and clip some fresh cilantro, parsley, chives, basil, etc. I have a Bay Laurel on the patio ready to plant. For the cost of a few seeds you can have all the fresh herbs you need.

I do think part of the pleasure of the day does connect to the food you are eating. Yes, definitely the holidays bring anticipation and happiness to be with family and friends you may not see too often.

But with us the traditional foods that have been prepared (most without written recipes) for generations solidify the togetherness of being with loved ones and add to the enjoyment of the day. To me old memories of folks long gone are enhanced and new memories are made to cherish in the future.

An old family friend who was a doctor once said, "Eat what you are hungry for. Your body will let you know what you need."

Today's diet restrictions and what often amounts to over medication is a sad thing. I know you sometimes may need medication but sometimes things can be managed naturally. The medications can counteract each other or interact with nutrients you consume and you have like a spontaneous combustion within your body which is probably doing more harm than good.

And being happy is a health benefit. Your attitude towards life has a lot to do with your health. So eat health but don't worry so much, enjoy friends and family and get some exercise with a fur person friend.