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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Food: Fashion or Fuel?

So I was cleaning up at the news station after my cooking segment the other day, and I was talking to one of the anchors and another show guest. The anchor really enjoyed the Creamy Broccoli Soup, and she was especially happy to learn the yogurt substitution trick. She was telling me about a cooking class that she took. During the class, she raised her hand and asked if there were any substitutions they could use to make the food more healthy. She said the chef gave her a glare that was like daggers. Then the other guest added that he once took a French cooking class, and he asked the chef if he could substitute soy butter. The chef threw a book at him. Wow...I'm prepared for a whole bookshelf to be thrown at me! I make creamy soup with no cream (gasp!) and I use a meat thermometer in my chicken (!!!).

I'm not bashing chefs or culinary training, nor am I saying that there is no place for rich foods or restaurant meals. I love eating out and trying unique, beautiful dishes! I am in awe of the amazing chefs who make it their life's work to create gastronomic masterpieces for us to enjoy. We are entitled to our nice dinners and guilty pleasures. I read cooking magazines and cookbooks and watch cooking shows daily. I love to cook and consider myself a foodie. But if I ate like that 3 meals a day, I'd be unfit inside and out. I also like to try rare and special ingredients, gourmet cheeses and foods that turn every night dinner into fancy fare. But if I did THAT for 3 meals a day, I'd also be broke. What I am saying is that we shouldn't be chastised -- by anyone! -- for wanting to keep ourselves and our families healthy most of the time.

I couldn't find a statistic on it, but I'd be willing to bet that 99% of people responsible for putting food on the table at home do not have formal culinary training. Many of us learned our cooking skills and eating habits from our parents -- good habits and bad! Recently, I've heard comments like, "my parents/grandparents ate fried food everyday and they lived to be 90." Well, my great grandmother baked bread everyday and fed her family a diet loaded with potatoes. After all, that's the most cost effective way to feed a husband and 13 children. But when you knead the bread yourself, dig your own potatoes and wash clothes for 15 people on a washboard, you're getting your cardio! I'll go out on a limb again and say that most of us do not have what is considered an "active" job. I certainly don't -- typing doesn't burn many calories, and even a thousand laps around my kitchen can't be considered cardio.

Anyway, I write this blog and share my recipes and lessons for the "every day" cook. Whether we have formal training or not, we all have to eat. Several times a day! I love the craze surrounding food and cooking -- there's even an entire television network devoted to it! But with food as fashion, the concern has mostly been taste, not nutrition. What's gotten lost is the concept of food as fuel. We need it to survive, and if we want our bodies to perform optimally, we have to put the best stuff in. Lean proteins, heart healthy fats, vitamin-rich vegetables and whole grain carbohydrates. The good stuff.

In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 32 percent of American children are considered overweight and 34 percent of all Americans are considered obese. WOW. This is a serious problem. And the culprit isn't fancy restaurants, chefs or the Food Network. Really, I believe it's the drive-thrus and the processed and frozen food aisles at the grocery store. We've sacrificed nutrition for convenience. We're spending more time on the couch and in front of our computers and less time exercising. And we're going to pay the price for it. And this is not about being skinny, it's about being healthy inside, too. Keith used to have digestive problems and high blood pressure. Since he's been eating healthier and staying away from the sweet tea, he no longer has acid reflux and his blood pressure has normalized. Oh, and he's lost 20 pounds -- just a bonus.

Preparing healthy food everyday may seem daunting, but it really can be simple, fast, inexpensive, AND delicious! I receive so many comments from fans about what they do to make healthy food for their own families, and I love that this blog has become a forum for us to share our ideas. I've also received a little criticism here and there from those who have "expertise" in one area or another. And that's fine, throw those books! Dodging them is great cardio!

And I guess if I have to have a point, it is best said by this alliteration (because I'm nerdy like that) -- food can be fun, fashionable, and fancy (and fantastic, of course!), but most importantly, it should be fuel. Feed your bodies right (most of the time) and you'll be fit inside and out. And it feels good!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. A portion of sales will be donated to Louie's Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting childhood obesity.



JourneyBeyondSurvival said...

You really are a great ambassador for healthy food. I'm glad that more people are coming your way and agreeing with you!

The Svelte Gourmet said...

Thank you, I'm glad you think so! I know first hand that these things are much easier said than done, and I fight temptation everyday. Good thing I don't know how to deep fry! =) And I don't want to learn!

Melissa said...

You said this so well! As you know, I fully agree that food does not always have to be done "by the book" for it to taste good. Everyone has a different palate and different methods. Further, there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to make certain foods a bit healthier so that you can enjoy them more often. In fact, I think that is what people SHOULD do. We live in a different world with more sedentary lifestyles, bigger portions, and more processed foods. To compare ourselves with previous generations is like comparing apples to oranges. Let's just take care to be healthful and enjoy what we eat - and to hell with all the purists out there. As long as it's good, who cares??

Amanda said...

Ok, so I'm a big fan of real fresh butter, cream etc... BUT, I completely agree with your point about the obesity problem - and I'm convinced it's down to all the processed, packaged foods we eat. If we all started cooking more, using real ingredients (that our great-grandmothers would have recognized as food) instead of reheating packaged processed foods and buying takeouts, we'd see amazing changes!!

The Svelte Gourmet said...

Agreed, and agreed! Amanda, I'm also a huge fan of the cream and butter (who isn't?!). And I do use a little bit in my recipes. But the portion sizes here (as you know from living here, Paris and London) are out of control. If we're going to eat as much as we do, we have to use lighter ingredients and quality foods. As Melissa says, we can't compare ourselves to generations past. Our society is loaded with large portions of processed food stripped of all the nutrients. If we ate reasonable amounts of food, we could eat the rich stuff -- like in my Petit Creme Brulee -- real cream, real milk, real egg yolks, real sugar, real(ly) small portion =). Thanks for commenting!

Check out Melissa's point of view at www.meldabbles.com and Amanda's point of view at www.vintagesavoirfaire.com.