"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Sounds pretty easy, right? Wrong.
I'm still trying to digest all the information presented in Michael Pollan's fascinating article Unhappy Meals from Sunday's NY Times Magazine and the information in his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Both are hard to summarize, because there's so much pertinent information contained therein, but Pollan's main recommendation is to stop fixating on nutrients and focus our diets more on whole foods.
But that's a lot easier said than done, at least for me.
Some people are super conscious of their appearance, always influenced by the latest fashion magazines and celebrities; I'm hyper-conscious of food, influenced by lifestyle magazines and celebrity chefs. I'm always thinking about food, reading about it, worrying about it, or eating it.
What to do, then, when Mr. Pollan tells me to stop worrying about getting enough protein with my carbs? To stop multiplying calories by grams of fiber? To toss my multi-vitamins?
Frankly, I would love to give up all these silly food affectations and obsessions that I've acquired over the years and return to a simpler lifestyle eating more healthful, whole foods. I tell myself this, and yet, I keep coming up against mental blocks when trying to implement it. (Am I really supposed to go back to full-fat butter instead of margarine??? It contradicts everything I've ever known!) Old habits die hard.
I'm not at a point in my life (financially speaking) where I can go through my kitchen and throw away anything with more than five ingredients, but even thinking about some of Pollan's assertions has me changing the way I'm thinking about food.
It may be a long row to hoe, getting to a place where I am truly living his mantra to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," but he's convinced me that it's an important step to take. Maybe I'm past the point when I need to analyze every single calorie that goes into my mouth. Maybe I'm coming to a place where the whole should be more important than the sum of its parts; rather than allowing it to be my whole life, maybe it's time to let food in general become just another part of the whole.
The Husband and I have started shopping at Wild Oats for our weekly groceries. Our goal was two-fold. First, as I've mentioned, we are operating on limited funds, so we've switched over to the envelope method of budgeting for things like groceries; we pulled out a hunk of cash at the beginning of the month for groceries, and we'll only be using that cash to pay for our food.
Second, we wanted to shop at Wild Oats because, after both reading Pollan's article, we were ready to take the plunge into buying more healthful, organic foods.
The Husband has a piece of paper and a pen and keeps a running tally of everything we put in the cart. The hardest part is figuring out fractions of a pound in the produce section! (Oh, rusty math skills! How you haunt me!) The first time we tried it, we made it through the store and realized we'd forgotten the turkey for a stew we were planning to make -- but we were already at our weekly budget. It was a really interesting exercise, going through the cart and putting back some of the things we'd picked up that weren't on the list, like ranch dressing, ready-made soup, sour cream.
It was also really challenging to only pick out foods that had only five ingredients or fewer. I found an organic raspberry jam with only five ingredients, and though the ranch dressing (that we eventually put back) had more than five ingredients, they were mostly spices. But that rule definitely ruled out a lot of things for us.
Overall, we spent just over $60 for a week's worth of food for two people, and I would estimate that 90% of it was organic whole foods: fruits, vegetables, meat, and milk.
This is actually a food revolution for me in and of itself. As soon as I start thinking about being frugal and keeping to a budget, my mind immediately turns to coupons and cheaper foodstuffs, but the whole idea is to eat better foods, and in this society, better means more expensive. It seems counterintuitive that we should be trying this now, at face value.
On the other hand, how long can we afford to eat the way we have been eating? Maybe the costs of that won't catch up to us for ten or even twenty years, but they will catch up.
We managed just fine on our self-imposed budget, and we got much better quality for our money. Better food, better health, better life. On a budget!