Food. Glorious food. It’s everywhere: on our tellies, in the super market, at the farmer’s market, in our village shops. It’s even at the petrol station, in our cars, at the airport, in the books and magazines we read, on the radio, and in the malls we frequent. We are surrounded by food twenty-four-seven. Is it any wonder obesity is on the rise? In our parent’s and grandparent’s day, food was less readily available. It was also more cherished…particularly in Ireland.
There were no big-box supermarkets around when my in-laws were raising their twelve children. When Dada wanted a box of fruit or veg he either picked from his own back garden or he went into town (Dublin) and bought from street vendors. My husband can still remember vendors crying “Apples…six for a pound!” in their sing-song voices and “Get your chicky charlies…if you don’t wan ’em don’t mall em.” (Whatever that means!) Food was so beautifully simple then.
Today, not only is food more readily available, but we are bombarded with a multitude of food debates. Here are just a few that have been in the press recently:
Should we eat a plant-based diet or a meat based diet?
Is it better to buy organic or local?
Are grass-fed animals really healthier than corn-fed animals?
Should we drink/eat raw or pasteurised dairy products?
Is it ok to eat genetically modified foods or should we avoid them?
Which oil is best to cook with: olive, canola, vegetable or coconut?
Wild fish or farmed…other than the price, does it really matter?
Omega 3, 6, 9 and nutritional supplements…should we get our vitamins and minerals through food or pop vitamins?
Farmers market, village shop or super market…where should I do my shopping?
How much water am I supposed to drink every day?
Is your head swimming? Mine is! Food isn’t just overwhelming us, it’s exhausting us. As the mother of a busy family, I crave simplicity. I’m going to guess that you do too. So, where food is concerned, I am following these three simple rules:
Eat Real Food First.
Grow What We Can.
Eat Food in Season.
The first rule (Eat Real Food First.) involves eating a cleaner, healthier, diet before we eat rubbish. Real Food is the food our parents and grandparents gravitated towards…you know…food made with ingredients you can pronounce, food that has not been created in a laboratory. Eating Real Food means staying clear of anything “highly processed”. Real Foods are not low-fat, made with artificial sweeteners, bought in a takeaway or petrol station, bleached, or covered in sugar. They are foods made from a limited ingredient list and are found in nature. Once we’ve made a meal of Real Food, I don’t mind if we slip in some ( less wholesome) treats.
The second rule (Grow What We Can.) involves getting back to nature. In the beginning I started with just a few pots of herbs on the windowsill. When we moved to our home in the country, I created an organic culinary garden, where we grew tomatoes, potatoes, apples, pears, salads, herbs, rhubarb, berries, and other easily grown edibles. It has been a real pleasure watching my children go into the garden and pick food straight from a plant and eat it. I always know that when we take food straight from a plant and eat it we are getting all the nutrients provided by the sun and the rain and the soil.
The third rule (Eat Food in Season.) ensures we eat a large variety of food items throughout the year, which does two things: 1) increases our nutrient intake; and 2) ensures we eat a more broad range of foods. Before following this rule, my family might have eaten the same (limited) fruits, vegetables, and meats week in and week out for months on end. Now that we eat more “seasonally”, I find we eat foods we wouldn’t consider before and these “new” foods have nutrients that beautifully correspond to our body’s seasonal needs. Take, for example, Brussels Sprouts. These little cabbages are higher in Vitamin C than a glass of orange juice and are at their peak exactly when cold and flu season is at its highest and the body is looking for more Vitamin C to support the immune system. If you roast them in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper, you’ll find they become naturally sweet. In our Irish Home, I have Brussels Sprouts in the fridge all winter and the family pop them like little treats!
To help my family follow these three food rules, I keep a copy of Bord Bia’s Calendar of Availability Guide for Fruit and Vegetables taped to the inside of the cupboard where I keep my collection of cookbooks. It’s a handy reminder of what I to cook and feed my family and it helps me know what to plant in our garden throughout the year. If you have trouble distinguishing the blue from the green dots, print out a copy of the Guide: it’s easier to see the difference.
So, as we say goodbye to spring/summer foods and hello to autumn/winter foods, I say let’s all move toward a simpler, healthier, more varied way of eating. Join me…won’t you?… and let’s share the joy of trying new foods together.
Bord Bia’s (the Irish Food Board), Best in Season article here http://www.bestinseason.ie/about-us/
Here’s another good seasonal food chart: http://www.greatfood.ie/item_display.asp?cde=3&id=521
Michael Pollan’s article Six Rules for Eating Wisely here http://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/six-rules-for-eating-wisely/
Here’s a family that made Real Food a priority for 100 days and wrote a book (and successful blog) about the experience.
Follow blogger Trevor Sargent over at Trevor’s Kitchen Garden for tips about how to grow your own foods.
Darina Allen says GIY (Grow It Yourself) is one of the most important initiatives to come out of Ireland in last 20 years.
For a list of Irish Farmer’s Markets, look here: http://www.bordbia.ie/consumer/aboutfood/farmersmarkets/pages/default.aspx
Irish Farmer’s Market website at http://irishfarmersmarkets.ie