Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Following Pollan's Advice & News

Today is exactly two months from the day I posted a review of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. I have attempted to follow his rules about eating for the past two months and found it to be more difficult that I imagined, but still fairly easy. I can only share with you my own frustrations and revelations on this matter, but keep in mind that everyone has different skill levels, different access to food, and different food preferences.

In the past two months, I have discovered that the biggest challenge in following Pollan's advice is finding foods with less than five ingredients. I made several exceptions to this rule because many foods include each spice listed in the ingredients (which I lumped together under spices when reading the list).   I found that I could no longer eat pre-packaged burritos, fake meats, or even most breads.

I have to admit, the hardest part of finding five or less ingredient foods was finding bread products fitting this criteria. I could not find a single sandwich bread that followed Pollan's rules. I attempted to make my own, but did not use a recipe that wielded the fluffy, soft bread that I am accustomed to. (Instead, my bread was dense and dryer than I liked.) This is, most likely, attributable to my lack of experience in baking this kind of bread. I did find that making focaccia (which I am proficient at) allowed me to have a flavorful sandwich bread with a pleasant texture. So, my advice to you on this count is to find a bread that you can make to substitute for the sandwich breads you buy in the store, which are made with many fillers and ingredients you cannot pronounce. You might be surprised with the variety of breads you can use to make sandwiches; these tend to be even better than those you buy in the store anyways.

I'm learning to make corn tortillas with a tortilla press.

I was unable to find a flour tortilla in the stores with less than five ingredients. I learned at Heifer Ranch how to make my own corn and flour tortillas, which is a simple process. However, these tortillas are not as malleable as those I am accustomed to. Therefore, I cheated on this count and continued buying my preferred brand of flour tortillas. I made this exception since I had cut out most of my bread intake from lack of time to bake my own focaccia bread every week. I also managed to only buy two packages of eight tortillas in the last two months, making my consumption rate very low. If you are fond of tortillas, you can try making your own (foodgawker has several recipes like this) or just give yourself this exception.

Making Cheese

Cheese is another exception I've made over the past two months. I can buy locally made cheddar and colby cheeses from Conway Locally Grown (CLG). Plus, I learned on the Ranch how to make my own farmer's cheese from goat's milk, which is similar to the goat cheese you buy in stores. I have made goat cheese from raw goat's milk after milking my own goats; there is nothing tastier than something made by your own hands, literally from scratch. Knowing I had a hand in the collection and processing of the milk I'm sure had an influence on my preference for the cheese; nonetheless, it is a delectable form of cheese. However, if I wanted any other cheese, like bleu cheese or parmesan, I had to buy it already processed. I love cheese. It is one of the reasons I could never be a vegan. Therefore, I made the exception and bought cheese from around the world when I wanted it.

Ripening Grape Tomatoes
Guatemala Garden at Heifer Ranch

As a result of my lack of bread, I ended up eating a number of meals which consisted of a conglomeration of vegetables thrown together in a stir fry or soup. Thanks to the wonderful fruits of Summer, I had a variety of fresh garden vegetables available for these meals such as: zucchini, zephyr squash, rainbow chard, cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, onions, potatoes, jalapeƱos, butternut squash and various herbs. The massive amount of tomatoes produces this year made me very happy. I've found a number of uses for them, including processing some and freezing them for use when my tomato plants are long gone. It's extremely easy to freeze or can your Summer garden vegetables for use through Fall and Winter. This is an easy way to curb a craving for something not in-season.

Fairytale Eggplant

Eating almost entirely local became an easy feat for me. I am a member of CLG, which gave me access to the vegetables that I didn't grow myself. There is an orchard, Collin's Orchard, outside of Conway, which allowed me to get local fruit when Summer came into full-swing.  I also managed to gather several handfuls of wild blackberries in late June. That was a real treat. Wild fruit are more common than you might think and I suggest taking the time to look for them along roadsides.

The fact that I live in Arkansas has its perks when it comes to adding grains to my diet. Riceland rice is all Arkansas rice and is packaged here too, meaning local rice is available for my use. I took advantage of this several times in the last months.

I've taken a number of fruit and turned them into jams because I enjoy the process of canning foods. There are local jams available at Farmer's Markets, but I prefer my own. When Autumn comes around, I plan to make my own fruit butters as well. If you think you don't have time to process your own jams and butters, you should take a look at some recipes (like this). You can process fruit into jam from start to finish in a matter of hours. What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

Harvest for June 25th
I do not feel any different since I've stopped eating virtually all processed foods (excepting cheese and milk), however, this was not a drastic change in my diet. For others, who are used to less fresh foods and more processed ones, I'm sure it would make you feel healthier and improve your overall health. If you cannot grow your own vegetables for lack of space, I recommend checking out Conway Locally Grown or the Little Rock (LR) Farmer's Market. Now that it is Summer, the LR market is open at 10a.m. on Saturdays in the River Market. It is actually fairly easy to follow Pollan's advice about selecting food. I have found my own system: Eat local, even if not organic, but eat organic if possible. Don't waste time on pre-packaged and pre-cooked foods (though I do love Amy's burritos). Grow my own food when possible.

Happy Eating!


My exciting news:

I have been accepted as an AmeriCorps VISTA member to work with Little Rock's Love Your School Initiatives. I will be working with one of eight schools in the Little Rock area to combat obesity through school gardens, exercise programs, and community outreach. There are fourteen VISTA members this year who will all help to design new Summer Programs to increase participation in Summer gardens and exercise programs. We will work with nutritionists and chefs from UCA, UALR, and Pulaski Tech to teach parents how to cook meals at home. We will work with students (kindergarten through third grade) to give them more knowledge about food, nutrition, and gardening. Culminating with the creation of a Youth Farmer's Market run by the students.

I am so excited to be a part of this team! Especially to be involved in bringing nutrition education into children's schools. If we do our job right, we can help initiatives like the Delta Garden Study to prove that school gardens and focus on nutrition can help to combat obesity in school children.

I will essentially be working in the same capacity as Heifer International: combating hunger and poverty by providing knowledge to the impoverished about how to help themselves. I am excited to be able to continue working along this path and hope to see as much change in the lives of these school children as I did in the attitudes of the participants of Heifer Ranch programs. I begin my position by flying to Denver, CO for national VISTA training on August 12th. I start training in Little Rock the Monday following my return (the 19th). I will most likely be linking to another blog about my work through the VISTA program in the future.

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