It's been a while since I've posted. Apologies, but I wanted to really make sure I was happy with the phrasing of this post in various moods. Instead of a reader question I guess you could call this entry a PSA, or an op-ed maybe. I’m going to try to talk through an unspoken question, well really it’s a dialogue, that everyone has with themselves.
Sadly, that intro is less confusing than what’s been on my mind lately. I was inspired to do this post be some things I’d heard/read recently, illustrated best by the two items below. Don't worry if you've never read Michael Pollan or something from the Epicurious website, the end of the post will still be relateable (I hope).
1) While promoting the Netflix-ification of his latest book, Cooked, Michael Pollan took some time say that we need to relax when we’re making food decisions. Because absolutism when it comes to food sourcing, diet, GMO’s etc. leads to too much anxiety in our society. This is all from an interview on the podcast The Sporkful. He also talks about how he feels when someone recognizes him buying food at the gas station or in the sugary cereal aisle. As well as being one of THE public face for a movement that others are so militant about but he recognizes is fluid and flexible. Definitely worth a listen if you've got 21 minutes.
2)For the month of January the/an editor at Epicurious set himself a challenge to cook 90 meals that month. Not to be healthier or control his sugar intake, simply to see if he could and attempt to increase his technique/flavor versatility in the kitchen. There were exceptions and he tried to make it as interesting and easy for himself as he could. What he did not expect was the social media reactions that using leftovers, or soft boiling an egg wasn’t cooking and that he was somehow cheating. And he actually accepted their condemnation at first feeling as if he had already failed in the first week of his project.
These are two people who are influential in the cooking world, and even if they weren’t influential or well know they have chosen to write about food as their career. And even THEY feel guilty in the kitchen and self conscious in the grocery store at times. I find this a sad state of affairs. This guilt, anxiety and the prevalence of social consciousness issues regarding food make it difficult to acctually talk about food. And it doesn’t help that Instagram and food-centric television shows make us feel that we aren’t really cooking when we feed our families quickly and/or simply.
I was in DC for a day last week; I used several pieces of disposable packaging included at least 3 water bottles. I hate when I have to do this but sometimes it is too impractical not to, so I try not to let it make me feel guilty. Luckily I found my own little water bottle equivalent of carbon offsets. At the building museum gift shop they were selling serving spoons made from post consumer food grade plastic. There are other social and environmental issues related to food that I care deeply about. I try to support these with my wallet when I can and my voice when appropriate. But I also have clients with different priorities when it comes to food. And when I'm shopping for them I have to make the purchases reflect those priorities. So having chosen to try to make a living in the food realm, I guess I have an easier time recognizing the futility of allowing things like mistakes, having limited time available for cooking, or the plethora of choices a shopper must make at grocery store to weigh on your mental health.
To do my part to ease the pain, anxiety and guilt the rest of this post will be affirmations for those of us who live real life and those of you with busy lives. It will be okay...
- It is okay to buy the pre-cut veggies if it helps you to cook at home. Feeding yourself and others with the intent of love and nourishment IS cooking. You are a superhero.
- It is okay if your food does not look like food on TV. Glam squads spend hours doing weird stuff to those plates to make them look that way in close-ups. Also, they are generally being prepared by professional cooks who want “effortlessly attractive plates” to be part of their brand so they can make more money, but it is not worth the effort in real life.
- It is okay if you fail trying something new. So long as some part of it is edible, serve it and make up a new name for it. It is probably not even your fault, but simply a recipe that was too vague, has a mistake or has made an unreasonable assumption about the equipment or time the home cook has available.
- It is okay to repurpose leftovers. Look back at my “leftover magic” post and you make leftovers better than the first night in minimal time.
- It is okay if you don’t have the time to go to the farmer’s market every week. You can also support local farmers by choosing a restaurant that has relationships with local producers.
- It is okay if you do not have the budget to buy organic or humane options at the grocery store every visit. In other words don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Do what you can, when you can. Perhaps make one day a month your own little “farm dinner” and splurge on those humane eggs, organic veggies, and insanely good butcher shop bacon for a great brunch frittata.
- It is okay to eat what is available in a social situation when you have no control over the food options. It is more productive to eat and converse about the challenges of a sustainable earth than to create negativity and friction by pointedly abstaining.
- It is okay to disagree. (Related: it is okay to eat meat in front of a vegetarian/vegan, do not feel guilty.) Everyone has their own preferences, knowledge base, causes, and nutritional needs. That does not make any one of us better or worse than any other.
Happy eating to you all. I'll be back in the next couple of weeks with fun potato recipies in honor of St. Patrick's day as well as a piece on cooking with kids.