The Conscious Kitchen and Sanity

I’ve been working on simplifying our lives, as I’ve explained in earlier posts.  I bought this small volume by Alexandra Zissu  last week, looking for some inspiration.  Unfortunately, I think anyone who tries to follow all the advice offered in this book will go bananas.  Oops, not bananas- they aren’t locally grown!  Apples, then.

Ok, I don’t want to be too harsh on a book that was written with the very best of intentions so rather than critiquing The Conscious Kitchen I’ll just talk about the problem of What To Eat in general and how this fits in with the philosophy of simplicity and intentional living.  First, as Ms. Zissu herself says, you need to figure out what your primary purpose is when you make a food selection.  Here’s some options:

  • Concerns about animal cruelty and factory farming
  • Your health
  • Desire to lose weight
  • A dietary regimen that you have adopted…  Raw foodism, veganism, etc.
  • Religious considerations (Lent, etc)
  • A desire to support your local community
  • A desire to achieve a low carbon footprint
  • A desire to support a special kind of farming (organic, biodynamic, etc)
  • A desire to eat food grown locally
  • Budgetary considerations- you don’t have much money
  • Budgetary considerations- you purposely choose to live on a low income
  • Allergies
  • Concern for pesticides,  chemical fertilizers,  toxic packaging
  • Desire to eat “whole foods”  such as WW bread and pasta
  • Desire to avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or even plain white sugar
  • Desire to avoid food additives and food coloring
  • Desire to avoid Big Business and advertised food

And I’m sure I left out some options.  As you can see,  there’s many options and it’s only the fact that we are rich Americans who live in a land that has such a superabundance of inexpensive food choices that we’d even be wondering about this topic.  But you can see that if you try to synchronize two or three pet options from the list you are going to run into trouble and your life will no longer be simple, if that’s your goal.

Consider chicken.  First of all, you have to decide if you are going to eat meat of any kind and if you do want to eat meat, what kind.  People who are transitioning to a more veggie-centered diet often get rid of beef first and “just eat a little chicken.”  However,   beef cattle spend a large percentage of their lives grazing peacefully in a field whereas chickens are born to misery from the moment their wee little beaks peck their way out of their eggs.  So while chicken  may be lower calorie and may have less cholesterol, you have to decide which bothers you more,  the suffering of the chicken or the condition of your arteries.

But let’s say you are going to buy some chicken for dinner.  If you are a “conscious” sort of person, KFC is not even a consideration so you are now looking at the poultry counter at your local Safeway.  Tyson, Foster Farms…  you remember reading about these mega-chicken factories (and watched some awful videos)  and want to do better, both for your life and the life of the chicken.  You drive clear across town to Whole Foods.  They advertise non-tortured chickens which cost twice as much as the Safeway chicken.   You would like to buy some but you feel guilty spending so much money and in the back of your mind you are asking yourself why YOU deserve such primo, pricey food when your neighbors back in the ‘hood are lucky to have Tyson’s and you know a family in Malawi that gets chicken once a year on Christmas, if it’s a good year.

Maybe you buy a couple of chicken thighs.  As Ms. Zissu says, if it costs twice as much, buy half as much.  But you are now remembering your intention to shop locally, with means leaving the car home and walking to the local markets in your own neighborhood.  You really do want to support your neighbors.   Yet they get their meat from the same miserable sources as the big chain stores.  Driving clear across town to Whole Foods isn’t in keeping with the spirit of supporting your neighborhood merchants.  And it seems elitist.

While you are at Whole Foods you pick up a booklet about the foods that are the best for you, based on nutrient density.  All foods are listed,  from best to worst with kale being the “best.” Kale goes good in green smoothies and they sell it for 79 cents a bunch at the local (walking distance) produce stand.  Cheap and neighborhood-friendly! But Ms. Zissu’s book lists the veggies that are highest in pesticide residue and wouldn’t you know it. Kale is in the worst category.  Advice?  Buy organic kale from Whole Foods (or a farmer’s market which is just as far away and just as costly.)  And speaking of smoothies, they need bananas and according to those who believe we should only eat food grown locally, we should never eat an “exotic” banana.

If you have 25 items on your grocery list and you wrestle with these issues for each and every item you will go nuts.  (Not brazil nuts or cashews, of course, as they are “exotic.”)   And this doesn’t even take into account the Eastern Orthodox Liturgical Calendar with its feasting and fasting days.

I don’t think it’s possible or even desirable to spend so much time, money, and mental energy on making food choices.  Our lives do not consist of what we eat or drink.  My advice, if you care about these issues,  is to make a few general guidelines for yourself and even then, to be flexible.  Here are mine:

  • We intend to follow the Orthodox fasting days which causes us to be vegans for half the calendar year.
  • The rest of the year,  I prefer to emphasize fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
  • I would like to buy as many groceries as possible from stores in my neighborhood.  I would like to walk as often as possible.
  • I prefer to eat meat sparingly.  We usually buy a few inexpensive cuts at Whole Foods when we happen to be on that side of town.  Otherwise, it’s the local butcher shop.
  • I try to buy food in its simplest form and avoid packaged food. I like to cook.
  • I try to buy cruelty-free eggs
  • I try to spend as little money on food as possible.  I don’t want to be an elitest.
  • If I’m with other people I eat whatever is set before me with appreciation.
  • I try to receive all food with thanksgiving.

Even this probably seems overly complicated to many people.  It’s a lot easier (or so it seems) to wheel your cart up and down the aisles of Safeway and filling up the cart with whatever looks delish, and it ALL looks delish to me.  But I can live with my list without obsessing about it too much or feeling too guilty.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. debd
    Aug 04, 2010 @ 03:55:59

    wow, she makes grocery shopping into a full-time job. I’m exhausted just reading it.

  2. Mary Ann Coley
    Aug 05, 2010 @ 13:20:21

    Bravo! You took six NYTimes bestselllers worth of info and condensed it down to a readable, thought provoking article. Good job!

  3. Xenia
    Aug 05, 2010 @ 15:14:52

    Thank you Mary Ann!

  4. Xenia
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 19:49:03

    Update: I don’t eat meat or dairy at all now so things are much simpler.

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