Saturday February 14, 2009
A new start
In his latest book, In Defence of Food, best-selling American author Michael Pollan’s solution to navigating a complex food landscape choked with “unreal” food and equally bad advice is simply, “to eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Pollan defines “edible food-like substances”, as opposed to food, as something that you shouldn’t eat if your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise it as food.
Try to avoid food products that list ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable or more than five in number, he added.
For instance, traditionally, bread is made of flour, yeast, water and a pinch of salt. Today, a loaf of industrial wholemeal bread sold in our supermarket contains about 20 types of ingredients!
Here are some tips to get us started:
Purge the kitchen & shop smart
Clear out the white rice, white breads, processed sugar and any refined products.
High-fibre food like unpolished brown rice and wholewheat noodles are chockfull of Vitamin B Complex which prevents you from getting agitated or stressed easily, says macrobiotic counsellor June Lim.
Avoid processed food like frozen burgers, nuggets, sausages and margarine — these processed carbohydrate sources lead to insulin burnout.
And stay away from fried foods, store-bought snacks and industrial baked goods that are laden with trans-fat.
Canned food is great for a rainy day but most are high in sodium. Limit intake of artery cloggers like fatty cuts of meat and whole-fat dairy products (ice-cream, whole milk, creams, butter)
Switch to natural or organic foods
“Organic is pricey!” is what you usually hear from people when it comes to buying organic. Well, it depends.
My packet of local organic bok choy cost less than RM3, the medium-sized organic chicken, RM22 and the pack of organic shiitake mushrooms about RM6, enough to feed a family of four. An average meal costs about RM10 per person. Eating out will set you back a lot more. And stick to local veggies and fruits, they’re affordable and have a smaller carbon footprint.
“The value in organic is what you’re paying for — quality, ‘real’ food,” says Callie Tai of Justlife.
“As it is, we’re paying for artificial flavouring, colouring and multi-agent. If we see that as food, then it’s expensive!
“Besides, it’s a question of priorities. How much do people spend on shoes, handbags and a perm?” Tai asks.
The truth is, “better” food does cost more because it’s labour-intensive to grow and requires more care. Not everybody can afford it but for those of you who can, should.
Does organic equal more nutritious?
Yes, it’s eco-friendly, pesticide-free and more flavourful.
But in strict nutritional terms, does organic produce have more nutrients than conventionally grown produce?
“I do not think everyone should only consume organic foods. I’m not sure if they are more nutritious,” says Nutrition Society of Malaysia president Dr Tee E Siong of.
“Most of the food crops in our market are not organically grown but they are safe to be consumed. There are specific laws in this country to prohibit excessive amounts of pesticide in the produce sold in the market.”
And many variables can affect the nutritional quality of a veggie — climate, soil, geography, farming practices, genetics, etc. (Source: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan). But at least you’re not imbibing more chemicals than you need to.
Get to know your farmer
Consumers may wonder if the premium-priced organic stuff they pay for is the real deal. In Malaysia, most organic farms are community-sized farms run by the owners who grow, deliver and sell their produce. Certification labels and standards differ internationally and it’s difficult for a layperson to gauge.
Organic shops like Justlife have to rely on the integrity of the farmers they source from and make it compulsory for their staff to visit the farms.
“We insist on having farmers’ contacts on every product. I think it’s due credit for the farmers, and also consumers can call or drop by the farm,” says Tai.
But if your hectic life doesn’t allow a farm visit, you’ll have to rely on certification labels or your trusted suppliers.
Farms like GK Organic Farm (☎ 012-305 3253) in Bangi, Selangor, caters vegetarian lunches and dinners with farm tours. Its creative and varied vegetarian menu focuses on taste, flavours, textures and presentation. The farm runs a volunteer programme open to the public and students who want to learn the basics of organic farming.
GK also runs a community-supported agriculture (CSA) programme with a group of families. Practised in Europe and Japan since the 60s, CSA allows consumers to subscribe to a weekly supply of produce from their farmers at a fixed price. Through CSA, consumers establish a relationship with and support their local farmers.
Changing your lifestyle
Eating with full consciousness involves a change in lifestyle. If money isn’t an issue, you can afford to eat at organic or healthy joints frequently.
“It’s about slowing down and making time to cook so you know what goes into your food,” says Tai.
There are tons of recipe books out there for quick, simple and healthy meals. Busy moms can do online shopping with sites like Good4U Delivery (www.good4u.com.my). The Klang Valley-based site delivers wholesome, organic ready-to-eat or -to-cook-meals, fish, seafood, chicken, legumes, noodles and pasta.
“Kids will always remember the home-cooked meals and it’s a good time for families to sit together and bond,” adds Lim.
Grow your own food
Not everyone has green fingers or the desire to farm. But one of the most fulfilling ways to re-connect with our food is to grow them. Whether they’re just herbs in your kitchen windowbox or leafy greens in your backyard, it’s gratifying to tend to your plants, watch them grow and pluck them fresh for cooking. And you can use your kitchen scraps for compost.
Change takes time
Afters years of eating additive-laden foods, it’s not surprising that our tastebuds have lost their sense of taste, Lim adds.
“Once you taste something with less seasoning or additives, you think the food is bland,” she says. “You need a few months to get rid of the numbness and realise that vegetables are sweet and crunchy and apple tastes like apple. Also, a meat-eater’s stomach produces a lot of digestive acid and you need time for your body to get used to more vegetables and to produce less acid. You can start by reducing your intake to two or three times a week.
And if you have to eat out, try to choose healthier alternatives like chapatti and dhal, Lim adds.