Most of the people I spend a lot of time with practice at least some degree of conscious eating. Whether they are vegan, vegetarian, whole foods, raw, or focusing on food combining and acid-to-alkaline balance, they are all a part of the conversation on how to best nurture our bodies through diet.
This conversation is a very different one from the one which stems from the USDA food pyramid and FDA required labeling on calories and percent daily values. My understanding, based on years of experience with intentional eating and knowledge shared with me from many sources, is that the people at the FDA and USDA don't know what the fuck they're talking about. They are in the pockets of food industry giants, and are willing to lie or withhold information from the public for their own convenience or profit. Even when they do put forth information they believe to be for the good of all, it is based on the philosophy of separateness (isolated protein and fat rather than beans and avocados), which does not truly nourish our bodies, which need whole foods to digest properly. So, before you continue reading, entertain the notion for a moment that this is true, that the government is both ignorant and deceptive when it comes to healthy eating. And if you're not convinced, do some research.
Rather than count grams of protein (anyway, most Americans have more protein in their diet than they need: http://femme-vitale.com/protein.htm) or other nutrients, I recommend and strive to practice more intuitive and holistic healthy eating choices. Recently someone commented to me that vegetarian food takes a long time to prepare. This statement only makes sense if you equate vegetarianism with whole foods eating. It is easy to be a junk food vegetarian, living on mac'n'cheese, PB&J's, canned soups, and other prepackaged foods. These types of vegetarians scour the ingredients lists of candies for gelatin, not caring about dyes and other strange additives. I've done this off and on since becoming vegetarian at age 12, but less and less so as I grow older.
The flip side of why that statement rubbed me the wrong way is that people who eat meat can and should take just as long to prepare their food, if not longer, because meat takes longer to cook. If you eat processed, microwaved meat products it won't take longer of course. But I could just as easily pop some broccoli and asparagus in the microwave with some cheese and butter and be good to go-- except that I don't want to eat food that's been radiated. (Plants grown in microwaved water do much more poorly than plants grown in filtered or even tap water. Get some seeds and see for yourself.)If I suddenly decided to eat meat, I would get it from the farmer's market or the organic butcher and cook it up with my fresh veggies and grains that I already use to make wholesome dinners.
Here are two of my main criteria for determining if I am eating healthfully:
1. Am I eating fresh, local, and in season? If the food traveled more than a hundred miles, it's probably too much, though there's room for exceptions (I indulge in a Thai young coconut or bunch of bananas on occasion).
Less distance is better. Fresh food is packed full of enzymes and life-force that keep you feeling alive and rejuvenated. Eating seasonally will also help you eat more balanced, rather than getting stuck on eating one thing all the time. As the seasons change you get to experiment with different foods.
2. Do I have a balance of sweets, fats, and greens? These general categories sum up the food groups for raw foodists, but I find it to be helpful in my life as a cooked food eater as well.
Sweets are fruits, such as watermelon, oranges, apples, mandarins, loquats, kiwis...etc. Tomatoes are also pretty sweet, as well as a lot of foods we often don't think of as fruit. Honey also goes here.
Healthy fats include avocados, coconuts, and seeds and nuts, or if you eat meat it might include fat from a *healthy* and *well-treated* animal. Butter, cheese, and other dairy products would also go here.
Greens are not just leafy greens like kale and chard, although those are important; this category includes other veggies as well. Squash, potatoes, and eggplant would all be included here.
You may have noticed that this categorizing doesn't emphasize grains or beans. One way of looking at it is that they are actually included in greens, since they are a plant. But I also think that grains are not nearly as important as they've been made out to be. They are a staple food simply because they are produced on such a massive level, rather than the other way around. People can and do live healthy lives full of vitality without them.
Here's a recipe for a healthy meal I cooked for my family recently, that they loved even though they don't usually make food like this.
Tofu Teriyaki Noodles
~Fresh seasonal veggies. I used mushrooms, asparagus, snow peas, carrots, and a pinch of garlic.
~Local raw honey (will also prevent allergies)
~Lettuce, spinach, cilantro, peppers, whatever you like for a side salad
Natural Food Store:
~Soba noodles, available in bulk. Amount depends on how many people are eating. Other noodles will work if these are not available.
~Firm tofu. Buy it in bulk if you can, its much better than the stuff in plastic tubs at Winco or Safeway.
~Fresh ginger (powdered will work though)
Here comes the multitasking! You might want to get help from a friend. Eating together is more fun anyway.
Boil water. When it comes to a boil put in the soba noodles and let them cook until soft but not falling apart. Make sure to keep an eye on them and when done drain water and then put back in pot, not on heat.
As the noodles are boiling cut up the veggies and place in a pan with a little water to steam. Put in hard veggies first and end with soft ones (for example carrots, then asparagus and mushrooms because they are thick though not hard, then snow peas).
Once the veggies are getting a little soft, you'll add the ingredients for the sauce. Soy sauce, honey, and ginger are all that is needed. Store bought teriyaki sauces often contain strange additives and use sugar instead of honey, so I like to make it at home. Add each ingredient to your personal taste. I splashed the veggies in soy sauce, drizzled on honey, and added maybe a big tablespoon of finely chopped ginger.
Let the veggies soak up the flavoring on low heat. Get out a smaller pan and heat up some oil in it. Don't use olive oil. Coconut will probably be best, but others will work too. Cut the tofu into big squares and plop in the hot oil. Yum! Watch it sizzle. You can add soy sauce, ginger, or garlic to this pan as well. Keep flipping it every few minutes til the outside of the tofu is lightly browned, then turn it off.
If the veggies are ready, turn them off and make the salad, or you can do it while they are simmering. I like to use red butter lettuce, spinach, and cilantro as the base for salad. Grate carrots and add whatever else is in season to the top.
When you get a chance, make garlic bread by buttering bread and adding chopped garlic and popping it in the oven.
Turn off the vegetables when they are cooked to your liking, and mix the tofu in with them. If you used coconut oil you can mix it in with the veggies; other oils might not taste as good.
Serve the vegetables over the noodles with salad and garlic bread on the side. For salad dressing I use olive oil, soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Aminos, vinegar (balsamic or apple cider are my favorites), and nutritional yeast. Or Annie's Goddess Dressing is the bomb.
In this insane culture we don't always have time to make ourselves dinner. I don't do this everyday. Just today I had a veggie burger with fries at school because I'd ran out of the house without food and had class most of the day. It wasn't nearly as nourishing as freshly steamed asparagus and snow peas though, nor as tasty.
If you haven't taken much time for cooking in your life, I recommend it. Use it as a meditation, slowly chopping as you observe your breath and feel your feet on the kitchen floor. You might notice that the longer you think you're taking -- i.e. the the less you stress -- the less time it actually takes. Regardless, you'll enjoy your dinner more if you're calm. And it's so worth it. Just make sure to feed people so they have to do the dishes!