Sunday, January 30, 2011

Redefining Food

Memories are so unreliable. Our perceptions are filtered through our own insecurities and prejudices, often resulting in more fiction than truth. So fictitious as the account may be, I remember/imagine having the following conversation with my future sister-in-law shortly after I began seriously dating her brother:

"So I hear you don't cook."

In recollecting the moment, I'm shocked not by the question, but by my response: positive affirmation coupled with a tinge of pride. In all truth, I didn't cook. Not that I couldn't; I simply didn't. I once had a very blunt missionary companion tell me that she had learned to cook something new from every other roommate except for me--not surprising since I never made anything. For years, I viewed cooking as far too domestic to waste my time on. I was too busy pursuing my "important" dreams to descend to chopping vegetables. While I was discreet in my disdain, in all honesty, I considered myself too sophisticated to regularly engage in mundane food preparation. (Not to mention all the menial tasks that inevitably come with it--like washing dishes and mopping floors.)

In retrospect, I am embarrassed by this haughty attitude. Unfortunately, my antipathy towards cooking extended much deeper. I had a negative relationship with food. When it came to eating, I saw only the downside. Food was the beckoning bully who constantly threatened to toss me into the pit of obesity. Food had too much fat, too many calories, too many carbs. It was too expensive, took too much time to prepare, and resulted in too many dishes. While I recognized that food was necessary for survival, I rarely enjoyed eating. Sure, I got plenty of pleasure from my regular splurges on refined sugar and pastries, but these indulgences were always accompanied by guilt. And so, I generally straggled along with a diet consisting mainly of cereal, frozen dinners, and ice cream.


Recently, I've made a conscious decision to redefine my relationship with food. While it requires a complete paradigm-shift, I'm striving to view food in terms of the positive. Instead of selecting foods because of what's *not* in them (fat-free, sugar-free, flavor-free?), I'm searching for foods that have *good* in them--foods that are nourishing, wholesome, and healthy. Challenging as this is, it's been even more challenging to change my attitude. I no longer want to view cooking as drudgery. Like it or not, I'm going to have to answer the question, "What's for dinner" for the rest of my life. So I may as well like it.

What's helped me revamp my attitude?

1) Looking at the big picture. No, I don't mean taking a step back to stare at the enormous pile of dishes and flour that used to be the kitchen. I mean, remembering that I am not just cooking a meal: I am nourishing my family. There is such a deep connection between our physical bodies and our spirits. It's nearly impossible to feel truly happy when our bodies feel sick or sluggish. In nourishing our physical bodies, we are simultaneously caring for our spirits. What we feed our children today quite literally shapes the people they will become tomorrow.

2) Reading a few books on nutrition from the library. There's lots of conflicting information out there, but it's still been helpful to increase my general knowledge and awareness. Anybody have any good reading suggestions?

3) Acquiring a few new kitchen gadgets. For Christmas, I was spoiled with both a wheat grinder and a new hand blender. While not necessary, these new toys have given me some extra inspiration to have fun playing in the kitchen.

3) Using mealtime as an educational tool. Meals are a great way to teach children. In assigning different tasks, you can teach accountability and responsibility. (I'm not very good at this one yet, but I certainly see the potential.) You can teach reading, chemistry, addition, multiplication, fractions, and best of all, the importance of following directions. Yet our family favorite is using dinner to teach geography. We've decided to choose a country a week and learn about the world by cooking different kinds of cuisine. It's interesting for me and the kids, plus it adds a bit more focus to meal planning.

5) Valuing family time. Nutrition and education completely aside, perhaps the greatest blessing of meal preparation is that it brings the entire family together. The moments that we spend at the table weave a tapestry that I believe will hold our family together. Plus, we laugh. A lot. Dinner at our house is hilarious. Not always respectable, but certainly entertaining. :)

And so, after nearly eight years of marriage, I'm happy to finally report that yes, I do cook. I'm proud of it, too.


Here are a few of the Wheeler family's latest cooking adventures:

Whole wheat pitas with homemade falafel and cucumber sauce. It's so much FUN to watch the little pitas puff up! Thanks for the inspiration, Mrs. M.

Austrian Kasnocken. A is for Austria--the country of the week. This is the Austrian version of mac 'n cheese. Yum, yum, yum!

Tabasco and asparagus quinoa. Up until today, I'd never cooked quinoa. Who knew that it made such fun curliques? Love it! I never imagined what a confidence-building experience venturing into the world of the culinary-unknown could be.

And last but not least, Bountiful Baskets. This week I ordered my first "bountiful basket" from a food co-op and loved it. With six different fruits and six different vegetables, the baskets seem like a fun and economical way to encourage our family to incorporate more fresh fruits and veggies into our diets. Here's to good eating!


Mrs. M said...

I would never have guessed that you were not a cook! I will have to try the falafel and cucumber sauce - sounds yummy.

Julie L said...

Great post! Good luck with your forays into the world of food fun. I love your ideas and if you don't mind will copy your post and save it for future reference. I sure wish the Internet had been around when my family was young - look at all the great ideas that are available at the touch of a keyboard!

The Favorite said...

We love good food. Great post and I'm proud of all you've done :)
2 books I like are "Food Rules" and "Omnivore's Dilemma"
Have fun with your new kitchen toys.
Here's to eating more healthy food and sustainable living!

Aunt Callie said...

As usual - you're my hero! Where on earth you find the time to be such a great mom and example while keeping your family so active is beyond me...but it's inspirational to say the least. Love you tons!

Chou said...

I started reading MF Fisher today (a shockingly slow start for a food person, I know), and think you might enjoy her short little forays into the beauty of food. It made me crave to be more engaged with the aesthetics and pleasures of the food I engage with, and that is a joy indeed.

Check out the blog, and even better,

Tanja said...

This was an very interesting article to read. I always thought ... you are a very good and creative cook :) and I have to admit ... I never had Kasnocken ... but then ... I am not Austrian :)

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm ... What's the big deal? I recall teaching you how to cook eggs, pancakes, and Campbell's tomato soup. I think you learned to make peanut butter & jelly sandwiches on your own. Once in a while we would eat tomatoes, cukes and radishes while working in the garden ... now that was fresh produce. What more is there to know about food? [smile ... it is a good thing I am anonymous]

Brittney Richards said...

Awesome!! I'm glad you are eating so well. I am eating so terribly - frozen dinners and microwave cooking. Sat. I'll have an oven again,a nd feel like I should put more effort into eating better.! Thanks for the inspiration!