What does it mean today to “eat healthy”?
My adult lifetime has seen the many comings and goings of the Diets of Exclusion: No fat. No carbs. No sugar (but replaced with artificial sweeteners). No cholesterol.
The no-fat/low-fat diet, in particular, really resonated with me in its hay day — if you don’t consume fat, surely it’s impossible to add fat to your body. We believed that. We really did.
I cringe now to think how many bottles of fat-free salad dressing (loaded with all sorts of man-made chemical compounds) and packages of fat-free cookies (chocolate coated sugar bombs) I went through during those years. I was young and nimble and active — so of course didn’t gain weight — but now I wonder what permanent effects that nutrient poor diet had on my inner workings.
I remember in grad school, guiltily snacking on apple slices dipped in peanut butter, while white rice simmered away on the stove, later to be topped with fat-free ranch dressing for lunch. Massive amounts of guilt over that peanut butter, the fat in that peanut butter. Not the goopy-globby dressing with an ingredient list taken straight from a chemist’s supply cabinet, or the white rice (still, at that point, decades away from being ID’d as a nutritionally void, blood-glucose-spiking naughty grain).
The peanut butter.
Food science was grossly inadequate. We were clueless and gullible. Nutritionists who knew better didn’t have a way to share their voice (this was pre-interwebs).
But now we know. The apple with peanut butter was probably the healthiest part of that lunch (although swapping white rice for brown and replacing the hideous ranch dressing with olive oil and lemon juice would’ve made a nutritious meal for a busy student on the go).
The questions and scientific back-pedaling keep coming, however.
Daily headlines announce yet another problem with our food system. Yesterday, it was canned soup. Before that, carrageenan. UTI-inducing chicken meat, tuna scrape, pink slime, GMOs, 2,4-D defoliant drift.
It’s enough to paralyze one in the grocery aisle.
But for me, this mile-long list of problems is amazing. Wonderful.
Because at last, people are stopping to ask: Why is this in our food system, and should it be there? Should we really cut out sugar and grains? Is dairy bad for everyone, or just some? Should we reduce our intake of red meat? Should we give up meat entirely? Are self-proclaimed organic companies on the up-and-up in terms of authentic ingredients? Do GMO foods impact long-term health (or short-term, for that matter)? Is the USDA helping or hurting? How can we reign in Monsanto?
These questions have to be asked, and they are being asked. And publicized. And debated.
All in all, it’s a really great time to be a home cook, gardener and foodie.
What’s remained consistently true, thankfully, is the integrity of the home garden. I use only organic methods, so I know exactly what is going into the soil that is nourishing the food growing out of it. No dioxins. No pesticides. No chemistry-set fertilizer compounds. And absolutely no Round-Up (anywhere in the yard).
When you grow your own food — even if it’s just a pot of tomatoes on the patio, or herbs in the kitchen window — you’re taking back a little bit of control of your own food system, your own health.
And to that end, I have for you today a garden-fresh side dish. Super easy to pull together, and not a lick of artificial anything inside. Just loads of vegetable and quinoa goodness. True, you might not grow these veggies at home, in which case I hope you have access to ethical local growers who do.
What does it mean today to “eat healthy”?
I don’t know for certain, but I’m optimistic that we’re on the right track to finding out.
Stuffed eight ball zucchini
2 round zucchinis, stem end removed (or any roundish squash that can be hollowed out)
1 cup cooked quinoa
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 small cucumber, diced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
3 basil leaves, sliced chiffonade
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
sea salt, to taste
Use a sharp knife to carve out the zucchini flesh from the shell, taking care not to break through the wall. Discard any big clumps of seeds and chop the zucchini flesh into small dices.
Combine the zucchini, quinoa, tomatoes, cucumber, scallions and basil in a medium bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice, and toss to mix. Taste, and add salt as needed.
Spoon the mixture into the hallowed-out zucchini shells and serve.