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Meat and potatoes for the 21st century

(post, Cynthia Lair)

In Michael Pollan’s 2007 article '“Unhappy he bemoans America’s lack of a traditional food culture. I see how “nutritionism” has usurped any traditional way of eating, and that fast food may have become the American food culture. But I disagree with the idea that we have lost any healthful “American” way of eating.  

I grew up in Kansas and witnessed a Midwestern food culture that has deep roots. My Aunt Phyllis also grew up Kansas, just outside of Newton, in the 1920s. She was raised on food harvested from the local land: wheat grown on their acreage went into flour for freshly baked bread; beef, chicken, and eggs were provided by the family farm or a neighbor; pickles and canned peaches were put up from the summer harvest. 

It all made for simple, hearty sustenance. The big meal was at noon, while suppertime was light, just a small plate of leftovers. People worked hard, and eating well was their reward.
I teach cooking at a local food co-op in Seattle. Their most popular classes feature "ethnic" cuisine, such as Thai food. I love coconut curry soup, but I'm no expert in Thai cooking. Instead, I chose to teach a meat-and-potatoes class, featuring food from America’s heartland. 

There is so much you can do with two pounds of roast, plus lots of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, herbs, apples, pears, and cabbage — all of which are still in season right now. Choose grass-fed beef and keep the meat portions small in proportion to the vegetables, and you've brought the classic meat-and-potatoes meal up to date. 

I feel strongly that if we dig a little deeper, if we travel back to a time when “convenience” wasn’t the primary objective, and if we tweak the proportions and portions a tad, there's a perfectly healthy food culture waiting to be rediscovered in the heartland.

These days, my Aunt Phyllis is well into her 80s and claims she’s having the most fun of her life. She sings with a choir, quilts, does water aerobics, and emails the family. Her strong constitution has served her well. 
p(blue). Editor's note: Here's Cynthia's take on pot roast with vegetables, or what might better be called vegetables with pot roast.

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