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Eating to My Ideal

(post, DawnHeather Simmons)

When I pull up this website on my browser, the tab at the top of my screen says, “Culinate – Eat to Your Ideal.”  I’ve been thinking a lot about that, because I find that this website speaks to me on a lot of different levels.  To be sure, the writing herein is articulate, literate, thoughtful, provocative, at times, absolutely sublime.  The recipes are intriguing.  The personalities are charming and fascinating.  I spend a lot more time here than anywhere else; wanting to read every word, try every recipe, explore every point of view, visit every farmers’ market.  But what does this mean to me:  Eating to My Ideal?  

I’m thinking that each of us has an “ideal” that isn’t quite exactly like anyone else’s.  Probably that goes without saying.  Still, I’d guess that pretty much all of us are working toward an ideal of eating mostly fresh, whole, sustainably-raised foods, found locally and in season as much as possible, and prepared mostly in our own kitchens in ways that respect the ingredients as well as our bodies.  And yet, I’m sitting here at 4 in the morning eating a leftover slice of big chain delivery pizza from last night, and drinking a glass of diet carbonated horror that was delivered with it.  And do I feel guilty?  Well, a little.  But maybe only a little.  

My mom was a good cook.  But the standards of the 50’s and early 60’s, when I was young, weren’t the same as the standards we have now.  She also had to deal with a husband who was a phenomenally picky eater – Mr Meat-and-Potatoes, whose only green vegetable choices were canned asparagus, canned spinach (drowned in white vinegar), canned green beans, and guacamole when we ventured out for our weekly Mexican food fix.  Dad liked it, so we ate Spam®.  When we ate salads, it was iceberg lettuce, and nothing else.  We didn’t eat hot dogs at home because Dad didn’t like them.  That was probably a good thing.  But we also didn’t eat cucumbers, broccoli, cantaloupe (or any other type of melon), or Brussels sprouts because Dad not only didn’t like them, but wouldn’t allow them in the house!  I was in my early 20’s before I ever tasted an artichoke, even though they grew on farms only a few miles away from where I grew up.  I’ve only recently learned to appreciate fresh asparagus!  And, because we were sorta poor, we ate a lot of beans (which Mom didn’t like, but fixed for the rest of us because Dad, amazingly, did), and “casseroles” that mostly consisted of hamburger, shell noodles, and tomato sauce, topped with cheddar cheese.  I still like, and eat, a lot of beans.  Thankfully, to this day, I have never once eaten a casserole with hamburger in it since I left home.  For about a year, I remember my mom kinda going on strike – and my brother and I ate TV dinners (the old kind, in foil trays), in hog heaven and too youthfully stupid to realize it was supposed to be a sort of punishment for not appreciating her efforts at feeding us.  

In spite of this, my brother grew up to become a chef, and worked in some very nice restaurants all over the Bay Area, including one that had a four star Michelin rating.  And I haven’t done so badly, myself, although I’ve never reached – or reached for – the heights that he did.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, we were all fat.  And, as we aged, we all came into the kinds of health problems that can be expected.  Mom and Dad are both gone, now, as is my brother.  And my legacy, such as it is, has brought me here.  

I love food.  I love everything about it, from planning meals and shopping for the raw ingredients of what I cook, to cooking and eating – everything.  I read cook books for fun.  I also enjoy reading books about food, food history, and food policy.  These subjects all fascinate me.  The way that food appeals to all my senses ignites my passions like nothing else.  I’m a decent enough cook.  I remember a friend once saying he wished, just once, he’d have a “just mediocre” meal at my house.  Truth to tell, I eat my share of mediocre meals, but I’m careful never to have them happen when I’m feeding anyone else!  But largely, I look at food as one of the great pleasures of my life, and a celebration, even when I am celebrating it alone.

I do try to eat a better diet than I used to – and mostly succeed.  Oh, yes, I still succumb to the big chain delivery pizza from time to time.  And I do still crave things from my childhood that I know are not really healthy to my aging adult self.  But, on the whole, I eat a lot more fresh produce and a lot more whole grains, and a lot less red meat than I used to.  Actually, I just plain eat a lot less than I used to!  And I generally eschew things I know I won’t enjoy, or might find disappointing (like, for instance, desserts – which, in my experience, are almost never are as good as they sound on a menu!).  I buy organic more often than not, have subscribed to a CSA for the last few years, shop farmers’ markets when I can, and try to eat only seasonal produce even when shopping at the super-mega-mart.  I haven’t totally cut out packaged, processed foods, but usually only have them when I’m feeling needy and craving “comfort foods” from my childhood.  Some of those things (like packaged potatoes au gratin) are things I hated when I was growing up, but now that I’m alone, sometimes they lurk in my memory like a pain that will not be ignored, but to which I must surrender and succumb.  Having them the way they tasted when I was young feels like a hug from my mom.  I haven’t learned how to make them from real ingredients because I know they wouldn’t be the same, and although they would probably be better – and almost certainly better for me – they wouldn’t have the emotional impact that I crave.  Food does sometimes have emotional content as well as nutritional.  

For my efforts, I’ve taken off a lot of weight (but am still a big woman).  I’ve become a mildly-activist supporter of CSA, sustainable agriculture, organics, and a locavore diet.  Many of my health problems have somewhat improved, but certainly not gone away.  

For me, I think eating to my ideal is not an end-point, but a journey.  I may never reach someone else’s ideal, and that’s okay with me.  As I become more conscious – more conscientious – I am improving, little by little, all the time.  And maybe that’s the best I can ask of myself.  Life, in all its sloppy elegance, is a process.  It doesn’t demand perfection of us, even when we unreasonably demand it of ourselves.  

So eat.  Eat well.  Eat to your ideal!