Evolving our Personal Food Identities

Have you ever stopped to think about why you eat certain foods and dislike others?
We all come into this world under different circumstances, different cultures and traditions.  Our parents are our first food teachers, passing down their knowledge and preferences with what they eat and prepare for us.  We learn with and without words what foods we like and what are suitable for consumption.  If our parents are limited in what they eat and prepare, we as children learn those habits as well.
As we get older, we experience the world beyond our family dinner table.  We try new things at the homes of friends, at restaurants and, if we are lucky enough to travel, foods outside our American borders.  Some people welcome new things with excitement and anticipation, while others approach them with fear and anxiety.  The way we eat is personal and a representation of our life experience so far.  We eat what we know, what we like and what is culturally acceptable.  Some people take their personal food identity even further, with a passion for learning and evolving, by seeking an understanding beyond what they already know and what the food advertising world tells us we should eat.
There is a lot of confusion in our country these days with ever-changing fad diets, food trends and “scientific studies” telling us what is or isn’t healthy.  Back in the 1970s we were told eating fat was bad for us, after that red meat was the bad guy, then sugar, and now it’s wheat.  Why is it we are so confused while other countries — Italy and France, for example — eat all the pasta, butter, bread and wine they want without a hint of guilt or confusion?  Michael Pollan, in his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” points out that America is a country without “a single, stable culinary tradition to guides us.”  We are a country of immigrants, each with different food cultures.  It is no wonder we feel so overwhelmed and confused when faced with the question of what to eat.  With so many options and thousands of new foods coming into the market each year, we can no longer rely on our inherent knowledge of what is “good” and “bad”.
Some people will choose to do nothing.  They will continue to eat what they grew up eating, what tastes good to them and what’s convenient.  And that’s fine.  Everyone is allowed their own path.  But for everyone else out there, confused and looking for answers, education and a openness to try new things is key.  We all get stuck in food habits because what we know is comfortable and we don’t have to put much thought into the process.   But taking ourselves out of the routine and trying something new can bring amazing results.
I spent the last two weeks on a detox diet, eliminating meat, dairy, sugar, caffeine and wheat from daily meals.  It was a challenge to come up with satisfying meals that were not based on meat or dairy. But it encouraged me to see mealtime in a whole new way, focusing more on plant foods like beans, vegetables and grains, and less on the easy, well-known animal foods.  Skipping any processed foods for that period shed fresh light on the whole grocery shopping experience, making me realize how much we as American rely on ready-made foods.  We’ve been conditioned to believe that we don’t have time to make a meal from scratch — and why bother if it’s already made for you? We’ve been convinced we don’t want to be like our mothers, spending hours in the kitchen.  But reading those labels, those processed meals are FAR from the original, with loads of unnecessary chemicals and unrecognizable ingredients, often lacking in the foods it should contain.
Those two weeks gave me an appreciation for foods in their natural state, of all the wonderful beans and grains that are underused in our culture.  I realize how easy it is to make my own foods from scratch, how it’s not as difficult as the food media wants us to believe, and how much better my body feels when I skip the packaged junk.  Being open to continually learning and growing when it comes to food we put in our body gives us a chance to reflect on what we believe and what we think we know.  It’s easy to take the word of some authority on the matter and not give it another thought, but do they really have our best interest in mind?
Skip reading the next “scientific study” or jumping on the bandwagon of the next food trend.  Take a cooking class to sharpen your kitchen skills.  Read a book like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”  Try some new recipes online.  Try a detox diet for a week.  Skip the processed junk and make food with a friend or invite your family into the kitchen to help out.

We may be a country without a single, stable culinary tradition, but with a little education and back-to-the-basics attitude, we have the opportunity to be a country with vast knowledge and ability to navigate our complicated food world with ease.

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Categories: food with kids

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3 Comments on “Evolving our Personal Food Identities”

  1. March 29, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    Great essay!

  2. April 2, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Hear hear! I became a farmer to expose myself to the joy of preparing foods I used to buy ready-made, and just to learn what was what in the vegetable, fruit, and grain kingdoms. Joining a CSA (weekly produce delivery) is another way to create your own food adventure. Both of the CSA farms in Walla Walla provide newsletters with info and recipes for new and beautiful vegetables. 🙂

  3. August 16, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Thank you. Inspired me to keep “chugging along” with these school kids and their parents.

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