We Are What We Eat – Food Musings


Remember when deciding what to eat every day was a relatively easy process? I’m not just talking about when you were all still living in your parents’ homes. In that case the answer usually was, “Whatever I decide to fix,” courtesy your mother/father/primary caregiver. [Hence the peas episode I wrote about several months ago.]

For the most part, as soon as you developed the ability to control what you put in your mouth, you ate what you craved (or ‘fancied’ for those readers in the UK), right? Certain moods or feelings match the foods that you want. What I’m talking about here is more the point at which we learned about how to eat and what was supposedly good for us to eat.
While there is no one, sure-fire way that I’ve found to figure it all out, it was interesting to note that this month’s issue of Food & Wine chose to highlight “How to be an Eco-Epicurean.” There are articles about various restaurants, tips about green products, recipes that are supposed to be healthier. Celia Brooks Brown, an American based in the UK, talks about vegetarian cooking. I took a course from her at Books for Cooks when I lived in London, and have always thought that she has some great food ideas.
I’ve been a long-time subscriber to the magazine so it was interesting to see them try to tackle this topic. This comes during an era when there is a major battle over the production of fois gras in the United States and bans on imports of Caspian Sea caviar have been implemented. It also comes during the period when the Greenmarkets in New York are celebrating their 30th birthday, as I wrote about a few weeks ago.
So, how do we figure out what we are supposed to be eating and how much of it is good for us to eat? Do you recall 4-4-3-2 Mulligan Stew*? Did you have that little workbook where for a week you had to fill out what you ate at each meal and then see if it fit into the food groups? Weren’t those cartoons kind of weird and creepy?
I’m sure that Fairfax County cared what I was eating and that I was getting a balanced diet prior to my entering 4th grade, but that was when they rolled that particular nutritional program out to us (along with the first of weeks of coursework on the American Civil War, but that is another story entirely). That was also the first time I had actually had to think about and consider how and what I was eating. Those school lunches (fish sticks, Jello® cups, Friday’s pizza squares, and all) were, I’m sure, part of the whole nutritional process. Even Salisbury steak must have fit in there somewhere, as well.
During elementary (or primary) school, these lunches were pretty standard. Then, in intermediate and high school we were able to make other selections. If I decided in secondary school to have French fries and a milkshake for lunch, no one was there to stop me. [For the record, I think I did that only a few times.] The lessons of that health unit had faded quickly during the intervening years.
Then, recently, we were told by the U.S. government that that wasn’t right after all, we were now supposed to follow the food pyramid. All that early nutritional education was just thrown away. I’ve tried to work with the parameters that the pyramid lays out, but I quickly decided I’d need to take more advanced mathematics to get everything to fit together. It was a bit too fussy to me. How did it all get so complicated?
To top it off, we’ve had loads of scares about the safety of our food and issues over what and how we should be eating it. Organics, locally-produced, cruelty-free, free-range. It can all be a lot to, ehem, digest, when all one is trying to do is to put a healthy meal on the table. I try to eat as best I can, but it can sometimes be really challenging, given a busy, time-compressed lifestyle. [I’m also one of those people who prefer to get my daily nutrients from foodstuffs rather than taking pills to balance it all out.]
As The Smiths once sang, “Meat is Murder,” but it goes much deeper than that. Food has become very political and what we put in our bodies has become a more complex issue. Trends in food preparation and production influence what is available for us to feed our families. Shortages and bans (like that on beef products following the mad cow scare in Europe) raise the prices of items we might even consider to be the staples (as can happen with bad crop yields of citrus fruits in Florida). There even seem to be “fashionable” food items each year that hit the markets like the interest in ramps, garlic scapes, and diver sea scallops.
Elie Krieger did an entire show on the Food Network called “Out of Exile.” In it she cooked with food items that we’d all been told previously to put on our “naughty” lists. Now, the evidence has shown otherwise, that we can eat those things, as long as we don’t overindulge in them. This doesn’t make the issue of what to eat any less complex when the rules keep changing on us all the time between what are “good” and what are “bad” foods.
But my overall philosophy is one that I’ve heard others who try to guide those who feel overwhelmed by all this nutritional information: everything in moderation and nothing to excess. Sometimes it works and sometimes I eat a whole small batch of cookies in a few days, but, in general, this is something by which I do try to live. Hey, even Julia Child admitted to a fondness for a burger every once in a while!
*Just for the Record:
Mulligan Stew is an actual dish. Typing that phrase in Google™ will come up with several versions and recipes. I think that there might have been a recipe at the back of the workbook we used in 4th grade, but I can’t seem to find my copy at my parents’ house. I’m not sure that I’ve actually ever made it.
Special Shout-Outs:
RM – you worried about the melon and proscuitto appetizer being a bit overdone. This month’s Bon Appétit magazine has the River Café team listing it in their easy menu suggestion.
Jax – I’m not sure if they did it just for you or not but that same magazine gave Matisyahu’s album Youth as a recommendation for their summer playlists.
Kitchen Witch Tips:
Another one of my favorite food magazines is BBC Good Food. In New York City, various branches of Barnes & Noble carry it. It has other great suggestions using local produce and can be a good source of ideas for doing meals on a budget. It also carries a variety of articles on making better food choices each month.
To see what your “Eco Footprint” is, you can go to I found it interesting to see the impact of one’s lifestyle on the planet. Admittedly, not everyone and every community has the resources to be extremely conscientious, which the site acknowledges in its introductory section.


  1. jax

    ah, matisyahu…

    well, all i can say is this…if you are what you eat, i promise to be a crab on saturday, and i can’t wait!!!! :)

  2. theexperimentalgourmand

    And someone, hint hint, can be Tater Salad. It will be the little nieceling’s first crab feast as well. [sniff] they grow up so quickly and then we won’t be able to give her claws anymore.