Enough with the gross food

I heard an interesting interview on our local public radio station this morning: it was with former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler, who's just come out with a book about overcoming our (largely American) tendencies to eat way too much horrible food that's bad for us. He talked about studies in neuroimaging that have been done recently, wherein participants have eaten sugar, fat, and salt, and had brain scans taken to see how their brains and bodies responded. Apparently, when we eat foods that are high in these substances, it doesn't actually satiate our hunger; rather, it stimulates it, so that we just want to eat more and more. Think buttered popcorn. He also talked about how eating these foods creates pleasurable memories in our brains that we then seek to replicate, and since makers of fast and processed foods are catching onto this, they're figuring out any way they can of triggering the pleasant memories to make us want more of their foodish substances. Even high-end restaurants load their food down with fat, salt, and sugar, though it really doesn't have to be like that. Kessler suggests that the real way to combat one's overeating is to recognize what's making us crave certain foods at the moment we start to crave them, and to create positive memories around eating healthfully that will cancel out the positive memories of eating a bunch of crap (my word, not his). He also said that exercising, even a bit, is key, because once a person gets into a habit of exercising, that desire to do good things for their body and overall health spills over into eating. I can personally attest to craving really healthful foods like turkey, avocado, tomatoes and sprouts after working out, so I know that's true.

As I was driving home, contemplating the interview, I saw a billboard with a tall soda cup with ice and fizz at the top, a Coca-Cola logo, and a McDonald's logo: a triple whammy of triggers to make me think I needed to go to the drive-thru and buy a cup full of sugar. Incidentally, I decided a few years ago that it's no accident that the golden arches look a bit like McDonald's french fries, and their logo is so ubiquitous that it would be hard to drive/walk around a city without thinking you need fries at some point. And then I thought about the green Starbucks logo and green awning that somehow make me think I need a caffe mocha every time I see it, even though I don't actually need it and could make one at home for about 50 cents even if I did. They have the coffeehouse mentality working to their complete advantage. And then there are all those ads for indulgent foods that tell you to "treat yourself" or that "you deserve it". Well, Person Who Created the Ad, I think what I deserve is to be happier about the food I put in my body and to cancel out some of the bad food choices I've been making lately. So there.

Enter our first CSA basket and today's lunch.

We picked up our CSA basket yesterday, so we have bags and piles of fresh produce in the house that we have to eat up or freeze within a few days. It's like a challenge: "What can YOU do with 3 pounds of tomatoes, two bags of field peas, a bag of yellow wax beans, two eggplants, three zucchinis, two enormous green bell peppers, arugula, and tarragon? Tell us: what IS your strategy? Okay, GO!"

My lunchtime strategy ended up being a made-up wax bean and pasta dish, which I paired with a salmon fillet that I just picked up at the store this morning. I marinated the salmon in orange juice and balsamic vinegar, then cooked it in the toaster oven while I made the bean pasta dish. I boiled some yellow wax beans for a few minutes, then added some rigatoni noodles (about a 2:1 ratio of beans:noodles) and cooked them until the pasta was tender and beans were done, about ten more minutes. I drained them and tossed them with a touch of olive oil, some grated parmesan, some cherry tomatoes from the farm, and some fresh basil from my garden. Kent got his beans and pasta without basil or tomatoes, since I actually wanted him to attempt to *eat* it, and I knew he wouldn't be impressed by the tomatoes or by something green. He liked the noodles and at least tasted the beans, and shock of shocks, he absolutely loved the salmon. I had been worried that the fillet was a little bit too big for one person, but Kent must have sensed my worry and used it as an opportunity for growth. I haven't fed him much fish since he's generally been pretty unimpressed with it, but he did enjoy it today. Probably means he won't the next time I make it for him.

Tonight's dinner furthered the mission of using up good vegetables: I made ratatouille and served it over grits with a baguette on the side. My recipe suggested serving it with polenta, but I'm from North Carolina, so I made grits. It was good, but I think I might deconstruct it a bit next time, roasting the vegetables and then putting it all together instead of making it in just one pot, to help with the texture of the eggplant in particular and to give everything a nice roasty flavor.

I've been thinking a lot today about making more positive memories around fresh, healthful foods. Being part of this CSA and growing some of my own veggies and herbs are both huge aspects of this, especially since Kent is part of both experiences and is really living up his inaugural gardening days. Grilling and eating on our patio, or enjoying sushi and edamame outside on a pleasant day, or remembering how it felt to eat fresh nectarines and cherries on the pebble beach in Nice — these are all the kind of things I want to focus more on.

So enough with the gross food. I've done a pretty good job in the last few years about cutting out highly processed foods, but I'm now declaring a moratorium (probably only temporary, but you guys can help hold me to it) on fast food going into my tummy. I can make food that's SO much better.

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I heard the part of the interview about exercise. My uninformed theory is based on 'never sweat on purpose' so is not too valid, but involves walking fast enough and just long enough to feel that you want to stop walking and then instead of stopping, just slow down. Do this when you feel tired as well as when you feel like walking. I find that if I start out tired I end up energized.

Also, I flunked a test required to get into a blood pressure study. I had too low a body-fat index (or some such thing) and my blood pressure was too low. So much for my last checkup showing elevated blood pressure!

Your picture of salmon and veggies is really good. I love your style of making food. I bet Kent will continue to eat salmon, it is unlike other fish, and my favorite. I could eat salmon every day.

BTW, I think that fancy coffee drinks are junk food too - likely physiologically as bad as a big mac. But there is a time that it fills a special hole in my being.
Since Emerson came I have been on a pizza kick. One handed food is my friend... but, I am not eating nearly as good as I'd like, partly because he seems to be colicy whenever I eat fresh, raw veggies. Ahh! Down with my whole regular summer diet... But you know what? I am going to try again. Salad for dinner tonight.
Oh, yeah... and the mocha thing. It is a serious problem...
ps- my word is "loaned"
Great post!

I've been totally challenged by our CSA boxes. Quick, think of 100 things you can do with so many different greens!!! I envy your tomatoes...soon enough, soon enough. We're finally on to cukes and broccoli.

The other cool thing about the CSA box (which I hope to blog about soon) is eating in season for your particular region. We're used to having so much variety available to us. But eating in season is eating a bunch of what is available, and really having to get creative when you're faced with 10lbs of three different kales. Again. And Again.
Yeah, Jeannette, I feel really lucky to have our long growing season down here, and to have a farm that is producing stuff I already know how to cook with, for the most part. I would have no freakin' clue what to do with *any* kale, let alone 10 pounds. I'm stymied enough by my little bag of arugula for the week. =)
My mother makes a kale (or collard, whatever is available) soup that is very simple and absolutely delicious. I could eat leafy greens for the rest of my life! I've been lucky to grow up with parents who have lived in a tropical region much of their lives--a real thai diet consists of many more *fresh* (unadulterated, un-stir fried) vegetables than what you find in restaurants, so my sister and I have always grown up eating lots o' the fresh stuff.
Make a salad with that arugula...

Cherries in Nice are one of my favorite memories. Ahhhhh.
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