In a previous post I wrote about lining up my behaviors and philosophies so that I’m living my life with as much authenticity as I can muster. I believe that the way we eat and the way live should also represent our philosophical beliefs, at least to some extent. I’m not hyper vigalant over it because it’s overly tempting to me to force myself into some level of perfectionism that would become constrictive over time. I have to keep my beliefs and behaviors flexible enough to adapt as I learn more, changing from who I was to who I am becoming. For me this is part of being a Christian and practicing good stewardship.
Many of you know I have PCOS, a metabolic disorder that is directly affected by my diet. Of all the diseases to give a cook, this is one of the most challenging. So anyway, for 10 years I’ve been coming to terms with my condition and trying my best to find a way of eating that makes my body feel strong and healthy while still being affordable. It must also taste good, provide meals that the family and I both look forward to eating, and (for me) be relatively low on the food chain.
Ideally this would mean remaining pescatiarian (vegetarian plus fish) but my family is no longer willing to eat this way. So next is pollotarian (adding poultry to the mix). Essentially this is a simple “No Red Meat” diet, not even close to vegetarianism, but still easier on world resources than a diet which does include red meat.
On my No-Red-Meat diet I am trying to reach several goals. First it must be affordable, even during our Famine times. On Feast weeks we can afford to eat pretty much however we like. The trouble is finding a diet we can afford to maintain during Famine weeks as well. The good news is that as long as I avoid organic items, continue cooking from scratch, shop the sales and stock up on staples when we can afford it, our current diet is deleriously affordable.
The next goal is keeping our diet full of whole foods and as close as possible to all-natural. I know I feel better when I eat natural whole grains and produce and avoid most convenience foods. I know it’s better for my family too. All Natural is one of those terms that each family must define for themselves. For some folks it means all organic. For other folks it means only fresh foods. For my family it means neither of these things. For us it’s more about avoiding additives such as Nitrates (or salt peter), MSG, and most ingredients that are hard to pronounce or understand. As much as I can afford to, I buy foods in their natural state.
One of the things I must be able to do though, is stock up when I have the cash, to see us through the lean months. This means making ample use of my freezer and pantry. So for us, canned and frozen goods must be a part of our diet, whether we like it or not. If we only ate fresh foods then there would be some times that we did not eat, a situation that I try to avoid due to past experiences. When looking for frozen items I stick with whole foods as much as possible. For instance plain frozen veggies, in large bags. They’re cheapest this way and the most versatile. Plus, since almost all frozen veggies must only be thawed or heated before eating, they offer a great deal of convenience as well. There is no peeling, stringing, chopping etc. Prep-work is already done.
Poultry is easy to buy fresh, repackage and freeze. I prefer not to buy chicken that is “seasoned” or injected with salt water or broth. As a matter of fact, I avoid it as often as I can. This is one of my biggest pet peeves about American poultry. At my stores 90% of the chicken they offer, and almost all of the pre-frozen pieces, are “enhanced” with up to 15% salt water. That means I’m paying chicken prices for water! Grrr! I hate that. For every 8-pounds of chicken I buy I get 7-pounds of chicken and 1-pound of water. Talk about a ripoff! I also don’t like the way enhanced chicken tastes. My practice is to look for sales and mark-downs and stock up on un-enhanced chicken when I can. Then stash it in the freezer and use it at my leisure. One of the reasons I almost never buy chicken leg-quarters anymore is because of the added salt-water. I would buy it if I had to, but right now the freezer is full of un-enhanced chicken, so at least for the moment, I can avoid it.
Other meats I freeze are ground turkey and turkey sausage. They haven’t been “enhanced” like chicken, so it’s a relatively easy matter to buy them when they’re cheap. I’ve also found turkey bacon and turkey franks without added nitrates (preservatives) so we’ve been using these even though they are a little more expensive. I wait for sales and stock up during Feast Weeks. Frozen fish fillets, while admittedly not as good as fresh fish, are affordable and keeps forever in the freezer. We’ve been eating frozen fish for so long that we’ve forgotten how good really fresh fish tastes and we dont’ miss it.
Because of our Feast and Famine lifestyle we make extensive use of canned goods. I prefer vegetables canned with no-added-salt and fruit canned with no-added-sugar. Natural food purists may not consider canned goods “whole foods” and they may be right. My perspective is that by choosing canned goods in as plain a form as possible I’m still abiding by my desire to choose natural foods. Main advantages of canned goods are that they’re cheap and keep for years on the pantry shelf. This is especially important to us due to our income fluctuations.
My favorite fresh vegetables are those which keep the longest in my fridge. These are usually the cheapest vegetables too. Cabbage, carrots, celery, turnips, onions, potatoes, radishes, sweet potatoes, whole heads of iceberg lettuce and ocassionally green peppers and cucumbers. Since most of these are inexpensive I’m usually able to afford them, even during lean months. I’ve tried to collect recipes that use them to full advantage. That’s one of the best way to save money–learn which products are cheapest in your area, and then develop or find family-friendly recipes that make good use of these products. At first it’s a bit challenging to do this, but it saves wads of cash in the long run.
Another goal is to give up processed sugar as much as possible. I tried using artificial sweeteners, but they’re just not cutting it for me. After re-reading my Sugar Busters! and South Beach books, I’m experimenting more with fruit and fruit juice concentrates as natural alternatives. Fruit and juice still have carbs, just like all nutritive sweeteners, but with a lower glycemic index, which is particularly important to folks with PCOS (like me) and Diabetes (like Fred). I’m also using small amounts of Barley Malt, both liquid and powder and Brown Rice Syrup. These are expensive, so I don’t use them often. Luckily my local Co-Op has sales on them now and then, so I buy 3 or 4 jars when the price is lowest. Barley malt and brown rice syrup are both high in complex carbohydrates so blood sugar rises relatively slowly.
Another food I’ve been researching is granulated Fructose. This should not be confused with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which is associated with several health problems including obesity and diabetes. Pure granulated fructose has not been associated with these same conditions. With a glycemic index of 28, it has a very low impact on blood sugar, something both Fred and I look for in sweeteners. Overconsumption of granulated fructose has been linked to higher cholesterol, so my intention is to use fructose when nothing else will work. It’s awfully yummy though and as easy to use as sugar in baking. Since it’s twice as sweet as sugar, half as much is needed. Fructose is controversial at the current time so it isn’t the right choice for everyone. I will mention that it is cheap when purchased in bulk from health food stores. This particular attribute makes it eaiser for me to use.
My final goal is to prepare and serve more veggies. My common practice is to do really well with veggies for a while and then slack off for a month or two. When I realize I’m not serving veggies like I should I repent, and do my best to mend my ways. Right now I’m mending my ways again. I dearly love veggies. Fred loves them too. The boys tolerate them for the most part. Since they see their dad and I munching out on them, I think it’s easier for them to follow our examples and eat them too.
Hope I haven’t bored anyone too much. Writing this stuff out makes it easier for me to understand what goals are, which in turn makes them easier to meet.