Over the last few years I’ve heard it all. Eat less fat! Eat fewer carbs! Eat organic! Don’t eat meat! Don’t eat grains! Don’t eat dairy! Eat more kale! You must combine this micronutrient with this other nutrient or else the world will end and all your fat will go to your thighs! Eat real food!
Eat real food…?
This is a concept I’ve had to weigh on my heart lately. Is the choice to eat “real food” such a luxury? Is it really just for those who have the means to spend well on their food? If I find myself in a place where food is a real struggle to keep on the table, must I resign to eat manufactured franken-foodstuffs or else fall under the scrutiny of those who believe I am naïve and don’t know what poverty truly feels like?
To me, real food is that which sustains us. That which has always sustained us. What has been given to use to eat. To me, eating real food has a certain sense of responsibility with it. Of accountability. Sustainability. Stewardship. Eating real food goes beyond the label we choose at the grocery store, brand name or dietary dogma. A certain sense of respect for what we have been given. A gratitude.
I pondered this the other day while I was making chips and salsa. Edgar wanted chips and salsa from Chili’s and I told him we had all the stuff to make it at home. I already had some fermented salsa in the fridge. The only matter was to cook up some corn tortillas and fry them into chips.
As I stood there, patiently, transferring five or six triangles of corn tortilla at a time in the smoking pan of pig fat (I always feel like I’m going to burn the house down when I fry), I thought about one of Michael Pollan’s rules: “eat all the junk food you want, as long as you make it yourself.” Yes, I was sitting here in a sweaty kitchen, making everything smell like lard, and I realized that eating real, local food doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.
The tomatoes, jalepenos, and onions that made up 98% of that salsa came from the local farmers market. They aren’t organic, but nothing here really is. I figure that what a home gardener sprays on his plants pales in comparison to what mass-produced vegetation receives. Plus, they’re cheaper and they’re fresh, and I personally know the man who grew them for me. You can’t put a price on that.
Now, I could arguably order some sprouted flour online and pay an extra $10 to have it shipped half-way across the country to my house, or I could respect the fact that I live in the Southwest, and little grows better in this region of the world than corn. The native peoples of this area figured out a long time ago how to make corn digestible and more nutritious. Nixtamalization is the term used to treat maize with lime (calcium hydroxide. not the fruit), and it is a practice still used today. I can go to the store down the street, pick up a two-dollar bag of masa harina (nixtamalized maize that has been dehydrated then ground into a flour) and make countless traditional (and not so traditional–tortilla chips are not at all traditional!), naturally gluten free foods without ever visiting a health food store.
Next, the lard. Ever wonder what people used to fry food in before the invention of industrial peanut oil and Crisco? Animal fat. I’m totally over the concept of fat from responsibly-raised or wild animals being bad for you. Plus, at $1.50/lb from my local rancher, lard is far, far cheaper than coconut oil, olive oil, and pastured butter. Who said eating locally, traditionally, and, in my opinion, healthfully, needed be expensive?
Perspective, I think. Is a dish best served with jalapenos and salt.