There are only 2 days left in 2016. Pretty wild, right?
Even though the year is coming to a close, there is still some time to reflect upon a very important relationship in your life; your relationship with your food.
Below are some questions to get you started as well as 7 practical tips to help you engage with food differently this year. Maybe you are considering transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle (!) or are trying to focus on cooking more and eating out less. Maybe you find yourself wasting a lot of food each week or don't know how to eat in a way that is nourishing and healing.
Before you begin, spend 5-10 minutes answering the following questions to guide you in self-reflection. Write your responses in your phone, a notebook, or take note of them mentally. Then select 1 or 2 tips that you plan on incorporating this year. Note: I strongly encourage you to explore the self-reflection portion before reading the tips.
Now, set your intention + goal.
Determine how you are going to keep yourself accountable.
Challenge yourself, but also be honest and practical.
Be open to discarding what hasn't worked in the past with the intention of practicing something better.
QUESTIONS FOR SELF-REFLECTION
WHAT IS YOUR (REALISTIC) GOAL REGARDING FOOD AND/OR COOKING THIS YEAR?
DO YOU HAVE A FOOD BUDGET?
IF YES, IS IT WORKING?
IF NO, WHY NOT?
HOW DOES YOUR FAITH AND/OR SPIRITUAL LIFE INFORM THE FOOD YOU BUY/EAT?
DO YOU EAT ANY FOODS THAT MAKE YOU PHYSICALLY ILL OR EMOTIONALLY LOW/DEPRESSED?
IF YES, DO YOU KNOW WHAT THESE FOODS ARE?
1. Eat in season (when available).
In my experience, this is the biggest money saving tip when one is aiming to increase vegetable/fruit consumption (growing your own food if possible, is even better). Knowing what is in season will be determined by what region of the country and/or world you live in (click here for more state/region specific info on this). When you begin to realize what is in season you will save $$ because your money isn't going towards out of town/country traveling and storage expenses. You will also notice that the produce you are eating will taste a lot better/be more nutrient packed. In additional to taste and saving money, buying more seasonally can ensure more equitable wages for the black and brown folks that grew and harvested your food.
I have been on the East Coast (DC, NJ, PA) for 5 years but I am originally from San Diego County; the staples that include in my diet are dramatically different now. In the colder/winter months, I do not buy any fresh fruit besides apples, pears, and cranberries. I am way heavier on the vegetables (specifically greens and root crops/tubers) in the cold season. Since I can't successfully grow a mango or a watermelon in the middle of November in Philly I choose not to buy/eat them. This has not only been beneficial for the reasons listed above, but in a an instant-gratification society, it has taught me to wait -- to look forward to certain foods in different seasons and to be present by honoring what the Earth has provided for me right here right now.
2. Meal prep.
Cooking 4-5 times a weak can be hard, even though it is a huge money saver and you're more likely to eat food that is more nutritious. For those that are new to cooking consistently throughout the weak (or who want to start!) I really recommend meal prepping and picking only 1 or 2 dishes to make at a time. When you are cooking from whole, unprocessed foods, most of the prep times in chopping, washing, and boiling. Why not pick an evening or early morning to get this all out of the way? When food is already prepped, it is far, far less likely to go to waste.
Using onions and garlic in your dishes this week? Chop and mince what you need and stick them in a mason jar/glass container to use during the week (save the peelings in a bag in your freezer to make broth later on).
Making a big pot of black beans or using beans in your chilli/stew? Boil them on Saturday night so that you can cook them up on Sunday.
Buying a lot of collards, chard, spinach and kale for salads, soups, juicing/smoothies? Give them a good wash right when you get home and store them in your crisper immediately. I like to wrap mine in a slightly damp towel and store them in a reusable baggie; they stay beautifully crisp for at least a week (again, save the stalks in a bag in your freezer to make broth later on).
This is also a great way to involve kids, partners, roommates etc. when you are the primary cook in the home. It gives folks a concrete task to do and can help share the labor and makes for a more community-centered experience! In my experience, meal-prepping has also become a form of silent prayer that I often like doing alone on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday evening.
3. Say "yes" to fat.
Too often fat gets a bad rep, when it is something that is essential for so many functions in our body. There are important vitamins that we need every day (i.e. vitamins A, D, E and K) that would not be absorbed and available in our body without fat. We need fat for energy and proper cell growth, too.
While it is wise to be mindful of fried and processed foods it is harmful to eliminate it completely.
Let 2017 be the year that we choose our fat wisely. Some of my favorite sources of fat are coconut milk (full fat), coconut oil, tahini (sesame butter), avocado, almond and sunflower seed butter. These fats all come from plants, are relatively inexpensive, sold in most grocery stores/markets/corner stores/food coops, and add a wonderful layer of flavor to a meal
4. Up your herb + spice game.
Herbs and spices provide amazing flavor and healing benefits to the food that we eat. They are also inexpensive and pretty easy to grow. There are a lot of herbs (both fresh and dried) out there, which can be overwhelming, so I recommend focusing on exploring 1 or 2 new herbs at a time. Explore how your body responds in its various forms (i.e. dried, fresh, seed, powder, supplement). Some widely available ones that I recommend during the winter are sage, basil, thyme, turmeric, cloves, and cumin seed. Personally, I do not buy fancy, speciality store bought sauces and dressings because (a) they can get pricey and (b) I am not a fan of high fructose corn syrup, food colorings, and unnecessary 20+ chemical food ingredients. Herbs and spices are a great way to make your own sauces while also having actual control over what it is in them.
5. Make your own beverages.
This can be a touchy one for folks who are regularly on the go. I get it. Part of it is convenience and the other part is that it can make us feel important/trendy/good/cool/____ to walk around with our favorite organic coffee in a classically, non-descript to-go cup from our fave local shop. I am no exception. When I am extra busy/tired/stressed I can easily slip into the habit of buying a smoothie/juice from my favorite spot on my way home from work (even when I have stuff to make a decent smoothie at home). Maybe 2017 will be the year that we will not throw away hundreds of dollars (a month!) on beverages! Instead, invest on your favorite tea that you regularly buy at that coffee shop, or a blender, or a sturdy tumbler. Experiment with making your own version of your favorite latte or juice at home or the office in the morning. It'll likely have a lot less (refined) sugar, too.
6. Read. Read. Read.
Just because it is says 'ORGANIC' or 'VEGAN' doesn't mean that is real food. Processed food is processed food, whether it is vegan or not. Watch out for words like 'NATURAL', 'FAT-FREE', 'HIGH IN FIBER', 'CHOLESTEROL-FREE', 'GLUTEN-FREE', 'CONTAINS WHOLE GRAINS', '100% RAW SUGAR' -- a lot of times these words are marketed by the very same parent companies that sell regular junk food. These foods are often just as laced with tons of sugar, salt, and additives as foods that you may be trying to avoid. This especially goes for meat-less/fake meat products (which I do not recommend).
Don't just read the ingredient list; read the nutrition fact label, too. When looking at the Percent Daily Values (DV), pay attention to anything that has at least a 20% or more. Anything less than that, isn't a significant source of vitamins or minerals.
7. Incorporate heritage foods.
This year, I have had the opportunity to teach several African Heritage food workshops where we have really dove into the history behind African diasporic food from the Caribbean, South America, Africa, and the US American South. I also found out this year that my husband and I both have maternal ancestral lineage from the same tribe in Sierra Leone. Both of these experience has shifted me in a very deep way. As I have begun regularly incorporating herbs, grains, and crops that have survived the horrors of chattel slavery and genocide, I feel more grounded and resilient. In a "health food culture" that tends to cycle through the "new superfoods" (a term that is heavily Western and colonized in meaning) devoid of any cultural or political understanding of what said foods have meant to African and Indigenous communities for centuries, reclaiming these foods as a part of diet has been a form of resistance + decolonization. I encourage those with African diasporic heritage to go back and discover and I encourage those who eat chia seeds, quinoa, and anything from a coconut to do research on where these foods came from as well as whose they belong to.
If you are in the Philly area, I highly encourage you to check out my friend Pascale's art and food exhibit "Dishes of the Diaspora" at the Philadelphia Folklore Project. It is a love offering for us as much as it is an oral and visual food history.