As the weeks of my ex-pat experience dwindle down I’ve been doing a lot of thought and reflection. When it comes to food I have changed immensely in the past two years. Not all positive, mind you. Adopting a new culture often means adopting practices you may have once deemed unhealthy, but as far as world travel goes, this isn’t always a bad thing. Regardless of that, today I want to focus on the positive changes.
These changes have only partly been due to where I’m physically located. I obviously have access to more produce at less expensive prices. However, other things are simply due to the fact that I found myself with some time to learn and focus on what being healthy truly means for me.
A few of the positives…
Sodas are not part of my diet anymore and neither are artificial sweeteners.
My body has been exposed to all kinds of additional vitamins and antioxidants through once exotic foods like acerola and açaí.
Very few packaged foods are still part of my diet.
I’m cooking much more from scratch despite my half-sized oven, sweltering days and a kitchen that is functional, but not my favorite.
I’ve had cooking on my mind a lot lately. Obviously, I love it. In many ways I view it as a source of stress relief. Funny since on occasion a failed dish may result in even more stress, but overall it’s a good thing.
I often think about all the people I’ve come across in my life who claim to either hate cooking or be horrible at it. I find this view both interesting and thought provoking.
For some reason, perhaps because we have so many options to turn to that require little or no actual cooking, we have classified it as an art, a luxury and a hobby. For those who dislike it, it’s a chore and one they choose not to do.
Because we don’t necessarily have to do it anymore as a means for food source and for survival, we separate ourselves from the act which gives us permission to term ourselves a good or bad cook or regard the action as one we either love or hate.
At what point did we start to view cooking in this manner? Was it due to busyness, lack of motivation, availability of packaged foods? Likely a combination of them all.
Cooking always seems to be the one thing to go when it comes to a busy lifestyle. I struggle with it too.
I had a lot of free time when we first moved abroad, but then I started working towards my freelance writing career and the free time was soon gone. Many days I feel I am busier than I was working outside the home in an office job. Time for cooking from scratch dwindled. Now I’m at the point where I wonder how strong the temptation will be to overlook it when I move back to the U.S. I cooked a lot before we moved in order to save spending on eating out, but I also used a lot of convenience foods that I no longer want to return to.
There was an article this week in the Washington Post about a mom who took on the challenge to recreate some of the fast foods her teenagers were spending their money on, proving that eating at home is both cheaper and better. While these types of articles just reiterate what I know in my heart to be true, they are such a great form of motivation for me and a reality check for those who are skeptical.
So of all the ways that this experience has changed me it has shown me that cooking is a necessity. There is no debate. Sure, eat out and enjoy the masterpieces of others on occasion, but if you want health you must cook and you must cook using real foods. It’s not a matter of being good or bad at it, it’s just something you have to do.
I will continue to cook from scratch when we return to the U.S. despite a busy lifestyle, which regarding my work, I hope gets even busier. This is how I intend to do it.
View it as a challenge. We set fitness goals, financial goal and productivity goals yet goals in the kitchen don’t seem to be so popular for the general public. That should change.
Rely on one-pot meals, especially those I can cook ahead. I have a feeling my crock pot will be getting lots of use. I’ve really missed not having one here now that I’ve learned a lot about the natural foods I can cook in it.
Plan ahead, way ahead. I’ve always been a list maker and planned meals for the week, but now I want to carve out blocks of time to make pastas, stocks, breads and crackers to eat throughout the week.
Utilize the skills of my past. I know deep down inside me that all those hours spent watching my mom can and preserve produce from the garden taught me those skills. Now I just need to practice it.
Reevaluate the budget. We’ve always had a monthly budget for groceries and I would go twice a month. I now want to adjust things so that I buy more things upfront that will last longer. For example, grains in bulk and large amounts of grass-fed beef to freeze for a couple months. If a house comes about next year there will be a garden otherwise we’ll join a CSA and take better advantage of my father’s garden when possible.
Is cooking important to you? How do you manage it amidst your long to-do list?
Photo is a sampling of bamboo cooking utensils made by a gentleman at the local farmer’s market.
Lori Rice is a freelance writer, recipe developer, food photographer and nutritionist. Fake Food Free is a creative outlet that allows her to connect with people from around the world who share a love of travel, food culture and cooking.