I pulled out some of my favorite tips and takeaways (with quotes) from the audio course launched last week on Knowable, called How To Eat Now. Most of these things are so ingrained in my day-to-day cooking, shopping, and eating that I hardly even think about them any more. Like anything, it takes some time to make them habits, but probably less than you’d think. Towards the bottom, there are also a few tips from the wonderful Holly Haines, (including her “Thanksgiving tray” revelation, which, honestly, kind of blew my mind). Whether you plan on listening to the course or not, I hope you find these useful. They’re all below, in no particular order (just scroll down). See you Friday.
1) Shop local (how to work with the broken food system): “What can you do to get good food into the house when the system is conspiring against you doing that? A lot of it depends on how much time and money you have, because if you have plenty of both, you can do an awesome job of this. If you’re limited in both, then it becomes trickier. But anything you can do to shorten that supply chain is positive.”
2) Avoid fake meat: “If you want to eat less meat: eat more vegetables, eat more legumes, eat more whole grains. Don’t eat more processed food, which is what the substitution of Impossible Burger for a Whopper really is.”
3) Buy fewer animal products, so you can spend your money on better animal products: “Buy [meat] from the farm itself. You have to buy it from a mail order place that convinces you that they’re telling the truth and they exist. You have to buy it at a farmer’s market or at a meat CSA, community supported agriculture, where again, you get to meet the farmer. And… because you’re eating less meat, it doesn’t have to become a full time job. Most of us live in areas, where within 20 or 30 miles… there is somebody raising good meat.”
4) Train your taste buds to crave nutritious food by cutting out junk food: “We can also decide to like most of the food that’s best for us because our taste buds are very… agnostic. Our taste buds can be appealed to by a wide, wide variety of flavors, not necessarily flavors like, ‘Oh, this is the only thing you can eat,’ or flavors like, ‘Oh, this is what you’re hotwired to eat…”
5) Set aside one day to cook for the rest of the week: “I’m talking about periodically cooking three or four times as many whole grains as you need for one meal and putting them in the refrigerator or even in the freezer in meal size bags or containers… It’s really a form of learning how to think about how to provide yourself with the food you want to eat and making that a priority and saying, ‘I’m going to set aside a couple hours and cook, not for just dinner tonight, but for dinner Tuesday, for lunch Wednesday’ and so on.”
6) Don’t fuss too much over buying organic everything: “The Environmental Working Group has a list updated annually called the Dirty Dozen, which says these are the fruits and vegetables that are most likely to have high concentrations of pesticides on them. If you’re going to start looking for organic fruits and vegetables, these are the ones that you should look to first. And if you can’t do that for reasons of convenience or affordability, then these are the vegetables and fruits that you should wash most carefully. So you want to try to look for organic if it’s convenient and affordable.”
7) Swap out some ingredients in your standby recipes. “I spent some years trying to think what the most fundamental recipes are…and I came up with these three: rice and beans, chopped salad, and stir fry.” The methods of cooking grain and legumes are pretty straightforward and pretty simple— but the varieties are endless. Try swapping in some new core ingredients to your favorite recipe. What about swapping quinoa for rice; or adding leftovers (cooked vegetables, smoked barbeque, whatever), radishes, or beets to your salad?
8) Make friends with flavor and spices. “Flavor profiles are so important because understanding them can unlock so many wonderful meals.” Changing the profile of your salad dressing or stir fry sauce is quick and easy—but it can make you feel like you’re traveling around the world.
9) Try making bread. Ok, this isn’t a new idea—obviously, if you’ve been on Instagram at all lately, you know that making sourdough has had a resurgence! But for those of you who are intimidated by making bread, reconsider. Making no-knead bread is really pretty quick and easy (I swear!) and it adds oomph to any meal. “I don’t want to get too romantic here, but bread making is a thing, and for some people it’s a magical thing—it’s not like the rhythm of very many things in life, and it really approaches music and art in a way that most other cooking doesn’t.” It’s pretty inspiring.
10) Consider being vegan before six, or before noon. I invented the “VB6” (vegan before six) diet a while ago. It’s not really the time that’s important—but rather, the idea of experimenting with short bouts of veganism. I think that it’s important to keep saying that “the diet that’s best for you is also the diet that’s best for the planet”—which involves eating fewer animal products. It also forces you to get outside your comfort zone and get creative with your recipes!
11) From Holly: Make one impressive homemade thing when having guests over. The trick is to find the thing that will make your guests say “wow,” that is not actually that difficult. “I like to do one like ‘wow’ sort of impressive homemade thing. So maybe it’s a lasagna, but I make the noodles or I make the ricotta from scratch. So just one element of something from scratch and homemade. And that just sounds super impressive to people until you tell them it’s milk, lemon juice, and 45 minutes.”
12) From Holly: For Thanksgiving, give everyone their own wicker tray, plate, and silverware, let them grab their food and eat where they like. “It’s just a cute little wicker tray, and everyone has their paper plates and their plastic forks and knives…It works out. There are couches everywhere and seating outside, and people just kind of cop a squat and use trays.” (Holly’s best friend’s mom has been doing this for decades; it strikes me as a brilliant idea in general, but may be particularly useful for a relatively socially-distanced Thanksgiving.)
13) Have an “empty the refrigerator” party! This practical bent to a party theme can yield fun and creative results. And it empties your refrigerator so you can start fresh!
14) Last but not least…keep it simple. Remember: you don’t have to get super complicated to make food that’s exciting and delicious. As I say in the course, “most of all, I want you to know that simple food is the best and that learning a simple approach to food can absolutely transform your life.”
We produce reported pieces, profiles, interviews, and rants about what’s broken in the food world (there’s a lot) and how to change things for the better. People sometimes tell me to just keep politics out of it. Respectfully: No. Food is political. We can’t and won’t ignore that.