I spend an awful lot of time thinking about food. From what treats I might whip up for a friend’s birthday to how I can use up an obscene quantity of [insert fruit here] that I bought discounted at closing time, cooking and eating are sacred pursuits in my books. My idea of downtime consists of attempting a recipe that’s been on my radar and thus far remained out of reach. A creative challenge, if you will. Or a stroll around the farmer’s market scouting out the freshest and juiciest. And to me, the best part of family time is the pot-luck style weekends we spend together where we each prepare and share something with the clan. Food is life and life is glorious.

There’s an additional set of rules that I play by though, as well as navigating a never-ending sea of deliciousness. They are as follows: sustainability is key and maintaining excellent health paramount. The non-compromisables are:

  1. Ingredients purchased must be naked or housed in minimal/recyclable packaging
  2. Ingredients purchased must be organic and/or local wherever possible; ideally both
  3. No meat, no dairy

I straddle the fence on:

  1. Honey: I’ll allow it if it’s local and/or organic
  2. Eggs: I’ll eat them occasionally if they’re from chickens who live in my neighbourhood, such as those that belong to a friend
  3. Sugar: I am a baker through and through, so I don’t treat it like the devil. I simply keep a check on how much I consume because I’m also trying to heal my endocrine system post-HBC

But something has been on my mind lately; something that worries me so. As I scrutenise the faddy food vibes of the times, I realise that there’s an undeniable impetus in our collective gravitation towards ‘clean eating’ or ‘superfoods’ as if they alone will be our saviours. As I’ve just mentioned – I have rules too, sure. But I worry when I see and hear food being treated as something that has a defined good and bad side. As if devouring a donut is akin to dancing with the devil.

An obsession with healthy eating (formally known as orthorexia) is an interesting one. Give it a cursory glance and you might wonder how on earth it could be a bad thing, but take a closer look and you see that it’s an addiction no better than any other. How can you expect food to save you if your entire body is riddled with anxiety swimming around every mouthful?

Have you seen that coconut oil is now considered akin to poison by Harvard scientist, Karin Michels? I mean, the statement is a little attention-grabbing in my opinion, but Michels highlights the important point that coconut oil does indeed contain 86% saturated fat, which is approximately 1/3 more than butter. And what do we know about consumption of saturated fats? They increase our risk of heart disease and stroke. The word butter is synonymous with obesity these days and coconut oil, well: the lean, mean millenial. But really, when you break it down chemically, it’s all much of a muchness, yet coconut oil has a remarkable cachet that fools consumers into believing that it can do no wrong.

These findings conflict with earlier studies that suggested that coconut oil may lower the risk of heart disease. We also known that it boasts antimicrobial properties which are excellent for the body. But to be treated as a panacea? That’s where things start to fall apart. Why is it that we’re so credulous?

Just as we want our skincare to miraculously perfect us, so too do we want our meals to cure all ailments and help us achieve the kind of perfection that we are exposed to every day via social media, television and the occasional glossy magazine. Unachievable perfection is the thing to strive for. We’re told that it’s real and well within our reach, if only we juice one more jug of greens.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I am a firm believer in the healing powers of food. A big vegetable soup sorts a cold right out and a homemade pesto pizza offers soul food not quite like anything else. But it’s foolish of us to think that eating well can compensate for other areas of our lives that need changing. It will also not help heal of all the inflammation one experiences by panicking that one too many grams of fat or sugar might have been consumed that day. All that stress, all that cortisol in the body, well….no amount of avocado-quinoa-kale salads are going to counteract that.

Optimal health is a multi-faceted state of being that depends upon adequate nutrition, but also mental and physical wellbeing. We know that stress leads to disease. Our lives are busy and they always will be. But if we’re not allowing meal times to be enjoyable and indulgent experiences because we’re too worried that what we’re eating might verge on dirty, we’re missing what’s there; what’s sacred: an opportunity to relax and enjoy ourselves, hopefully in good company.

I also wonder this: why is food getting all the attention? Am I the only one that thinks it’s just a little bit silly that we see no issues with continuing to pollute our seas with ton after ton of plastic and our air with an array of noxious fumes, cut down our rainforests and flood our coastlines and somehow focus all of our attention on what we eat as though it will somehow rectify the deeply unhappy state that we – as part of a collective organism that is life on Planet Earth – find ourselves in? Woah, took a dark turn, right? I don’t beat around no bush. If that’s what you’re after, probably better to go check out one of those clean-eating bloggers who will tell you that green juices are the answers to all of your problems.

Holistic health is the only approach to our wellbeing. True wellbeing. And part of what we need is an environment that is clean and supportive. In its current state, it is blighted; on bowed legs and desperately in need of the respect it deserves. As long as we continue to exploit it as we do, we continue to hurt our health. Yes, no matter the amount of fad foods that we force-feed ourselves. Glyphosate, a decline in bees, air pollution from all the VOCs, microplastics, light pollution, noise pollution…and we think that the quinoa will save us? It’s time to wake up and take a look around. If we spent half as much time on environmental preservation as we do obsessing about our daily juice, we might have a real shot at saving ourselves.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

 

 

Vegan Brownies

For the month of May, I’ve decided to take a break from all junk food. This isn’t as difficult as I’m sure it is for many others. Most of the time my meals are home-cooked, vegetable-dense and fresh. But my big thing is baking. I LOVE baking. And I bake frequently. But while I love the therapeutic process, it’s a lot of sugar. Let’s be honest. I guess it doesn’t affect me so much if I’m passing on the goods, but if they’re staying under my roof? Well…

These days, my cakes are vegan. And generally speaking the recipes I follow opt for sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, agave and date syrup whenever possible. Otherwise, it’s unrefined cane sugar. However, sugar is sugar at the end of the day. And then there’s flour. Too much flour isn’t the best either. SO I decided to put something I’d read about to the test: sugar-free, gluten-free brownies – wait for it – with just THREE ingredients!

This recipe is super quick, convenient and can be made ahead of time. I think of these brownies as both as a dessert and a snack. They’re a great bite to have after the gym, as a mid-morning snack at work, or to end a meal with a treat. I cannot recommend them enough.

Ingredients

3 Ripe bananas

2 Tbsp cocoa powder

1/4 Cup nut butter (in the below I’ve used almond butter, but I’ve also made mixing almond and peanut, or just using peanut. Experiment and let me know which is your favourite!)

Process

  1. Preheat over to 180 C and grease a small round or square brownie tin
  2. Blend all ingredients together
  3. Smooth batter into tin and bake for 20 minutes (or until inserted skewer comes out clean)
  4. Let cool completely
  5. Slice and refrigerate – these definitely taste best cold from the fridge. Voila!

3 Ingredient Brownies

Brownie Batter

Vegan Brownies

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Instagram Avocado

There’s no denying that these days there is a particular ideal that we strive for. Or feel we ought to strive for. It’s the kind of lifestyle that all the healthy lifestyle ‘become a green goddess’ sites are flogging. All the top Instagrammers are snapping it. All the popular Youtubers are promoting it. It’s the chia-seed-sprinkling, smoothie-bowl-consuming, yoga-doing, quinoa-basking lifestyle. Haven’t you heard of it?

What ever happened to eating local? That one fell by the wayside some time ago, I guess. It’s not trendy enough to consume different variations of root vegetables in the UK in winter time. God forbid we shine the spotlight on bread and potatoes to get us through the coldest months! No, let’s focus on imported goods that really aren’t that fresh or tasty by the time they get to us. At least in comparison to their foreign brothers and sisters. Eat a Mexican avocado and you won’t even be able to look at the ones in Sainsbury’s next time you’re in there.

So I’m totally going to put it out there: I AM GUILTY! I am a maple-syrup-drizzling, almond-milk-drinking, tofu-wolfing, guacamolivore through and through. I love food and am forever experimenting with new recipes, preferably void of animal-derived ingredients.

However, the gut instinct tells me that it really is best to eat local. Because local is fresh. Fresh is highest in nutrients. Nutrients = body love. So I’ve compiled some research on some of my fashionable, imported staples to look at the environmental footprint that I am contributing to.

  1. QUINOA: a grain generally eaten like rice. It’s gluten-free and easy to digest, plus packed with loads of essential vitamins and minerals. Is it any wonder that this crop with the frequently-butchered name is so popular amongst the healthy-eaters across the globe? But let’s talk about origin. Quinoa has been a staple of the Andes since way back when. Bolivians, Peruvians and Ecuadorians happily chowed down on quinoa without qualm until it rose in popularity around the world. Now, this cash crop is causing devestating effects. The demand for quinoa increases and farmers are selling more and more of what’s being grown. The local stash is dwindling because of it. And because it’s a source of income, farmers sell their quinoa for export and are eating nutrient-poor staples like rice and pasta instead, thus depleting their health. And for locals wanting to eat it, sadly now because prices have increased so much, many can’t afford it.
  2. AVOCADOS: those sensitive green souls. Yes they infuriate us, doing the dance to perfectly ripe so quickly that many of us miss it, but get a good one and you almost feel as though you can die happy right then and there. Rich in many vitamins and healthy fats, they are delicious on their own or used in many recipes as a dairy substitute due to their exquisite creaminess. But the problem is that demand is sky-high, with so many of us wanting them several times a week as part of our normal diet. And this is bad news for the Mexican landscape. Because farming avocados is so profitable, many farmers are ignoring the law and destroying mature pine forest to make way for more avocados. And there’s also the issue of pestiside use and water consumption, specifically 272 litres per handful of mature avocados produced. For drought-ridden California, it means growth isn’t such a smart choice.
  3. ALMOND MILK: an excellent dairy substitute for your morning cereal. I adore almond milk. I think out of all the dairy alternatives, almond is my favourite. But much like the aforementioned water-guzzling avocados, most of our almonds come from California and they too drink up all the water you can throw at them; 5 litres per almond to be exact. Not only that, but California’s almond bloom – which occurs every February – relies on 85% of US honeybee hives to pollinate them. It’s the largest managed pollination event anywhere in the world. Pretty mind-boggling! But there are many concerns with bee health declining due to pesticide use and time on the road being ferried to California from across the country.

The environmental cost of transporting foods around the world is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. And a diet consisting of imported foods uses roughly four times the energy compared to a local diet. But trying to grow tropical foods in the far north and south or vice versa isn’t the answer either. The change in climate and biodiversity from where the foods are naturally grown means intensive temperature, pesticide and fertiliser use is required. That ultimately outweighs the costs of shipping them in.

And if you want to look at another aspect of what is considered inefficient energy distribution of food, this study from Cornell published 20 years ago found that the grain currently used to feed US livestock could instead be used to feel 800 million people. To put that into perspective, the current US population is just over 300 million.

So what’s the answer? Let’s be honest; we can’t really revert to living on an entirely local diet because we’ve developed a palate satiated only by the colourful variety of produce we’ve come to know and love. The variety is healthier and more exciting, after all. It would simply cause uproar if we had our exotic foods taken away. But rather than reversing things – which human nature rarely has a tendency to do – what about progression? What about renewable energy, intelligent farming and zero-carbon transport? What about taking new approaches to the old-school way we’re doing things? Or, if you want to go local, I bow down to you.

 

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cookies

In our never ending quest to look our very best, there is always some new fad  cropping up in our commercials and in our magazines and on our billboards which tells us how we can be the next very perfect version of ourselves if we just buy into the lifestyle choice of another. The quest for self-improvement – in theory – is an honourable one. Wanting to become the best version of yourself possible in this time on Earth is a wonderful thing. A person in alignment with themselves is at their most creative and capable. However, our human nature can’t help but put us at risk of self-deprecation by being so willing to ‘buy into’ any old fad.

You see, we each have different metabolisms, builds and lifestyles. There is no ‘one size fits all’. And you’re probably sick of hearing it, because thank the Lord there are so many voices speaking up now against things like the fashion industry and popular media publications that easily influence young souls into thinking that they are not classically beautiful. However, I do see it going the other way. I don’t think that everyone has to be stick-thin and willowy, but I also don’t think that for argument’s sake we should be telling obese people that they are healthy. A person at their most aligned will be a healthy weight for them. And shocker: it isn’t obese. It comes from eating foods and doing exercise that nurtures you.

Instead of showing someone images of body shapes varying across the spectrum and working from the outside in, we should be getting to the core and working on our emotions, trauma and life choices that are getting us to a state where we are torturing ourselves with our diets. It involves being conscious to each decision we make, in all aspects of our life. But for the sake of this post, paying particular attention to the foods we put into our mouths.

When it comes to food, be mindful of every single thing you are eating. You may think you have an uncontrollable sugar addiction that forces you to eat an entire pack of cookies, but tune in to the process of eating those cookies and you may be surprised at how you truly feel consuming them. And by the life force (or lack of) that they provide. I encourage you to give this a go. Set some time aside and pick the junk food that you feel controlled by.

  1. Look at the packet and read the ingredients list (yep, every single ingredient, even the ones with names that you can’t understand) and look at the advertising used which convinced you that this would satiate your needs. What do you think about it? Does anything on the packaging play to your emotions? How does that list of ingredients make you feel? Why do you think so many ingredients were needed to make those cookies? Key: these are because of two requirements: cost-effectiveness and preservation. The manufacturer wants to put in the cheapest ingredients to create the best-possible end product, increasing their profits. And a combination of the ingredients and packaging enables that packet of cookies to sit on the supermarket shelf or in your cupboard for a pretty good length of time without spoiling.
  2. Open the packet and look at the cookies. The key to this is to put the food into context. We are living beings and need sustenance that will help us to sustain our life force, right? Look at the cookie and ask yourself if it looks like they came out of the ground or fell from a tree. Do they look like they were ‘alive’ once? Would they fit in a natural setting outside? The answer is no, of course. Raw ingredients had to be processed to make those cookies look the way they do. Now, ‘processed’ need not be a bad thing and I think we get caught up and confused with our terms much of the time. Putting chickpeas, tahini and some spices into a food processor to turn into hummus makes that hummus processed, but the cookie and the hummus vary tremendously, obviously!
  3. Now, eat one of the cookies really slowly, paying attention to the way it tastes, feels in your mouth and feels in your mind. You’ll get an initial ‘wow this is great!’ sensation as the sugar hits your taste buds, but keep going and see if you hit a wall of sweetness overload, or decide that they don’t feel good working their way down your oesophagus and into your stomach.
  4. Keep eating them really slowly and with a break in between until you don’t crave any more. Then record how you feel. Record how you feel instantly after eating them, writing down all the feelings that come to mind. Then record how you feel half an hour later, an hour later, 2 hours later, 3 hours later, and finally 6 hours later. This may seem like a lot of work, but trust me if it involves changing the way you encounter food in a way that is much better for your well-being, you’ll be grateful you did this.

This practice doesn’t just apply to sugar. It applies to any packaged, preserved food that fell far from the tree if you know what I’m saying. There’s a fantastic TED talk (below) that I encourage you to watch. It’s all about changing your habits and being mindful, which is actually the way to self-improvement. You can live action-to-action by what truly feels good, not by what you’ve tricked yourself into thinking will make you feel better.

You can apply this mindfulness to all aspects of life. You’ll find some things are harder to be honest with yourself about than others, particularly when you broach bigger lifestyle choices and relationships. For now, start with food; small steps.

Photo via Unsplash