Tell Me What You Eat, And I Will Tell You What You Are.

(Title quote from Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.)

Aaron is what we in Weight-Watchers-land call the “gatekeeper” — he’s the purchaser of the food for our household, and therefore has the final say on what comes into the house. For some people, especially womenfolk, not being the main shopper would be an issue; for us, it works out just fine. (I had to make a solo grocery shopping trip once, when Aaron had the flu, and did manage to make it home with pretty much everything we needed for the week.) He’s the label-reader, the Points®-calculator, and I gladly eat what he brings home, because it’s delicious and nutritious. And I rarely think more about it, beyond counting my daily Points® intake.

Through various sources, I’m becoming more aware of what we’re eating and where our food comes from. I’m realizing how much of the food we eat has been dosed with unnecessary additives and excessively processed. I’m also realizing how much convenience food we eat — not necessarily a bad thing, but one that should nonetheless be acknowledged.

Aaron and I discussed the trade-off last night, after watching the documentary Food, Inc. together. In today’s society, it would be a major challenge for us to eat entirely unprocessed, organic, local foods year-round. With the government subsidizing so many commodity crops and very little produce, eating healthy and local can be damnably expensive — especially as compared to the Value Menu at the local Burger Doodle. If we were only to buy local, in-season produce; and only purchase farm-fresh eggs and locally-processed poultry; and buy only the basic ingredients whose origins we could easily identify — in that case, we would need both of our incomes more than ever, yet one of us would need to stay home and cook all day, baking and preparing and roasting and canning and freezing, and likely tending a garden.

Even though that’s not a reasonable scenario for us, I’ve realized that there are some kitchen skills that it wouldn’t hurt me to learn (or re-learn, since my Mom did teach me these things as a youth). Things like baking a passable loaf of bread, or quartering a chicken. If we ever decided to drive out to an organic farm and buy an expensive chicken or three, it wouldn’t do to get home and realize that I’d forgotten the finer points of separating the thigh from the body, or peeling the breast off the bone.

So, I have a few minor, personal culinary goals set for myself. I’m not likely to become one of those hippy-dippy cooking fiends pictured in The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook anytime soon, but I can at least reach a level where I won’t destroy the expensive organic ingredients we’re likely to branch out and try.

11 thoughts on Tell Me What You Eat, And I Will Tell You What You Are.

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  1. Eric has done a lot of reading in this area and we’ve watched all of the popular ‘food films.’ I can honestly say I will never again join Weight Watchers for this very reason. For me, if given a set amount of points per day, I don’t always make the best decisions. Eat a banana for 2 points or each a pack of cookies for 2 points? Cookies, please! Even though nutritionally, the banana is obviously the better choice. I found many of the WW recipes, magazines and meetings push sugar free and processed foods. I was always hungry when eating those foods and could feel my blood sugar peak and drop.

    There are other reasons we also made the decision (I have to be careful about eating foods that spike my blood sugar), but we focus now on buying “whole foods.” So minimally processed grains (bread, pasta), fresh or frozen veggies or fruit, etc. We are gradually adding organic and locally raised food (but with me being off work, more important at this point for us to eat the right foods, even if not the most responsible). Yeah, I’m rambling. But my point is that “Food Inc.” really made me sit back and examine what we eat. You’ll find very little sugar or processed foods in our house anymore and I honestly FEEL better than I ever did on Weight Watchers. I’m also not hungry.

    Not putting down your choice- trust me- I do think Weight Watchers is a great program (and I haven’t met a Dr. yet who didn’t recommend the diet), it just wasn’t for us. And that’s not to say that I don’t ‘cheat’ sometimes, too. But more of a lifestyle change than anything!

  2. For me, if given a set amount of points per day, I don’t always make the best decisions.

    I’ve heard your argument several times from several different sources, and I don’t disagree. I do think that the program needs to be tweaked to put more focus on the Good Health Guidelines (water, fruits/veggies, healthy oils, lean protein, exercise, et al). If WW members are told to focus on their Points intake — and, by the way, these other aspects are good, too — then we’ll most likely do what we can to eat what’s tastiest, rather than what will make us feel better and lose weight. Only the people who max out the program (read: Aaron, not so much me) will see the fullest benefit.

    I also agree that I wish the meetings didn’t shill the WW products so much. It’s a business, sure, and I understand that, but I could really do without the “smoothies are on sale” bit every week. I’m trying to stay away from processed foods here, people! Don’t tempt me with this schlock.

    WW is definitely more of a long-term lifestyle change than the Atkins thing was, for me — again, it works for some people, but WW is much more sustainable. (Atkins did help me eliminate oodles of processed sugars from my diet, though, and that stuck, for the most part.) Maybe organic and whole foods will be yet another step for us on the journey of lifestyle change.

  3. I don’t know how anyone did the Atkins diet! We tried doing the no-carb thing… lasted all of 2 days. I couldn’t even put together sentences- I felt the cognitive effects that strongly! But let me tell you, I never realized how much sugar I ate until I had to cut back. Thankfully I can eat fruit (unlike Atkins), but I’m *shocked* at how my cravings have changed. Except tonight, when nothing but chocolate cake would do, I can get through an entire day eating only whole grains, lean proteins and fruits and veggies.

    I guess to be fair to WW, they do have the other program (cannot remember the name) where you don’t track points, just eat from the ‘approved’ list. That just never appealed to me since I wanted cookies! 🙂

  4. Agreed. The whole processed/doped-up/mass-produced food concept freaks me out especially when it comes to meats and fish. However, when my choices are 79 cent eggs, $2.50 eggs or $4.00 eggs and I know how much is in the bank account… well you know. I think it’s ridiculous that’s a choice we have to make. Fortunately, we do live close enough to a rural area that our farmers markets are pretty well-stocked and affordable for produce.
    If you find a magic food wand, let me know.

  5. Good point, Beth. Another divide in the class system. What the movie provoked for me was a larger discussion about not only food, but class, accessibility and ethics.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Diana!

  6. I don’t know how anyone did the Atkins diet!

    It’s all about what’s sustainable for each individual — we stuck to it for several years. Those first couple weeks of sugar and caffeine detox were rough, for Aaron more so than for me. I’m glad that we (OK, he) actually read the book, though — if we’d tried to go “no carb” we definitely would have hurt ourselves! Atkins recommended 20g of carbohydrates a day, mostly from leafy greens. I lost 50 pounds and kept most of it off; Aaron lost 60 and didn’t fare so well with the weight maintenance. 🙂 We both feel like our current diet lifestyle is a lot more sustainable for us, though. Lots more choices.

    As for the cost of healthy food, I am SO with you! Looking back on my days on my own, when I had maybe $30 for a week’s worth of groceries, it was all Hot Pockets, ramen noodles, Lipton Noodles and Sauce, and maybe the occasional pack of frozen chicken thighs if I was making something nice for Aaron. I wasn’t exactly trying to eat especially healthy at that point — I was technically obese, and not really trying to lose — but what if healthier options had been cheaper than starchy, preservative-laden crap?

  7. In terms of Atkins- I’m too big of a wimp to go through the ‘detox’ phase! I now realize after changing the types of carbs that I eat that once you get past the cravings (and you really do), it’s not so bad. But I was a hot mess when I tried to do Atkins. Carbs were such a central part of what I ate (which was the problem) that my body went into shock. I admit- I’m a weenie!

    Eric and I talk about our past eating habits often- mostly in terms of “holy crap we used to eat a lot of processed food!” Eric specifically ate 3 processed meals per day whether it be canned pasta, frozen meals or the Lipton noodles. The truth is he really couldn’t afford to eat better, even if he had the desire. I’ve always been more of a cook and grew up eating veggies with every meal, so I wasn’t quite as bad. I had more balance, but still way too much processed crap.

    I tease Eric that if I weren’t our food ‘gatekeeper’ (and the one who often looks at him disapprovingly when he suggests we get fried chicken for dinner), he definitely wouldn’t eat as well as he does now. He understands the need to make the changes, but he of course prefers the junk (which is exactly what the companies want- it tastes more appealing and is addictive).

    This topic honestly scares me when I think of raising kids with good eating habits. The marketing dollars devoted to encouraging kids to eat junk is alarming. I hope we’ll take a more ‘crunchy granola’ approach when that time comes. Or I’ll end up eating my words as I buy Dora the Explorer popsicles and alphabet shaped chicken nuggets. Ugh.