Food is such a complicated and touchy subject. At some point in the quest for simple living, the subject of what to eat will come up. People often make judgements about someone's lifestyle by how they eat, just as they do with raising children, watching television, keeping a supply of reusable bags ready to go, driving a hulk vs. a compact, or anything else. It can be used as a sort of barometer about where our mindfulness lies. Of course, people are quite often wrong about these stereotypes, but it doesn't stop them making them - and food can be explosive. Anyone who has stumbled upon an argument involving Weston Price followers and vegans/vegetarians knows this.
My upbringing and background are very health conscious, so it's natural that I would be actively seeking to improve my family's diet now that I'm older too. The question is: Just what is the best way to eat?
We eat a diet of whole foods, mostly plants, some dairy, a little fish, very few sweets. I think our biggest vice is our overindulgence in bread. Just as I believe there is no one way to raise children, be a minimalist, worship, or live I don't believe there is one perfect way of eating that will satisfy and nourish all human beings. Because, um, we're all different and live in different places. I base my views on eating firmly around logic, and I'm certainly not going to expect Laplanders, Inuits, or Saharans (or anyone else, for that matter) to become vegetarian in climates that clearly cannot support growing produce for much, if not all of the year. And no, I have heard the argument that they could import these items - I see that as completely unsustainable, both economically and environmentally.
We are bombarded not only about what food is better to eat, but also the pros and cons of certain foods, sometimes backed up by scientific studies, often not. I find it incredibly difficult to wade through the chaff sometimes. For instance, a few years ago, after reading a series of articles about soy; I cut our consumption back to only one block of tofu a week for the four of us. While I was concerned about The Simple Man possibly getting too much estrogen from soy, I was more horrified by the suggestion that it might block nutrients from getting to the thyroid, causing it to glean what it could from other sources, as in nuclear. We in Philadelphia are surrounded by working power plants and the rate of thyroid cancer in our area is 42% higher than the national average, and is thought to be linked to the plants. BUT THEN, Leo Babauta wrote this fantastic article about soy, and I'm completely rethinking my views on it. I still don't want to eat highly processed soy, but I'd definitely add more tofu, which we all love, back in, and not be so wary of other soy products. I had no idea there was such an underlying agenda against soy, but I realized how clear it was after reading his post. All this is to say, at least in my case, instead of truly researching new information (which, frankly, I don't even know how to do, especially when we're talking about peer reviewed studies . . .blahblahblah) I just believed. Hmmm.
Another food I quit buying was agave syrup. Again, I read some eyebrow raising facts about it, such as it being anywhere from 50% to 90% fructose (HFCS is only about 45%) and how refined and processed it is. I really loved it too, but I gave it up, worrying about the fact that fructose is processed in the liver. A friend recently asked, on this post from last year about jaggery (unrefined sugar) whether raw agave was better than regular. I don't know, but I started reading about agave again. While it's been proven that a steady diet very high in HFCS will damage the liver, will eating a few tablespoons of agave a day harm you? Just as consuming some dairy and meat? Or soy? And after all, a lot of fruit has a very high fructose content, and while fruit is in it's original form, I still wonder.
I don't know the answer to this. It seems that in our society we want to be able definitively label foods good or bad according to our own agendas and beliefs. I'm also backing away from information propagated by groups who are dogmatically attached to a certain way of eating no matter what. I'm beginning to think that's simply not the way to choose what to eat. Naturally I'm not talking about highly processed and refined foods, but rather the arguments for and against meat, dairy, various sweeteners, lowfat vs. regular fat, soy etc. I've even recently seen articles advocating against honey because it's too sweet and I just have to say, seriously, give it a rest people. Honey is like a magical food, I will believe nothing else!
I'll end my food musings here, and just say that this post is about health. Also, I know there are people who feel it's wrong to eat animal products, just as there are people who feel that animals were given to mankind in order for us to eat them - I respect both positions, while not adhering to either one. I prefer not to eat meat that isn't fish, and that feeling is primarily compassion based, but I'm flexible, and if I were truly starving, I'd have no compunction whatsoever!
Tell me how you eat and if it's related to simple living. Are you eating the way you want to? Are you confused about what's healthy or not? Strong feelings one way or the other?
Edited to add (8/18/2011): Two things - first of all, I think it's so great this discussion has been so civil! I was worried because a lot of people unsubscribed when this post came out and I thought maybe it was offensive, but everyone's comments have been so interesting, so I appreciate it!
Secondly, I mentioned that I don't know the answer to the agave question. Just this morning, though, I came across an outstanding series of articles on it and felt I had to share, since it was agave that sparked this post. Below are the links:
Go forth and be informed! Or maybe more confused, but hopefully not!