Food Geek Friday: Real Food, the Beginning

Over on my events blog, I dedicate Friday's post to food.  I'll repost it here as well.  The first Friday of the month is dedicated to "real food."  The second Friday is a random food question.  The third Friday of the month is a recipe and fourth Friday will be cocktail related.  If there’s a fifth Friday in the month then you just never know! 

This first Friday is devoted to real food because I feel like I’ve worked my way out of  Plato’s cave.  The more I learn about food, the more that education changes the way I’ve eat.   Currently, I’d say that I cook the vast majority of my meals and use relatively little processed foods.  I hit fast food less than once a week and am an AVID label reader.  If I can’t pronounce it, 9 times out of 10 I’m not buying it.  I’m a regular at the farmers’ market and can’t even begin to explain the flavor difference between a local fruit or veg and what you get at the grocery store.  Seriously.  Conduct your own taste test.  It’s staggering.

But it wasn’t always that way.  To understand where I’m going, we first must know where I’ve been. 

I only began cooking a couple of years ago.  Growing up, I had absolutely no interest in cooking.  Didn’t have to – Mom or Dad had that one covered.  While I was in high school, Mom would assign a dinner to me every so often when she was going to work late.   The first time I cut up raw chicken, I was so disgusted that I didn’t touch raw chicken again for years so that killed that experiment.  While I lived in the dorms I had the “no kitchen” excuse and when I moved into a house with friends, one of them was an awesome cook so again, I didn’t have to. 

When I got my first apartment, I grocery shopped about once every three months.  Hated it.  So you KNOW this was all boxed crap that would never expire.  Plus, since I didn’t know how (or like to cook) I needed the box’s help.  I lived happily on a diet of fast food and boxed crap for years.  I was young and a dancer so there was never a weight problem. 

Fast forward to post-college life.  I’m ensconced in my career as a professional dancer and living with my boyfriend.  He was a great cook so it was bacon and eggs almost every morning and huge dinners every evening after work.  Except we worked 1p-10p so after work is 11pm or midnight.  Lunch is almost always something frozen or fast food.  There were many days when I’d easily have fast food twice a day.  All the drive-thru workers in my neighborhood knew who I was and my order.   Weight slowly creeped on, but with dancing and every so often making a “healthy” choice at the drive through kept it down.

Jump ahead again.  The boyfriend is out of the house and picture, I’m in a new job as event planner and it’s time to “cook” for myself again.  We’re back to boxed meals supplemented with fast food.  But as I hit my thirties, I start researching diseases that run through my genetics (heart attack, stroke, etc.) and how to prevent them.  Everything is diet and exercise.  Eat good foods.

As an event planner, I was talking food and menus practically daily.  The venue I worked for had an awesome kitchen and catering director.    Being a foodie from way back and watching TONS of food shows, I knew a lot about food – if nothing about its preparation.  While I never loved cooking, I’ve ALWAYS loved eating.  However, over time I grew tired of telling clients, “I don’t know anything about food other than how to eat it.”  It was always humorous, but it was time. 

I started small.  I’d find easy recipes.  My mom got me cookbooks labeled for teenagers while saying, “Ignore the ’teenager’ part and just read the rest.”  Whenever I made a soup recipe for the first time, I took some to the catering director I worked with.  It didn’t kill her (success!) and she gave me tips to make it better.  I watched hours of foodie television and subscribed to foodie mags.

When I left that job and was the events and catering director for a restaurant, I knew I had to step my game up.  I could no longer defer to the catering director because that was now me!  I watched in the kitchen and asked a lot of questions.  I’m sure at times I annoyed the hell out of Chef, but I didn’t really care.

Over time, I got better and even started just making things up.  I’d go to Central Market and buy “what talked to me.”  I remember the first time I bought white flesh nectarines.  I’d never had one but they were so pretty that I HAD to get some.  And I ended up creating a killer dessert with them!  Last summer I started going to the farmers’ market and there were so many delicious options to choose from.  When I was out of local peaches for a recipe, I ran to the grocery store for some.  The taste was so bland and the light bulb went off.  You really don’t understand the difference until you taste it for yourself. 

The other difference you can’t fully understand until you experience it for yourself is the huge difference in the way you feel.  I feel so much better and have loads more energy since I started eating real food.  Now when I hit the drive-thru I feel really bad afterwards.  The other benefit I didn’t expect was that cooking can be very theraputic.  Nothing like taking out some pent up agreesion by breaking down a head of cauliflower!

Which brings us to the present.   Yes, I’ve seen “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn” as well as read many books and articles.  It just started, but I’m already enthralled, fascinated and disgusted with Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution.”  But those stories are for another Food Geek Friday.